The card for The Edge of the World is The Empress: a card of mothering, abundance, and responding to nature.
In this episode the card is primarily represented by Van's mother Varie (hang on, isn't she supposed to be dead?) and Hitomi's grandmother (ditto). To a lesser extent both of Allen's parents also represent the card.
The Edge of the World opens where The Guided Ones leaves off. Naria and Eriya are busy not crashing whilst the Crusade is being carried up a pillar of light into the gate. Folken directs them to wait in the belief that no entrance to the mystic valley exists.
Folken is rather insistent on this point and it rather has a "doth protest too strongly" ring to it. Does Folken really believe that there is no entrance, or does Folken want to believe that there is no entrance?
As the card is revealed the Crusade completes its bumpy ride through the gate to the Mystic Valley. Instead of the empty snowy waste, it is an somehow familiar overgrown set of ruins of unusual design. Even ruined the Mystic Valley is a nice looking place.
Suddenly Hitomi's pendant glows and she disappears in a light the same colour as the pendant. Allen, and then Van also disappear from the bridge.
Dryden is confused as Hitomi is spotted on the ground. No sign of Allen or Van though.
Hitomi quickly remember that this is the place she saw when Van was engulfed by the black Escaflowne in Lost Paradise.
Van is somewhere else and the sepia palette used here is not a promising sight as feathers fall and he suddenly realises he is in the ruins of Fanelia. His name is called and turns around to see Varie.
As a feather crosses the field of vision we get a nice transition to Allen standing in a colourful field at sunset. It is the scene where his sister Celena (also in colour) disappears. As she disappears his old house appears at the edge of the field in darkness... or is that black and white?
Hitomi is drawn towards a black obsidian monument with Atlantean writing that Hitomi instinctively starts translating. It turns out that Atlantis was on Earth but the Atlanteans used their powers as they fell to create Gaea in the sky as a final act of will.
Gaea is the wish, and penance, of Atlantis.
Oh, and Hitomi saw her own pendant used in the creation of Gaea. Just as Hitomi's wondering how she got her hands on this pendant, Allen's father answers her in a vision saying that he entrusted it to Hitomi's grandmother.
Back with Van and Balgus is charging him to fight to prevent Gaea meeting the same fate as Atlantis. As he does so the wreckage of Fanelia fades to be replaced by indistinct figures marching across the screen behind Balgus. The symbolism here is brutally clear: these are the dead.
Van however is still struggling with the consequences of fighting and refuses. As he screams out Hitomi awakens from her vision and sees Van and Allen are trapped in the monument.
Allen now meets with his father with Hitomi observing. This is also a two-tone sequence, more the blue of night than sepia. Ironically in this black and white scene Allen is discovering that his father wasn't quite the villain that Allen believed him to be.
Van is panicking as the shades attack him.
Outside Hitomi is worried for Van, whilst Dryden and Gaddes are looking at the gate with some concern.
As Hitomi attempts to retrieve Van and Allen, Varie intervenes. Outside the monument she is drawn in colour as she explains that Hitomi is not predicting but shaping the future: anxiety and fear will make the worst visions come true.
That Hitomi is the one making Van and Allen happy, and even now her heart is full of uncertainty.
This causes a certain amount of angst and guilt until Hitomi's grandmother intervenes.
Back with Allen we see his father murdered by Zaibach soldiers when he left the mystic valley. As he lies dying clutching the pendant, Hitomi's grandmother appears. He gives her the pendant but dies with his wife's name Encia as his last word. In that moment the journal is transported back to the family home, where Encia grieves for Leon's loss (I think that this is first time his name is mentioned).
Leon is an unexpectedly complex character but at the end Allen is somewhat reconciled with his past. At this point Hitomi retrieves him from the monument.
Naria and Eriya: bored now.
Having nothing better to do they fly into the gate to retrieve Van (ignoring Folken's call for them to stop).
As they come through the gate Balgus hears the sounds of war. Van is kneeling with his sword, not wanting to fight anymore.
Naria and Eriya arrive, Escaflowne teleports from the Crusade with Van in the cockpit. Balgus exhorts Van to fight again and something changes.
Hitomi tries to intervene but is stopped by her grandmother. Her grandmother doesn't entirely disagree with Varie, but does point out that if anxiety leads to bad results, confidence and faith should head the other way. Hitomi stops, and trusts in Van.
Naria and Eriya are noticing that Van has changed from the previous encounter. They can feel that there is no terror there anymore.
Van steps forward accepting the pain, the karma of war, and the sorrow of the dead.
This is met with a fairly dramatic response: a pillar of light engulfing Escaflowne as the gate begins to crack and explode. Folken cries out for Van as the twins and the fortress are shoved aside by a shockwave.
The main characters are back in the empty snow covered valley. As Van exits the Escaflowne Varie appears to him with a warning that the power of Atlantis must not be awakened.
Varie is floating and the length of her dress is well past where her feet would be. Hitomi can see her, but no one else can. Her final message is that the fate of Gaea is in Van's hands (no pressure there).
As she disappears she gives Van a strange green energist as the original energist begins to glow and the end credits roll.
In a comment on The Guided Ones, seawasp suggested that the disjointed nature of that episode was intended to be binding together of the strands of the storyline, and the point where the characters shifted from being reactive to proactive.
As far as binding the strands together goes I think that there's a lot of truth to that. It pays off with the cuts in this episode feeling much smoother, and it is easier for the viewer to see how the threads are connected.
As far as the shifting the characters' outlooks go, I think that mostly happens in The Edge of the World. This is episode where they learn the essential truths, or the rules if you prefer, about Gaea that will allow them to be proactive.
It is hard to be truly proactive when someone else (Zaibach in this case) knows the real truth of the world, and you don't.
Despite the apparent conflict I actually think that both Varie and Hitomi's grandmother are working together in this episode. Varie provides the warning when Hitomi might have risked Van's safety, and her grandmother then provides the alternative path to a better outcome.
I do like the careful choices of palette in the various visions, there is some quite clever symbolism (and an occasional hint or two) here.
This is an excellent episode that makes it clear, as I'm sure I observed to rdmasters and leecetheartist once, that death and time are negotiable concepts in Gaea.
Day 1 - Fateful Confession / The Tower
Day 2 - The Girl From the Mystic Moon / Ace of Serpents
Day 3 - The Gallant Swordsman / Death
Day 4 - The Diabolical Adonis / The Hanged Man
Day 5 - The Seal of the Brothers / Judgement
Day 6 - Capitol of Intrigue / Justice
Day 7 - Unexpected Partings / The Chariot
Day 8 - Sub vs Dub
Day 9 - The Day the Angel Flew / Temperance
Day 10 - Memories of a Feather / Ace of Birds
Day 11 - The Blue-Eyed Prince / Knight of Beasts
Day 12 - Prophecy of Death / The Devil
Day 13 - The Secret Door / High Priestess
Day 14 - Red Destiny / The Emperor
Day 15 - The Gender of Escaflowne
Day 16 - Dangerous Wounds / The Magician
Day 17 - Lost Paradise / The Star
Day 18 - The Guided Ones / Wheel of Fortune
Day 19 - The Edge of the World / The Empress
Day 20 - The Gravity of Destiny
Day 21 - Operation Golden Rule of Love
Day 22 - False Vows
Day 23 - Reaction of Fortune
Day 24 - ???
Day 25 - The Black Winged Angel
Day 26 - Storm Premonition
Day 27 - Fateful Decision
Day 28 - Zone of Absolute Fortune
Day 29 - Eternal Love
Day 30 - Looking Back at The Vision of Escaflowne