It's the dawn of the Golden Age of Aviation on planet Prester, and retro-futuristic sky vehicles known as vanships dominate the horizon. Claus Valca, a flyboy born with the right stuff, and his fiery navigator Lavie are fearless racers obsessed with becoming the first sky couriers to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship. But when the high-flying duo encounters a mysterious girl named Alvis, they are thrust into the middle of an endless battle between Anatoray and Disith—two countries systematically destroying each other according to the code of chivalric warfare. Lives will be lost and legacies determined as Claus and Lavie attempt to bring peace to their world by solving the riddle of its chaotic core.
Every anime studio has their ups and downs, their highs and lows, their hits and misses. There's not a single one that hasn't produced a decent title without producing something ... less than average (Manglobe came close, until they made a certain show about a Blacksmith). Surprisingly, many anime fans consider Gonzo to be one of the worst offenders, as while they have made some excellent shows, they have a catalogue of average to sub par (or worse), titles to their name as well.
Thankfully Last Exile is a one that, for the most part, they got right, but then again, the series was made to celebrate Gonzo's 10th anniversary so it's understandable that they made the extra effort.
The show follows the adventures of Claus Valca and Lavie Head, two childhood friends who are determined to follow in their father's footsteps, and become the best vanship couriers around. Like their respective parents, Hamilcar Valca and George Head, Claus is the pilot and Lavie is the navigator, and their entry into the Norkia Cup race signifies the beginning of their journey, one which will change both their lives.
One of the things that people complain about with Last Exile is that the first half of the series offers very little explanation about the events that occur while adding more and more layers to the plot. However, the more patient viewer will be rewarded as the answers are forthcoming in the second half of the show, and while there is a nice amount of complexity to the story, this is nowhere near enough to confuse people. In truth, I found the show was pitched in a manner that would appeal to many viewers as there is always enough going on to keep one interested.
What is most interesting about the show though, is that it is one of the few steam punk themed anime available. There are a number of aspects and designs that are clearly influenced by the Industrial Revolution and Germany during the time between the two World Wars, and more references are forthcoming when one looks closer at the series. There is also a clear influence from two classic Ghibli movies, Nausicaa and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, although neither of those titles is as heavily steam punk as Last Exile.
With regards to the look of the show, it's interesting to note that the visual production of the series relied heavily on CG. In particular, Gonzo used non-photorealistic rendering as a method to combine traditional hand drawn animation and CG, and the benefits of this technique are clearly visible throughout the anime. The quality of animation is extremely good throughout, and together with the designs of the characters, ships, equipment, and scenery, affords Last Exile a look and feel that is superior to most anime around.
That said, one of the issues with the series is that the rare colour clashes can sometimes be a little hard on the eyes.
The overall quality of the series extends to the music and effects too. The various tracks used throughout the series are often well chosen, whilst the numerous noises and sounds are well choreographed, and pitched at a level that rarely overwhelms the viewer. The OP, "Cloud Age Symphony" by Okino Shuntaro, is a strange piece of music that may not sit well with some viewers due to its more experimental approach. This is also true of the ED, "Over the Sky" by Kuroishi Hitomi, a track which is far more melodic than the OP, but retains the same off-kilter feel.
As for the acting, both Asano Mayumi and Saito Chiwa are in fine form as Claus and Lavie respectively, whilst Morikawa Toshiyuki is suitably taciturn as the enigmatic Alex Rowe. Each of the seiyuu portray their characters well, although there are one or two moments when the delivery seems a little forced, something that only really occurs during heavy action sequences.
One of the things that really sets Last Exile apart is the quality of its characters. Many people talk about things like "realism" and "believability" when it comes to characters, but in truth this is simply an attempt to explain how well the characters work in the context of the story, and also how well the characters follow certain patterns of behaviour that many know to be the average for people (and by this I mean how would the average, real world person react in a similar situation).
Its nice to see then, that Last Exile uses the characters very well. Both Claus and Lavie behave in a manner that is reasonable and understandable, and both are allowed to develop rather well over the course of the show. This is also true of a number of other characters, including Alex Rowe, who is akin to a modern day Harlock in some respects.
That's not to say that every character is great though, as there are on or two who don't seem to serve any real purpose, and are nothing more than window dressing. While it's true that there are always characters like this in any half decent story, the last place you should see them is on a battleship.
As a fan of steam punk, I found myself warming to Last Exile almost immediately. The plot, pacing and designs are very well handled and presented, and the story is easy to follow while retaining a degree of suspense and complexity - something which isn't easy to achieve. The series would easily appeal to fans of Nausicaa and Laputa, however fans of shows like Sakura Taisen, Steamboy, Giant Robo, or any anime about flying may find this rewarding viewing.
This is one of those rare titles that has something for everyone, but fans of steam punk should definitely give it a try.
Granted there are some minor niggles here and there, but overall Last Exile is well told story that looks and sounds great. A great deal of thought has gone into this series, and it shows in a number of ways. It's easily one of the more imaginative titles to appear in anime, especially as it's one that isn't based on a manga/novel/game/etc. It may not appeal to everyone, but those willing to give it a try may not be disappointed.
I just wish they'd make more imaginative shows like this instead of all the school based pap we're being served these days.read more
In the world that huge ships roam the skies, “Last Exile” is a sci-fi, steam punk, action/adventure anime, which is set in a somewhat futuristic Imperial age. It follows the adventures of Claus and Lavie, two Vanship messengers who happened to take on a dangerous mission to transport a girl to a notorious mercenary ship (Silvana). There was then a series of events that led to them being part of the ships crew.
The beginning of the story is nothing special, as there is no real excitement or shocking moments. All this series is to begin with, a series of events with not much meaning to them. It is only till halfway into the series that the story starts to get interesting, with some developments in the storyline. The major downfall is that the major questions are not really answered until the last couple episode, when some kind of meaning behind the show title “Last Exile” is revealed. However at this point the story undergoes a major change which can lead to you asking, “Where is this story heading?”
The quality of the animation is excellent as it is one of the best mixes of drawn animation and CG, giving it a realistic feel. So much detail is put into the cloud and smoke effects only that watching them soar through the skies is amazing. The slightly hazy look this anime has can sometimes distort the images, especially in dark scenes but it really isn’t that big a deal.
The music is alright, with is mostly a bunch of melodies that are the sort of stuff typical heard in anime. The music doesn’t really add anything to the show experience or help set the atmosphere; no real suspense, drama, excitement, nothing.
Overall this is quite an enjoyable anime series to watch however it is so incredibly slow paced, to the point where in half the episodes, nothing important happens. For a kid’s show this was pretty hard to understand, because the major plot related questions were only answered in the last couple episodes. Some people may find the ending rather disappointing with no real build-up to it and too many deaths. However at least there was some kind of resolution, to be pleased with. This show had so much potential to be superb, as there was a lot of effort put into it, however a better story could have helped.
This is a pretty good anime to watch, but it lacks something crucial to make it any special. ^_^read more
I was looking forward to seeing Last Exile from all the rumors and good ratings that had cross my eye related to it, but the fact is: I expected much better. On to the review.
Starting with Story. A science fiction story that at first glance was joining up elements of advance technology (e.g. flying battle ships) and medieval element (e.g. musketeers; honor code from European battles). It reeled me in at first, as the first 2 episodes were intense and interesting. The third episode continued with good pace also ( this time bringing a race and it was not only this element but the junction of others from the first 2 which made me feel that this anime got many inspiration from Star Wars). But it\'s was in the 4th ep. that I first start seeing plot holes (eg. in character relationship, and background), and it wouldn\'t be the last time. Even so the overall story was interesting although it sometimes developed faster or even in a slower pace than it should have.
This will depend a bit on people tastes, but I did not enjoy the ending, and especially how some of the plot lines around some characters resolved.
So in resume, the story has its ups and downs, it\'s pace it\'s quite irregular sometimes moving fast and other times going slow, it\'s good in overall but fails in many details.
Like the story, the characters started up promising, but many of them turned out to be disappointing. Especially main characters who got little development whatsoever in terms of personality. In fact the characters that got more evolution were within secondary cast, and at some point in the anime I actually started to care more about the latest then the ones I was supposed to care about. Good examples are Sophia, Mullin and Dio. Being the last one the character that most appealed to me, mostly due to is initial personality and also because he got a good evolution during the anime.
I can\'t stop thinking a bit of romance would have done wonders to improve character interaction but no moves were made in that direction.
So the strong points turn out to be the interesting secondary cast and the overall character design wich was very good.
Animation is Last Exile strongest point. It combines regular animation with 3D CGI sequences. And this is done quite well making not only battles but also many other scenes very pleasant to watch. The animation level is kept high during the whole anime and no glitches are worth mentioning. The overall ship design is very good and the same goes for character design stated above, background scenarios are also amazing.
As for Sound, it\'s pretty good as well. VA\'s do a great job, sound effects are very good and background music is so-so. The opening theme was very good and the ending theme was well done although it did not appeal so much to me.
The Enjoyment you take out will very much depend from person to person. For me personally it had it\'s ups and downs due to some periods of or indecision, and because I did not identify myself with the primary cast. Even so there were memorable sequences that made this show worth while.
In overall Last Exile is a good watch but not more than that. It has an interesting story, and although not having a really good primary cast, the secondary characters manage to complement this flaw. It has great animation, joining up 2D and 3D Computer Generated Imagery that give action scenes and other ordinary scenes a very good look, which is complemented by good sound effects. I do recommend this one, however don\'t have really high expectations because apart from the animation, there is nothing of really outstanding nor breathtaking in Last Exile.read more
For as long as human beings have existed, we have prided ourselves in being a species of innovation and success, and out successes have led us to imagine reaching more prestigious accomplishments than before; eventually, our dreams not surprisingly ventured into the skies. Since the dawn of time, humans gazed upward at the birds gliding under the clouds and we desperately desired to soar as well. In ancient Greece, one of the most enduring myths from that time is the tale of Icarus, who attempted escaping prison with his father by donning a pair of wings. In Italy during the Renaissance, the famous Leonardo da Vinci crafted elaborate designs for aviation but hid them for years, fearing that influential people would have corrupt uses for them. In the 1800s, an African-American folk tale surfaced throughout the Deep South titled “All God’s Chillun Had Wings”, which revolved around black slaves floating away from the oppressive white owners and returning to their homeland Africa. All of these ideas and more eventually culminated in the Wright Brothers inventing the first airplane during the early 1900s. This creation served as the catalyst for films like Porco Rosso, Red Tails, and (of course) Soul Plane. However, before the 2000s, there were no anime series representing that category. Then, in the spring of 2003, the world was introduced to a 26-episode series known as Last Exile, the 10th anniversary product of Studio Gonzo, humankind’s ultimate celebration of our adventures in the sky.
Established on the Earth-like planet called Prester are two vastly different nations (Anatoray and Disith), locked in a neverending war of chivalry, elitism, and death in order to attain control of the skies. Fully immersed into this Cold War parallel (with Anatoray’s guys in blue being the USA and Disith’s soldiers in red coats being, of course, the Soviet Union) is a mysterious cult-ish organization known as the Guild, headed by the infamous Maestro Delphine, who supplies advanced airplanes, funds, and weaponry to both Anatoray and Disith, who both countries regard with intense suspicion, and who represent the corrupt companies that have bought into, promoted, and benefited from war over the centuries. Like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (what I consider to be the anime’s anime), Exile’s background is inspired by the apex of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s/early 1900s, its genre heavily leaning towards the retrofuturistic dieselpunk. This ultimately helps the series inject a lovably throwback feel to it, and this influence flows into other aspects of Exile, like the animation.
More often than not, anime series tend to rely on computer graphics (CG for short) in order to make their characters and backgrounds look more realistic than the creators can on their own. More often than not, the creators completely shoot themselves in the foot in the animation category because the CG looks and feels utterly out-of-place in their series. However, Last Exile is among the rare series that manage to not only display picture-perfect CG but also to flawlessly integrate it into the animation. It is so smoothly blended into Exile that, for the most part, the CG use isn’t blatantly obvious. Among the most apparent CG uses in Exile is during in-battle aerial attacks, where it is used to emphasize the whispery blue and gray explosion smoke. In every scene, there’s a faded tint present in the animation that causes this series to feel seasoned but appear brand-new; this tint also contributes to strengthening Exile’s aforementioned throwback feel. The impact of Last Exile’s animation on the series overall, already brilliantly jaw-dropping as it is, increases when it journeys into the cinematic. In episode 13, the sound of gunfire is used to guide the transition from one dramatic still shot to another. There’s a stunning scene in episode 18, where blood-red rose petals are slowly drifting from the sky to signal the beginning of Maestro Delphine’s active involvement in the series. In episode 22, there’s beautifully back lighting of Delphine’s face as she presents herself in front of her followers. This scene emanates a strong hint of majestic malevolence thanks to the haunting, mysterious chimes that are showcased here, which leads to another aspect Last Exile excels at: its soundtrack.
The conventional method of producing an anime soundtrack is giving one person the authority to decide what fits and what doesn’t, what sounds complement the series and what doesn’t, and what the music’s tone will be overall. For Cowboy Bebop, it was Yoko Kanno. For Gurren Lagann, it was Taku Iwasaki. For Afro Samurai, it was Robert Diggs (aka The RZA). The implied consensus is that more than one person composing an anime OST is a recipe for disaster. However, Last Exile has three people lording over the soundtrack (the call themselves “Dolce Triade”) and it still manages to be spectacular. First of all, the theme song (Shuntara Okino’s “Cloud Age Symphony”), and ending theme (Hitomi Kuroishi’s “Over the Sky”) are both phenomenally performed and composed. This show absorbs you into it and makes you feel like you’re in the sky with its excellent, atmospheric soundtrack. During fights, it’s mostly grandiose, Hans Zimmer-esque orchestral music used to craft a gung-ho mood; only in the most action-packed sequences are passionate violin solos in attendance. A vague presence of somber jazz is occasionally woven into the soundtrack while complex compositions of piano and drums appear in Exile’s more relaxed scenes. The soundtrack would’ve been my favorite aspect of this series, if not for the characters.
“The success or failure of this operations hinges on the efforts of the entire crew,” – Sophia Forrester (episode 19)
Unlike a lot of anime series, Last Exile’s cast is, for the most part, one filled with real people, with real emotions, with real aspirations, and with real idiosyncrasies. The characters’ relationships and interactions with each other is the crème de la crème of this series. The All-Star voiceover crew that contribute their talents to Last Exile help immensely with the characterization overall, big names like Steve Blum, Michelle Ruff, Crispin Freeman, and Johnny Yong Bosch dropping by here. As a result, more than a few characters are able to establish themselves as unforgettable figures in Exile. Dio Eraclea is Exile’s comic relief, a wildly unpredictable eccentric often in a playful mood (Lucciola, Dio’s absurdly quiet companion, serves as a stark contrast to this free spirit) but later on his sanity spirals downward until his former self is completely gone. Mullen is a soldier in the Anatoray/Disith War and, while he would’ve been forgettable in any other anime, he shines as a particularly immortal supporting character; Mullen is the embodiment of the Everyday Man with a purpose in life that helps drive the series forward. Lavie Head is one of the two protagonists of this series (Claus Valca is the other; I’ll get to him later), the heart and soul of Last Exile. At the start of the series, Lavie can be best described as a fiery soul (extremely common among anime’s other red-headed chicks), a mechanic of exuberance and passion yet hardened by the very personal effects of the War. As Last Exile progresses, Lavie’s enthusiasm mellows out, revealing a character that’s more self-reflective and soft-hearted than before (She occasionally dips her toes into philosophy). From beginning to end, Lavie is among the series’ most likable characters (as well as one of my favorites). Maestro Delphine is the antagonist of Exile; she is the aforementioned ruler of the Guild, utterly unquestioned in her authority, single-minded in her elitist worldview. In her role as Delphine, Karen Strassman delivers her distinctly soft and sexy whisper of a voice yet there’s a razor-sharp coldness to her gentleness that hasn’t been present in any of her previous voiceovers. In what’s arguably the greatest performance of her career, Strassman strides into her role, emphasizing the mystique, the snobbery, and the sadism that serve as this character’s most defining traits. There are more than a few unexplained aspects involving Delphine; however, she is still an enjoyably arrogant villainess but unfortunately not the most unforgettable character. Maestro Delphine, instead, will have to settle for second place, surpassed only by my favorite character: the man, the myth, and the legend, Alex Freaking Row.
“If I don’t come into this willing to sink him, then I won’t be able to defeat Alex Row,” – Vincent Alzay (Episode 12)
In a series for which characterization is a calling card, Alex Row stands out. In a series celebrating the virtues of the spectacular, Alex Row stands out. In a medium that glorifies the dark and brooding, Alex Row stands out. He is the fearsome captain of the infamous Silvana, a man whose name is regarded with uneasy respect due to his unrivaled in-battle accomplishments; it is also due to his personality essentially being a complex jigsaw puzzle. Row is a man of mystery whose all-black character design causes him to appear as a nightmarish specter when blended into the shadows. Like a ghost, Row doesn’t walk but glides, vanishing from sight almost immediately after he materializes. With the aid of his blank, almost serene visage, Row’s bored yet ice-cold gaze causes more than a few characters to wilt in intimidation; he simply obliterates people with his stare. Unlike the punch-drunk brawlers that have for years invaded the anime world, the sophisticated Silvana captain is a man of strategy, often planning much farther ahead of his opponents, sparing no sentimental notions in his pursuit of victory (Of course, he is also an excellent chess player on the side). When not in battle, Row keeps to himself, a liquor bottle at his side, contemplating his past and drowning his woes in alcohol in order to avoid confessing his sins of long ago. Throughout the duration of Exile, Row is concealing a heartbreaking backstory involving Delphine and is harboring a deep-seated hatred for her. In his epic years-long quest for revenge, Row cruelly pushes away anyone attempting to get close to him (occasionally, this includes Sophia, the person who cares about him the most). Row has effectively sealed his true feelings in a cage inside his heart (like Paul D in Toni Morrison’s Beloved) while maintaining an exterior of morally questionable motives, withering remarks, and unsettling coldness. At some point in this series, I was no longer a member of the Alex Row Fan Club. Don’t get me wrong; he was still a well-written character and an intriguing one at that. You respected Row but I’m not sure you truly sympathized with him. Ultimately, it was easy to assume that he was establishing a legacy as an unsatisfying character, and that he would have no further involvement in Exile. What happened? Late in the series (episode 21 of 26, in fact), Delphine and her Guild capture the Silvana and are searching around the ship for the captain. They eventually give up and are just about to depart the Silvana when Alex Freaking Row materializes out of nowhere, rapidly firing bullet after bullet at the attacking Guild members with a pair of gunknives. (Like, who does that?). After this magnificent comeback, Delphine imprisons and poisons Row, slowly decomposing his body away by the second. As before, I held my doubts that Row would re-emerge into the spotlight but, in the end, he does it in such a thrilling and climatic fashion that the whole sequence is a spoiler I won’t ruin. The message, as always: don’t underestimate Alex Freaking Row. He is a Byronic Hero of epic proportions, voyaging across the skies for redemption. He is a man of 007-esque coolness (In one scene, Row even steals an immortal line from GoldenEye while talking to Sophia as he says, “It’s [revenge] is what keeps me alive,”) but is more than capable of unleashing raw outbursts of fury. He is a warrior of almost-mythical formidability but displays strokes of vulnerability more often than not. He is, above all else, what all anime antiheroes should aspire to be, the Batman of this medium. It’s no wonder that the brain trust behind Last Exile originally intended for Alex Freaking Row to be the main character.
Then, what caused this same brain trust to ultimately choose Claus Valca over Row?
“Up in these skies, I was nothing but… a spectator,” – Claus Valca (episode 25)
During Claus’ first experience inside the Guild’s lair, he refers to the zomibified Dio as “an empty, soulless shell.” Claus’ evaluation of Dio is deliciously ironic in that Dio 2.0 isn’t the only blank slate in Exile. It’s downright shocking that, in a series overflowing with realistic, well-written characters, the protagonist is yet another walking cliché, yet another subpar self-insert leading man. Watching Claus, who receives the most screen time by far, trek through Last Exile is a thoroughly frustrating experience for several reasons. This guy has one job to do, to one-up his dead daddy by crossing a particularly treacherous section of the sky known as the Grand Stream, but for a lengthy stretch of the series couldn’t manage that without getting sidetracked. First, Claus wants to protect a shy loli named Alvis (entrusted to him and Lavie early on), who by the way is secured on the Silvana (often dubbed “the safest place in the world”). (Alvis doesn’t need protecting, you idiot!) Then, Claus decides to forsake his lifelong mission while claiming the Silvana as his residence in order to “know what’s going on in the skies”, a truly brainless move that made me and Lavie pissed off. (You can do that while looking for the Grand Stream!) As you can probably tell, I’ve been irritated at Claus’ existence virtually from the start but what marginal sympathy I held for him was utterly expunged in episodes 14 to 16 or as I like to label it “the Harem King Arc”. From the very beginning, Lavie and Gale (the Silvana’s homosexual mechanic) have obviously had a thing for Claus. Then, he suddenly becomes the object of sexual obsession for the kuudere pilot Tatiana. To top it all off, Claus receives a kiss from none other than a princess (Seriously, when did this guy become Mr. Steal Your Girl?). It’s pathetic that a series as phenomenal as this attempts convincing you that this forgettable, monotonous, almost-robotic kid with the personality of a stuffed animal is actually a ladies’ man. More than anything else, what causes the Harem King Arc to embody the very worst of this classic is that it’s never discussed, mentioned, or referenced again. It pains me to criticize Claus Valca like this because his voice actor is the legendary Johnny Yong Bosch (the same man who wonderfully exuded an easygoing façade while masking a volatile whirlwind of fear, sorrow, and indignation in his role as Trigun’s Vash the Stampede), and I expected Bosch to dominate here like he did in Trigun but that never happened. Speaking of disappointment, the grand finale of Last Exile can be best described as… rushed. There are several unintroduced plot elements that just sucker-punch you without warning, leaving the finale’s events to feel thrown together. In this episode, a beloved character dies needlessly and pathetically (though I heard he somehow re-emerges for the sequel) while another fan favorite, this one tragically killed, abruptly pops in during the time skip alive and well (Seeing this guy’s grinning face rise from the cornfield almost gave me a heart attack). In spite of my thoughts on Claus and the series finale, Last Exile still earns my respect for exploring a unique genre in anime, for thriving as the rare series that didn’t originate from a manga, and for an excellent representation of the joys of aviation. read more
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