Directed: Koichi Chigira
Produced By: Gonzo Digimation
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Length: 26 Episodes
+ Animation is stunningly beautiful
+ Story doesn't get bogged down in excessive plot details
+ The musical score is beautiful - not the standard syntho-pop so common in anime
The plot seems cobbled together from the plots of other, better stories
American voice actors who portray Lavie and Claus have grating voices
Science fiction and fantasy stories often build on works that have come before. Sometimes, as in the case of Star Wars, a film's style and original interpretation of clichéd and archetypical elements can overcome the audience's sense of the familiar. Last Exile tries to overcome the short comings of its derivative origin but doesn't quite make it. The main differences between Claus and Luke Skywalker are their ages and the fact that Claus flies a plane not a starfighter. Most of the time, his partner, Lavie comes across as loud mouthed, immature and female Han Solo. The other characters such as Captain Alex Row, Sophia Forrester, Alvis Hamilton, and Tatiana Wilsa fulfill their archetypical roles with few surprises.
3.5 out of 5
Last Exile Anime Series Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 6/27/2007
What would the world be like if steam power and clockwork were the basis of our technology rather than electricity and transistors? The creators of science fiction have attempted to probe that question through the subgenre referred to as steampunk. Steampunk couples the anti-authoritarian "punk-ish" attitudes of cyberpunk with the steam driven technology of yesteryear to create whole new worlds - alternative histories such as the steam driven Victorian England depicted in Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy or startling futures and high fantasies. One such fantasy is the 2003 series Last Exile. Directed by Coichi Chigira and produced by Gonzo Digimation, Last Exile is set on the mysterious planet Prester, a world torn by war, the story follows the adventures of two couriers Claus and Lavie as they find themselves involved in a plot surrounding a little girl whom they have been asked to deliver as "cargo" to the much feared battleship Silvana.
Prester is also a world divided into rival feudalistic societies where massive armadas of steam driven airships wage titanic battles governed by "chivalrous" regulations imposed by the mysterious Guild. Like most historical feudal societies it is also highly stratified: the aristocratic elite live in palatial estates, drink pure water, and eat the finest foods. The working class, on the other hand, live in overcrowded urban centers where they struggle to get by on water that must be boiled before drinking, stale bread, and nearly rancid meat. In one telling scene, enemy battleships maneuver close enough to one another for squads of musketeers to fire at each other with steam powered muskets. When that portion of the battle is over the platforms that the musketeers are standing on are simply swung shut and their bodies slide inside en masse.
As the story begins the Claus and Lavie are contracted to carry two letters to Duke David Mad-thane an officer in the Anotoray fleet. One is an official communication from the Duke's wife the other is a brief note from his young daughter. Unfortunately for the couriers, Duke Mad-thane's fleet is engaged in combat with the fleet from the rival nation of Disith. Proud of their record of never turning down an assignment and in need of money, Claus and Lavie accept the mission and risk the danger of flying through a combat zone to deliver the messages. Although the Anotoray fleet at first seems victorious, they come under a vicious and "unchivalrous" surprise attack from above just as Claus and Lavie are cleared for landing on the Duke's flagship.
Show More Episode Two begins with Mad-thane's daughter practicing harpsichord. In a nicely done sequence, her rehearsal is interrupted by a small, injured bird crashing into the window. She goes to the window, scoops up the lifeless bird and seems to sense that her father is in grave danger.
Meanwhile, surrounded by enemy ships, Mad-thane's flagship comes under heavy fire just as Claus and Lavie are brought to the command deck. The ship is rocked by explosions and Claus and Lavie are hustled off of the bridge, they are unable to deliver the message tube directly to Mad-thane and it clatters to the deck. In the hustle to return to the launch bay, the couriers are unable to deliver the message from Mad-thane's daughter. Not wanting to break a promise, Claus taps into the ship's communication network and reads the letter over the PA system. The letter from Mad-thane's daughter turns out to be a charming and eloquent call for peace based not on political ideology but rather a daughter's desire to see her father safely home. Moved by the letter as well as Claus and Lavie's defiance in reading it over the PA, Mad-thane orders a retreat rather than a chivalrous but suicidal last stand against the overwhelming odds. He also contracts Claus and Lavie to send his daughter the promise he will return safely home. The brave couriers launch their vanship but instead of making for safety, Claus turns toward the Guild's observation ship in a vain attempt to get them to call off the battle. The Guild, however, has their own mysterious agenda which seems to call for Mad-thane's defeat and they allow Disith to press their attack. Mad-thane's fleet is saved from almost certain doom by the sudden appearance of the Silvana, a neutral warship with her own agenda. The Silvana's intervention forces Disith to break off their attack and Mad-thane's fleet manages to escape.
The third episode introduces what will be one of the central plot points of the series. During a vanship race that borrows heavily from the Star Wars podrace and the Ben Hur chariot race Claus and Lavie encounter a downed vanship courier. Claus sacrifices his chance to win the race to investigate the crash and aid the crew if possible. When he and Lavie land, it is too late to do anything. In a moment of courage or perhaps bravado, Claus promises to complete the dying pilot's mission. Along with a message cylinder, Claus and Lavie are given custody of small girl named Alvis and told to hand her over to the captain of the Silvana. The mortally wounded pilot sacrifices himself to stop a sophisticated, star shaped clockwork robot from killing Claus and Lavie and their precious cargo. Although beautifully animated in a mixture of 2-D and 3-D animation, all of this seems overly familiar. Besides the fore mentioned race, the series borrows heavily from a variety of other sources. Much of the series - scenery, characters, costumes, and vehicles seem derived from the films of Hayao Miyazaki such as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and Porco Rosso. The plot seems inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress as well as George Lucas's Star Wars and Willow.
Show More Lavie's fear of their mission is almost palpable. The Vanship Union has given this mission a Seven Star Rating - the rarest and most difficult assignment level and the mysterious warship Silvana where they'll be taking Alvis has become the stuff of rather grim urban legends. Claus is unswayed by Lavie's fears and rather enthusiastically sets out to plot a course. The biggest fly in their ointment is perhaps the little girl herself; mystery and intrigue swirl around her, her caretaker and a vanship pilot died looking after her and someone doesn't want her to get to the Silvana and keeps sending robots after her (we know the robots are from the villains because they like blowing things up and have a single red eye similar to the red eyes on Cylons). Like Princess Leia, Alvis is also a rather spoiled aristocrat who turns her nose up at Claus and Lavie's simple food and seems genuinely confused by a toy goat with a noise maker inside that imitates a goats 'baa'. Just as she is settling in for the evening, Claus and Lavie's home is attacked by a star shaped robot. Our heroes make a daring escape using their vanship as a boat and floating down an underground river to the ruined palace where they've been told to meet the Silvana's crew. They come under attack by another star shaped robot but are saved at the absolute last minute by Alex Row, the enigmatic captain of the Silvana.
Maybe enigmatic is the wrong word for Alex Row, he's more like Batman, the loud kind of mysterious - prone to dramatic entrances and melodramatic line readings. He and his hodge-podge crew of ruffians and aristocrats in disguise are surprisingly tender, treating Alvis as an honored guest and even allowing Claus and Lavie to deliver the goat toy as gift after making a show of attempting to shoot them down. Although the Silvana is supposedly not aligned with either one of Prester's major factions, they seem to report to the Emperor of Anotoray and structure their missions around his orders, even if means breaking Guild rules regarding aerial combat. In fact, Silvana's intervention in the opening battle is ignored if not encouraged by the Guild.
Shortly after Claus and Lavie are reunited wit Alvis onboard the Silvana, the Silvana comes under attack by the Guild - it is they who have sent the Star Ships after Alvis - she is at the center of a plot that may be detrimental their own goals. The Silvana's crew engages the Guild in the kind of dog fight we've seen before in Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica - the fight scenes in Last Exile are beautifully animated but overly familiar all the same. Although still recovering from a savage beating, Claus volunteers to join the fight - in spite of the fact that he's never flown a combat mission in his life. He and Lavie miraculously survive the battle and Claus decides to stay onboard the Silvana see Alvis safely to her destination - whatever it turns out to be.
Last Exile is a mishmash of ideas from earlier science fiction and fantasy stories. The vehicle, costume and scenery designs are drawn from Hayao Miyazaki films while the characters are reliable archetypes from sources ranging such as Dune, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. The whole, as they say, is greater than the sum of its parts. Last Exile struggles valiantly to prove this axiom but doesn't quite succeed. It is very hard to look at Claus and not see a younger Luke Skywalker or to look at Lavie and not see a kind of female Han Solo. Where the series does shine is in the details of the characters day to day lives. Those near the bottom of society struggle every day to get enough to eat and enough clean water to drink. Tinkering with their vanship to increase its speed and fuel economy is Lavie's nearly daily obsession. Other interesting details include the antagonism between the aristocrats and the poor, the premium on clean drinking water, and even the leisure activities of airship crews - scenes of airship crews taking their leave in bars and casinos provide some of the series comic relief. The beautifully animated story, if not exactly the most original, is well paced and sustains its central mystery well with clues throughout. And unlike other anime series where each episode is so densely layered that missing one episode is like missing an entire arc of an America TV series, Last Exile keeps each episode simple with only enough plot development to flesh out the central story line.
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