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Last Exile

An anime series.

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To the sky...

  • Dec 25, 2009
Rating:
+4
Pros: Animation, character designs and development, fascinating steampunk setting, unique musical score, great English dub.
 
Cons: Unorganized storytelling, plot holes, lapse in character animation quality toward the series' end.

Last Exile
, a series produced by the reputable Studio Gonzo (Hellsing, Samurai Seven, Afro Samurai) follows fifteen-year-olds Claus Valca and Lavie Head, who fly their vanship as sky couriers in the nation of Anatoray, with Claus as their pilot, and Lavie as their navigator. The remainder of the premise is summarized in the Wiki article to the right.

One of Last Exile's greatest achievements is that of its animation. Many of Last Exile's designs are said to have been inspired by Germany's advances in technology during the interwar period, and the series also features technology similar to that of nineteenth-century Europe at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The airborne machines, though realistic, are somewhat clunky and ugly in appearance, made up of rusting metals and dull colors, while the natural world, in comparison, is beautifully picturesque, with even the smallest details accounted for. Slow winds blow blades of grass with the grace of a flowing paintbrush. These realistic scenes really make you appreciate the natural world that much more, because they provide a contrast to the somewhat bleak appearance of the series' machines. Last Exile manages to create such a fascinating world that you yourself wish you could enter it, with mysterious battleships, dangerous wind currents, and vanship races that some say are reminiscent of the pod-races in Star Wars: Episode One. The battleship Silvana, aptly nicknamed the "Kill-'Em-All Silvana", looks especially menacing, and has a look similar to that of Howl's moving castle, without the "legs". There are times when the CG does not blend well with the rest of the animation, but that can for the most part be ignored. Last Exile does suffer from the drop in animation qualoty toward the end of the series that so many anime seem to be afflicted with, but that problem is mostly prevalent in character animation; background animation did not seem to be affected.

The series' strongest point, however, in my opinion, is that of its characters. Not only do they each possess unique character designs, but distinct and for the most part likeable personalities as well. Most of the characters, specifically Alvis, Lavie, and Dio, could easily be distinguished in a line-up of the typical carbon-copy anime characters, and watching them all develop relationships with each other greatly distracts from the fact that the major plot isn't revealed until late in the series. For a series about air-battles and chivalric warfare, this series has quite a bit of drama, but none of it is unwarranted or over the top. The fact that the characters' interactions create so much drama just goes to show that the series' creators intended for the characters to act like real people, and were not fixated on merely moving the plot along or throwing in explosions and bullets. Put a bunch of people on an airborne ship, and there are bound to be some confrontations. It really is amazing to be able to witness the changes that newcomers Claus, Lavie, and Alvis bring unto the crew members aboard the Silvana, as well as to each other, and come series' end, each character that comes out alive emerges as a different person. At one point in the series, it seems as though Claus falls victim to the phenomenon in which the male lead of a series is the center of several female characters' affections, because something like four of the female characters appear to have feelings for Claus at the same time. However, nothing serious ever really comes of these impulses, and they are thankfully put on the back burner. Anyway, because almost every character becomes so beloved to the viewer, the series' conclusion proves to be a very satisfying one indeed, despite the strange plot that is to be described in detail further on in the review.

The English dub, provided by Bang Zoom! Entertainment (Samurai Champloo, Planetes, Haruhi Suzumiya), is nearly spot on, in my opinion. The only voice actors that come to mind that did not seem to suit their roles were Michelle Ruff as the young Alvis E. Hamilton and Mona Marshall as Lucciola. Michelle Ruff performed well as Tatiana Wisla, but just did not seem believable as an eleven-year-old. Very few female voice actors seem to be able to actually sound like young girls; she just came across as a bit whiney. As for Mona Marshall, who is known for her roles as young boys, her voice did not seem to fit Lucciola; for a good while, I actually thought that he was a female. Crispin Freeman once again plays a solemn character with dark attire and long, black hair, but he does it very well. He makes Alex Row's plight believable, and is able to avoid coming across as merely cold and uncaring. Johnny Yong Bosch once again plays the righteous lead character (Claus), while Kari Wahlgren's performance as the headstrong Lavie may surprise those who have only heard her in more subtle roles such as Robin from Witch Hunter Robin. This series definitely does her justice in helping to show off her range. However, of all the voice actors that participated in the series, a very honorable mention must be given to Joshua Seth for his role as Lord Dio Eraclea. Voiced by a female in the Japanese version, Joshua Seth plays the antagonizing Dio so well, that it is actually worth forgoing the Japanese dub for. He sounds at once both playful and menacing, and never before have I been so amused by a character in an anime series. I have not viewed this series in Japanese, and so cannot comment on that at this time.

As for the series' musical score, it blends several European-style themes to create a genuinely original soundtrack that compliments Last Exile's setting, in that it helps to create a unique world that is very different from almost anything that has been seen in anime (that I know of), before or since. The series' opening theme, Shuntaro Okino's "Cloud Age Symphony" utilizes instruments such as the bagpipes that aren't normally heard in Japanese fare. It lets you know that you are in for an interesting ride. The ending theme, Hitomi's "Over The Sky", is a fitting piece, in both mood and lyrics. It is a much softer tune than the opening, but remarkable nonetheless. The background music compliments the series while one is viewing it, but is not terribly memorable once the series is over; you probably won't find yourself humming any of the tunes, aside from the lovely piece that plays when one views the DVD menu. The series does have a handful of insert songs, put in during some of the series' important moments and turning points. These are much more memorable. Another great thing about the series' soundtrack is the fact that the last episode uses a sort of remake of "Over The Sky" as the ending theme. I find it incredibly lazy when a series' creators use the exact same ending theme on the very last episode.

Last Exile does provide some solid action scenes in the form of mid-sky vanship battles and battleship duels, but these do not dominate the series; action-junkies will be sorely disappointed. These action-scenes are very well done, as there was no recycled footage, as far as I could see, and the series did not try to take shortcuts by diverting attention elsewhere while battles were ensuing, as so many other series tend to do. Last Exile must have had quite a budget, and definitely took advantage of it. There are times where, when one character is speaking, the surrounding characters do not blink or move at all, which is something that I usually take note of, but in this case it does not detract terribly from the series' quality, given the quality of the series' other aspects. As for Last Exile's plot, well, that is probably the series' largest shortcoming. Although Last Exile at first focuses on the disputes between the three nations of Disith, Anatoray, and the Guild, it eventually jumps to another storyline revolving around an abandoned ship known as "Exile" that has somehow become encased in a cocoon and, when released, will lead to a better, more peaceful world. In my opinion, Last Exile would have benefited from the elmination of the Exile subplot (though this would result in a name-change), and its energies would have been better spent focusing on the effects that the feuds between the three nations had on each nation's people. While the presence of Exile is what is causing part of the rift between the nations, the series' creators could definitely have found other reasons for the nations to be at war, for the Exile subplot gave away to a few major plot holes, such as one character randomly and unknwoingly possessing the power to act as the "key to Exile" upon hearing the recitation of and responding to four poetry-like verses called the "Mysteria", and one of the characters coming to know the four Mysteria out of nowhere. Perhaps this character did come to know each of the Mysteria throughout the series, but because little attention was paid to Exile until the end of the series, there is a good chance that this time lapse caused me to forget all about it. There is also the issue of the "queen" of the Guild, Maestro Delphine Eraclea, striving to gain possession of Exile. It is said that Exile will bring peaceful skies, yet the Maestro still strives to open Exile herself. Why a villain who wished to exert control over the entire skies would want to unleash the power of Exile and undo all of her progress, I do not quite understand.

All in all, though Last Exile suffered from a very disorganized pattern of storytelling and contained several plot holes, the engaging characters, the relationships that they develop with each other, and the ways in which the series' events change them are more than enough to make this series worth viewing, and the unique soundtrack and stunning animation are simply icing on the cake. I would recommend this series to anyone in search of a stylish and original series, or anyone that is more concerned with a series' characters than with its plot.
To the sky... To the sky... To the sky...

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December 28, 2009
Great work on this. I'm actually a bit surprised with your generous score considering that your critique is certainly more critical than my own. I think I was a lot more tolerant of some of the flaws you mention for no reason other than I had endured a run of lackluster shows prior and was just so relieved to discover something I was so fond of again. I trade off a lot of my anime when I finish it but Last Exile is a staple of my collection. Again, nice job!
December 28, 2009
Thank you very much! I'm used to using the five-star rating system on sites like Amazon, so I've been pretty generous with my ratings here because I'm still trying to come up with a system of sorts.
 
December 27, 2009
excellent review, Ulalume! This is among the anime titles that are in my "Must Buy" list. I have heard so many great things about it and your review just seals it for me even further. Thank You!
December 27, 2009
This was a very good series. I didn't like the way the plot progressed toward the end, because it distracted from the characters a bit and didn't make much sense, but overall, LE was a great series. I would watch it again.
 
1
More Last Exile reviews
review by . March 04, 2013
posted in ASIANatomy
Last Exile is one of those shows with an amazing premise, some strong characters, good action, and an interesting lore and world for a story to take place in. Anime is a genra for strong imaginations, and Last Exile has that in spades, from the world the series is set in to the weapons of war which its nations use. So why only three stars? By all appearances LE has all the trappings of a great show, and has gathered quite the following, and for good reason. Don't let my rating fool you, this is …
review by . May 11, 2009
posted in ASIANatomy
Cover art of Funimation's release
Last Exile is one of those anime series that's been floating around for a few years now that I repeatedly made mental notes of considering while shopping.  With commercials and trailers that hinted to some kind of early-avionics days adventure, it looked interesting enough but always seemed to get passed by for some flashy-boxed mecha OVA or gritty, modern-day set series.  Now that Funimation has picked up the Geneon property in its entirety, my days of putting off Last Exile have finally …
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My user-name was derived from the title of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. I came to Lunch with the hopes of publishing reviews that would be appreciated by others and reading the reviews of others that hope … more
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Wiki

The story revolves around fifteen-year-old pilot Claus Valca and navigator Lavie Head, who fly their vanship as sky couriers in the nation of Anatoray. Although they usually take up missions of relatively low difficulty, they are one day asked to complete the mission of a dying courier. The mission, rated seven stars out of ten, is to deliver a young girl named Alvis Hamilton to the mysterious battleship Silvana. Despite their fears, Claus and Lavie deliver Alvis to the battleship but decide to remain aboard to keep her safe.
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