For years the kingdoms of Dusis and Anatore have been at war, following traditions of chivalry while being overseen by a mysterious force called the Guild.
It is in this time of strife that we find two orphans, Claus Valca and Lavie Head. Having inherited their fathers' vanship, they make a living taking low-level courier jobs for a vanship corporation. But after watching a fellow pilot killed mercilessly while on a mission, they find themselves entrusted with the life of a little girl and thrust headlong into the war. What hidden secret does this girl hold, that people are willing to die to protect her? Is the Guild more than just a benevolent force dictating the war? Does it have more to do with Claus and Lavie's past than they realize?
Quite unlike many of the recent anime titles released this year, Last Exile has a look that is difficult to draw parallels to. Frankly, it's weird when you first look at it. So are some of Miyazaki's works, and they turned out well. Will Last Exile be a genre-defining title, or will it end up as a horrible mess with computer graphics? (Divergence Eve comes to mind.)
The synopsis sounds a lot cornier than it is. Trying to describe the story without giving away too much is difficult, so you'll have to make do with that.
Last Exile has one of the most interesting settings that I have come across in recent anime. It's a time of war, and chivalry dictates how the opposing forces battle. But instead of using horses and chariots, they use battleships. Floating battleships that fly using things called "Claudia engines". For armaments, they use cannons and musketeers that stand on platforms at the edge of the ships. The vanships, however, are like wingless World War II planes but can fly to the extreme heights that the battleships occupy. And yet, the Guild uses technology far superior - holographic displays, lasers and so on. It sounds like this setting alone could sink the title, but instead it manages to merge them seamlessly into an abstract yet believable world.
You really don't have to understand all that, though. The first two episodes will blow you away (literally), as you watch a massive-scale battleship fleet face-off. Prepare to catch your jaw as you watch the gunfire from the musketeers whizz past, the scream of artillery shells piercing through the cloud cover below, and the choppy hum of the vanship's Claudia engines. But that's hardly it - multiply the effect a hundred times (preparing to catch your liver as well) and you'll begin to understand how visually and aurally stunning Last Exile is.
In the middle of all this chaos are our unlikely heroes, Claus and Lavie. They grew up together, and have been flying as a pilot and navigator team since their fathers died while on a mission. Through a series of events, they end up on a rogue battleship called the Sylvana, and this is where most of the story begins to unravel. Like many anime orphans, the two have very strong personalities as a result of their past - Claus is impulsive, gung-ho, but very protective of the ones close to him; Lavie is just as headstrong as he is, but the more rational and calculating one.
While the story is based on them, it also focuses a lot on the crew of the Sylvana and life in a battleship. There's Tatiana Wisla - ace pilot, but cold and aloof; the captain, Alex Row, who posseses exceptional tactical abilities but harbors many secrets; Alvis Hamilton (yep, that's another Alvis sighting), the little girl whom Claus swears to protect; and even the crew of mechanics in the flight bay with their little idiosyncracies. It's like Tom Clancy was the technical consultant - each crew member has his a personality, a duty, and is part of the action.
And there's plenty of it.
The first battle isn't just a gimmick. Right though the series, there are showdowns between battleships, vanships, and even musketeers. These include a Star Wars Episode I-style vanship race, and a hunt for the Sylvana in a massive rock formation culminating in a display of tactical brilliance by the commanders on both sides. Be warned : Last Exile drops you in the desert and makes you thirst for the next episode, all the while biting your fingernails and begging, just *begging* for a glimpse of the next plot twist. Even the Surgeon-General would be addicted.
Resembling something from Miyazaki more than Gonzo, Last Exile looks different. From the faces of the characters down to the stylings of the battleships, it evokes a classic feel but all the while look entirely new. The vanships and battleships are rendered in CG, and so are the myriad of battle effects. However, the art isn't high on detail, and this is evident in the simple designs of the environment and backgrounds.
One problem that I noticed is that the CG can get choppy at times, and is quite obvious during certain high-paced action scenes. Whether this is due to the fansub's video coding problems or poor production quality has yet to be ascertained, but it's hardly anything to complain about.
The plot is quite solid and intriguing, but is a bit vague through the first half of the series and only begins to explain itself later on. Fortunately, there is sufficient development and explanation of the characters to maintain interest in the story.
One of the surprises of the year for me, and if at least one bit of the review sounded interesting to you then you'll like Last Exile as well. Nothing short of spectacular (Immelman Turn!!!), it's just as appealing to new fans or experienced otaku and one of those things that make you glad you're an anime fan.
If you buy only one action title in the next six months, buy Last Exile. It's got an intriguing setting, breathtaking action sequences and an ability to drag you on for just... one... more... episode... *gasp*. You could probably drop two stars if you can't stand serious stuff, but other than that I don't see how this title could get anything less than four. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: Plenty of bullets, explosions and intense battle situations. It's low on gore and nil on the nudity scale, but the nature of the plot would probably only appeal to teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (24/26)
Last Exile © 2003 GONZO / Victor Entertainment / GDH
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