Gonzo is bloody brilliant. They have a talent that no other studio possesses. Their anime has perhaps the most potentially awesome stories I've ever seen. Last Exile looks like a million bucks. It has a stellar soundtrack. The intricate universe and characters are intriguing. Handled by any other studio, Last Exile would have been an anime of epic proportions. But it's too easy to make a masterpiece with such material. Gonzo's ambitions are a bit higher than that...they want to do something much more challenging: with my widened, amazed eyes and dropped jaw I witness the absolute abomination of a possible tour de force. Somehow and someway, Last Exile manages to be nothing more than mediocre. Do you know how much labor and thought it must have taken to do such a thing? Can you imagine the blood, sweat, and tears that must have been invested to somehow make potential greatness suck? Only Gonzo could have done it. They're bloody brilliant.
Last Exile is a series with undeniable polish; and admittedly, I enjoyed the first half of the series. For starters, the universe is well-structured and cleverly done. Last Exile is a steam-punk with many futuristic sci-fi elements (steampunks take place strictly in the past). This combination of the old and new has been attempted before with unsavory results, but Last Exile (like Cowboy Bebop), blends the two perfectly. In the same way that I didn't mind spacecraft in an L.A. Confidential like world, I didn't mind that superior vanships were set in what appears to be the early or mid twentieth century. When I wasn't amazed by the detailed world, I was enjoying the characters, particularly the relationship between Claus and Lavie. The special thing about those two is that back-stories aren't really necessary for you learn plenty about them from dialogue alone. As far as I'm concerned, the first four episodes give as much background as one could possibly need. Mullin Shetland became my favorite character almost on sight; and let's face it, his introductory scene was fairly memorable. Fleshed-out characters, classicism, war, vessel attacks, a mysterious little girl and a mysterious man, a seven star mission. ....and a dude named Ralph Wednesday. Nothing can possibly go wrong.Right?RIGHT???
Man, was I ever disappointed. Around episode twelve the series goes downhill. Fast. It's almost as if Gonzo had a script and decided halfway through they didn't like it so they added new things but forgot to change the first half. At this point, there are absurd plot twists, forced character development and the sudden appearance of romantic pairings that arent followed up on. I personally think the kooky science fiction was this series' undoing. To Last Exile's credit, it picks up steam (no pun intended) in the last few episodes. The climax is excellent and it is hard to stop watching at that point. But then there's the ending. It's almost as if Gonzo suddenly realized they only have twenty-five minutes left and told their people to wrap it up. "I don't care how! Just do it!" Although the ending isn't as bad as some make it out to be, it is extremely rushed and even incoherent at times.
The animation, being the best part of the series, is excellent. There is an awe-inspiring amount of detail given to the vanships; you can see every wheel, every line, and every feature. Last Exile is a wispy anime; there are a lot of grays and whites. The aerial battles are a sight for sore eyes. Most of the Cgi is beautiful, but I'm noticing that Gonzo has problems animating everyday objects in 3D. It's nothing as awful as Vandread II, but more like the occasional out-of-place in Gankutsou. In any case, there are some gorgeous sequences in this, one being a scene involving rose petals falling from the sky. The characters designs are also attractive, but I take issue with the fact that quite a few characters have the same frosty design: pale blond hair and grayish eyes.
I do not say this often, but the music in Last Exile is OST-purchase worthy. The opening theme, "Cloud Age Symphony" is quite high on my favorites list and the ending theme is almost as good. There are quite a few excellent insert songs, as well. Voice acting is good, save for a few male voices. Claus sounds like a girl and so does Dio. In Dio's case, however, it's not such a bad thing. For some reason, I think his voice fits. The dub is excellent and is probably easier on the ears than the Japanese version. Claus and Dio certainly sound better in English. The only voice that takes some getting used to is Lavie's. A female voice actor should ask herself, "Do I know a woman that sounds like this?" Sounding natural is always the best way to go. Although most of the BGM is excellent, there's this one time when it is dreadfully out of place. A dramatic, classical song plays during a certain fight scene between two characters. At one point during this fight, the two characters start to...well...dance. Because of the BGM and the sudden girly movements of the characters, I was left thinking, "Wait, this is supposed to be a fight, not ballet!" You'll know what scene I'm talking about when you see it.
When the story exemplifies the phrase "lost potential," the characters are a mixed bag. Claus and Lavie are great as a team, but they're uninteresting alone. Claus, however, develops in a reasonable way. He actually grows a backbone. Alas, my potential favorite character becomes nothing more than someone to bounce lame jokes off of and drool over Tatiana for a few episodes. Dio is the best character, but I found her to be incredibly annoying when she first appears. Then when it occurred to me that she was a he in episode ten or so (Lord Dio....duh), I warmed up to him more. Unfortunately, his character is re-written three times and when Gonzo finally settles on the final model, Dio Version 2.5VX, it's too little, too late. Dio Version 2.5VX is definitely the best character, though, since I sympathized with him and he's the only character I cared about. Alex Row (whose character design and personality shares an uncanny resemblance to Amon from Witch Hunter Robin) stays his mysteriously uninteresting self throughout the entire anime.
If you could ignore the errors in the story and character and enjoy Last Exile solely as an audio-visual pleasure, then only Cowboy Bebop is its match. It's just a shame not enough heart was given to what really matters instead of concentrating on making the vanships look cool as hell. After all is said and done, the production values and the production values alone are what make Last Exile worth watching.
The story of last exile was quite exiting until about half way through where it came to a grinding halt. Things from that point on became melodramatic and pointless.
A love triangle was thrown in at a whim and then it never went anywhere, instead it lingered like a fart and then slowly faded into oblivion.
Near the end a few leading characters were killed off for dramatic effect, which in this case was a predictable plot device I saw coming a mile away, and so it left me indifferent. I felt this strategy was a pathetic last attempt to manipulate the audience into an emotional response.
I Wanted more relationships between the characters to be resolved, and bonds forged that made sense to take place. I wanted deeper insight into what motivated the characters. In the end nothing coherent or believable was left, and a vacuum of apathy for the characters and story became dominant in me.
The animation is where the show really triumphed. Initially I was a bit skeptical about the use of CGI but i blend in well. Love the Van ships and the world was the greatest and most interesting characteristic here in Last Exile.
The English voice actors all did a good job, and I remember liking the opening theme.
In the beginning the characters hinted at some depth, and thought they had a lot of potential. But unfortunately not much took place in the area of character development that made any sense or elicited emotional attachment to them.
Last Exile was both enjoyable, and quite disappointing.
I rate Last Exile at a 7 out of 10. Even though this show wasn't fleshed out well, I thought it still had a wonderful atmosphere and had a very interesting setting.
The story though, was about as precarious as a card house, and the characters although initially likable were not well explored.
I think this show might be worth watching, but than again there're many better anime out there waiting to be discovered.
I pick up and/or watch a lot of anime based on whims. Case in point: I found Last Exile on sale in a video store and after reading the plot synopsis, thought it sounded like fun. I previewed it via the fabulous internet and found it not only surprisingly fun but insightful and beautifully animated. While it seems to tailor to viewers that might tend toward series like Cowboy Bebop or Trigun, the anime's Victorian roots give it a sort of appeal that draws the viewer in and holds onto them until the final scenes.
Claus Valca and his childhood friend, Lavie Head have dreams of flying freely through the skys of the floating world of Prestor and hope someday to cross the Grand Stream together like their fathers did. By coincidence, the young vanship pilot and his navigator are thrust into a war between the countries of Anatoray and Disith when they are entrusted with transporting a young girl named Alvis Hamilton to the neutral battleship Silvana. Alvis is believed to be the key to unlocking the mysterious Exile, a tool which could help end the conflict. The mythos surrounding the Exile and the guild which wishes to gain control of it are a driving point of the series and help to clearly establish the world in which the anime is set. It starts kind of slow, but there are also several twists toward the middle of the series that conveniently don't get wrapped up until the end.
Grade: A Steam punk is making a comeback, and it's got some new moves to show off.
The art is probably one of the things that made me glance Last Exile's direction - character designer Range Murata (who also did Blue Submarine No. 6) is famous for combining elements of Art Deco with traditional anime style, and Last Exile is no exception. The art style is a splendid combination of Victorian architechure with the Art Deco style for which Murata is famous; the characters look picturesque in and of themselves, with close attention paid to the facial expressions in particular. If anything, the anime is a moving art book that dazzles and delights.
Grade: A I admit I am bias because I am very much in love with Murata's art, but this is possibly some of the best anime art I have ever seen (the exception would be Ai Yazawa).
Composing trio Dolce Triad's soundtrack flows well with the lyrical art style, giving the viewer the feeling that, were they to close their eyes, they would be immersed in the story. The opening theme, "Cloud Age Symphony" is not so much as symphony as it is a steam-punk opus; the ending theme "Over the Sky" is considered less than spectacular by some people that were watching with me, but when it is used as an instrumental for the last episode of the series it helps to give more emotion to the conclusion.
Grade: B+ It's steam punk, if steam punk were a music genre, but I don't completely buy it.
It's not going to appeal to everyone and I understand that it starts out kind of slow, but Last Exile's story is original and heartfelt, and doesn't seem to possess any sort of cookie cutter qualities at any point. It is fanciful and dramatic - a perfect blend of an emerging modernity that doesn't forget its past with wit, humor, and a dash of mystery.
What I Liked: Good intergration of 3D elements in a 2D animation (for its time, that is). Characterisation is suprisingly well done and every character matures / changes gradually over the course of the series. Sophia. Great technology designs and interesting setting designs (especially of Prester itself, a planet shaped like an hourglass).
What I Didn't: The 2D animation suffers badly from quality incoherence. Soundtrack was forgettable and both the Opening and Closing themes were grating. Pacing's all over the shop as it gets to a point where the plot itself seems to become confused by its own potential. Alvis was pretty much a deus ex machina. Dat Mood Whiplash ending.
Final Verdict: With an interesting concept involving Steampunk and Science-Fiction elements and the use of fancy CG animation, Last Exile is unfortunately never sure what exactly it wants to be and it shows. It suffers from pacing and continuity issues despite its great job at world-building and character development, and the CG-and-2D-animation combination ultimately turns out looking muddy.
What a stunning series from start to finish.
Seriously, that's all I can really put into words as to how incredible this series was. I remember seeing Last Exile on DVD once here when I was a bit younger, and I didn't buy it because it didn't seem like my kind of thing. Oh, how I wished I'd watched it a little bit earlier.
Last Exile tells the story of Claus Valca and Lavie Head, two orphaned van-ship pilots who work as couriers, competing in races whenever they're not delivering cargo. Their country, Anatoray, is at war with the country of Disith, while the floating arbitrator between the nations, the Guild, floats malevolently above in the skies. Claus and Lavie's lives change, however, when they are assigned to deliver a little girl named Alvis to a mysterious ship called the Silvana, captained by the enigmatic yet peremptory Alex Rowe (who is voiced by Crispin Freeman, my favourite English dub voice actor). They remain aboard just in case, taking on flying missions and just helping out around the ship, all while the battles outside intensify and the Guild reveal their true motives...
The first thing I love about this series is the art and design. The battleships are so realistically-drawn, animated, CG'ed, etcetera... that it made me notice something about myself that I'd never really paid much attention to; I absolutely love old-style planes. Enough about that, though - the animation in this series is so good that I often felt like I was watching a cut-scene in an extremely-engaging video-game.
It has been criticised for looking too murky, too dull, too brown, and too gray, and I agree with that to some extent, but I barely noticed it and it's nothing that severely impacts on the quality of the series. The character designs, all done by Range Murata, eschew the typical big Bambi eyes and bright design pallette of your typical anime, and have this lovely realism to them - even Dio and Delphine, two strange white-haired elf-like beings who command the Guild and seem to have a passion for intricate make-up. I never really noticed any weaknesses in animation, and I loved watching every single combat scene. It's such a shame that the animation studio, Gonzo, have come from this spectacular height and now tend to work on anime that aren't as good as this, which is pretty sad (notable exceptions being She: The Ultimate Weapon, and Full Metal Panic!). However, since there is a sequel to this series coming out some time this year, I suppose this could elevate their reputation.
The second thing I have been enjoying while watching this beautiful story play out, is just how good the music is, as well as the English dub. The music is absolutely beautiful, and it serves all the scenes it is in very well. Dolce Triade (and Yoko Kanno, I believe), have made a rich feast for the ears, using Celtic-inspired melodies (yes, I love this kind of music), electronic-sounding tunes and deep orchestras. There were times when it was a wee bit out of place, but for the most part, I enjoyed the music and it's very sad that the soundtracks are out of print and somewhat expensive. (...Even though I did once spend £28 importing Alexander Rybak's debut album from some guy in Norway. Hehe.)
Voice-acting is just as important as music, and it was fantastic here. Almost everyone in the English dub (I preferred the dub so I watched that, but the Japanese dub wasn't too bad) fit their character. Almost. Dio, Delphiné, Claus, Alex, Sophia, Tatiana... everyone was perfect. Except for Lavie. She's very sweet, but I found her voice is awfully grating, this nasally whine that cracks all the time because it seems like 99% of the time, she's shouting. Kari Wahlgren, who voices her, is usually an extremely good actress, so this is just one black stain on her record for me. I think my favourite voice performances were Dio (pictured right - I swear, he is a boy), who sounded so creepy at first but had me in tears by series' end, and of course, Alex Rowe. Ooh, his voice is delicious to listen to in English. That's Crispin Freeman for you, folks - the man's range is great, from a mirthfully dark-humoured vampire (Alucard in Hellsing), to a short-tempered, violent strongman who actually hates violence (Shizuo in Durarara!!). I highly recommend the dub, out of personal preference, because it is just so good.
All in all, more people should be watching this series. I've been going through and filling in the gaps in my anime knowledge by watching pretty much anything and everything that has been critically acclaimed. Many believe there is an incredible dip in quality once Lavie decides she doesn't want to be a navigator anymore (around... episode 12/13 'til the very end), but I really didn't notice it, because I was too absorbed in the beautiful world they had managed to create in a mere 26 episodes, and I felt so close to the characters I didn't really care about any of their flaws. The ending made me cry, but explaining it will lead to tonnes upon tonnes of spoilers that I really don't want to reveal.
Go and watch this right now. That is all. 9/10