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.
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.
ANIME MINOR JEWELS SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Last Exile is considered by most as the best anime made by GONZO for its very interesting world-building and aircraft designs. I on the other hand say that machinery and GONZO means lots of horrible CGI and thus NOT a good series. On paper the show is indeed pure win because it has an interesting cast, very distinctive setting, very detailed flying ships, a mysterious story, as well as some thought-provoking concepts around war and freedom. In practice though the cons simply outnumber the good parts since the pacing is very slow, the resolutions to any major issue are far-fetched, the finale is rushed, and the whole show is heavy on GONZO CGI so it can’t be good. In fact, most of the fans of the series simply like the backdrop story and very few the plot or the presentation.
The artwork is the easiest part to feel attracted to. It has a steampunk feeling to it that makes it captivating, while the flying aircrafts have bizarre shapes and become easily eye-catchy. Unfortunately the bonehead animators tried to make even the human models as 3D as possible and the result was characters who look like plastic dolls. Not too fake but the experienced eye is not fooled. NOTHING BEATS HAND-DRAWN!
The soundtrack is fine in building the proper mood and voice acting is fitting the roles of its characters. There are no memorable songs or voices though; it all felt depressing and dull to pay attention to for long.
The story is amazing in its core themes. While it was about the exposition of the history of the world, the interactions of the two warring nations, or the relationships of the main characters, I can easily say it is brilliant. Too bad the above take up only a small part of the whole since all the rest appear to be some random crap that are either boring, or useless to the plot, or plain horribly presented to bother paying attention to it. What is going on here, did BONES highjack the script or something? Whatever the reason, the overall plot is mostly uneventful, slow, rushed and generally WRONGLY DONE. So as much as I like to give this one a good score, I just can’t because I am a strong fan of proper screenplay. While it begins nicely with two kids having to participate in a global-scale war, it soon turns to some boring slice-of-life full of events that feel very minor and eventually useless to the main conflict. And when it finally moves to the war itself, the way they fight is plain ridiculous. There is absolutely no actual strategy used and the few attempts at it are child’s play obvious. Makes you wonder why they even use armadas full of huge battles ships when a single tiny vanship can infiltrate any enemy facility and inflict fifty times more damage.
The characters are fine. Really, they are all great as personalities. They all have interesting backdrops to easily become likable as well as interesting openings for development to keep you yearning for more. Unfortunately the bad screenplay eventually makes most of their development to feel unexcused, out of character, or plain NOT BELIEVABLE causing you to eventually lose interest in them and forget them fast. What’s with the Star Wars’ pod race rip off? What’s with the crazy plan the villains have? Why am I watching 10 episodes where nothing happens? What does all that have to do with the war? This is no longer considered to be time invested on getting to like the characters but plain dead time.
The show has value for being considered one of GONZO’s best works (which doesn’t say much since most of what they made is shit) and because it still has a strong fanbase, which was somewhat rekindled with the sequel of the series some years later. Speaking of the sequal, it turns the whole interesting feeling of the first season into sleazy lolicon bullcrap, so in case you liked this one DO NOT WATCH THE SECOND SEASON! You will be greatly disappointed and you will probably hate the first one as well.
All I can say is that in order to enjoy Last Exile you need to be someone who doesn’t care if something has proper pace or makes sense in the longrun. You need to be someone who just likes the cool airships, the funky music, and the weird concepts. All that are presented very superficially but they are otherwise very interesting on paper and can easily fool the low tier audience to like the show entirely because of that alone.
If you are not though, don’t waste your time with it. Neither with Bounen no Xamdou; same shit there as well. There has been only one good fantasy anime regarding airships and fantasy, and that is the Nausicaa movie (the manga is of course ten times better). And if you want something with JUST airships, the far more realistic Area 88 OVAs kick ass as war drama and definitely have far better screenplay.
Last Exile is one of those stories where you feel so good about it, that you want to pace yourself. I wanted to sit down and breeze through every episode in a day, but forced myself to stick to only 2 or 3, so that I could enjoy myself. Set in a pseudo-steampunk world on the brink of war, and later global disaster, our story focuses on 2 "vanship" pilots named Claus and Lavie. Throughout the storyline, there is a constant subtle feeling of something great looming on the horizon, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat up until a little over half way. It really is a shame that such a fantastic anime could wind up falling so short of level of perfection you feel it was destined for at first. Sloppily slapping in plot lines, and cutting strings to others, the ending episodes feel mashed and disappointing. The only real victory is that the series did end on a good note, and it appears as if to make up for the shoddy craftsmanship of the previous 5 last episodes, the final was excellently carried out.
Made in 2003, the characters themselves just look absolutely gorgeous, and furthermore, the environment details pull you in and hit you hard with just how much beauty this series has to offer in terms of terrain and intricate detail. Where it fell short though, was the use of CG graphics for some of the aerial combat scenes. Although I'm sure by 2003 standards it was pretty, re-watching the series had my face in a sour expression every time I had to witness it. It wasn't that the graphics themselves were bad, but rather it just came off as cheesy. However, when the sky scenes weren't done with computer graphics, they were gorgeous, especially scenes in the "grand stream".
Last Exile has a wonderful soundtrack, and throughout the series, the music matches up so well, there are certain episodes I would watch again just to hear the subtle scores. On a down side, the theme song came off as a little discordant and awkward. They did receive praise for their use of Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix over a 5.1 mix though. Overall, the sound took a backseat, and unless you went through specifically to check, it was too subtle to make a huge impact outside of setting a basic mood.
Perhaps Last Exile's strongest point; the characters of the show really captivated you. When we started the series, Claus Valca and Lavie Head came off as bumbling children who lived there entire lives day by day as nothing more to achieve some crazy dream of crossing a dangerous vortex in the sky with a "vanship". Throughout the series, watching them grow as people made me proud to call this my favorite anime.
Claus comes into his own as a man, and you get to witness the inner turmoil of his decisions, and his clashing with reality; reality trying to constantly trying to wake him up that his childish dream of a simple life with Lavie was nothing more than a fairy tale. Many believe Lavie's character to be bland, but I couldn't have been happier with their decisions. Through Lavie's inability to cope with that reality, she stays behind, and stubbornly works on her ship, as Claus heads out to the skies and learns more about himself. Through this, Claus grows closer to other characters, and farther from Lavie, who collapses shortly into the series, and instead of reacting positively to the situation at hand, like a child she lashes out, and grows irrational over their predicament. Through hard work on her dream, and the support of the friends she herself makes, Lavie awkwardly crawls onto her own pedestal of adult hood, and near the end of the series, can look Claus in the eye as an equal.
This is only the 2 main characters though. Mullin Shetland is another character who truly brings you joy to sit and experience his life. Starting off as a nervous coward, he is a musket wielding soldier in the army, and has a array of survival medals to help him continue on. Mullin's character, from the way he chants to himself for bullets to pass by his body before battle, to the way he awkwardly learns social etiquette towards women throughout the series, and in the end where he understands his life's calling, and heads into war again, but this time, with the determination of a man who has something finally worth fighting for are wonderful things to watch form the sidelines.
Alex Row, the gloomy, stern faced captain of the Sylvanas, is a relatively boring character, who although radiates strength, by the end of the series, we come to understand just how weak he really is. Sophia stands by his side throughout everything, and he still cannot shake the ghosts of his past from his mind, and refuses to return any feelings belong a platonic respect for his skills as a ship captain (XO). Sophias sad acceptance of these facts, and ability to still do what must be done makes you feel a sort of pride and respect for her character.
The only character to disappoint me was Dio. A young guilder prince, he starts off with an awkward pseudo-homosexual crush on Claus, that is strange at first, but you quickly warm up to his neurotic character. After coming into his own, and becoming friends with the crew, GONZO must have just decided that one character needed to piss off the fans. I won't give away any spoilers, but in the last 10 or so episodes, Dio ends up completely changing character, irritating the piss out of anyone truly interested in storyline, and furthermore, the way the writers wrap up his storyline is just weak. Unfortunately for another character that showed so much promise, Lucciola grows so much as a character, just to be stuck with a cheesy ending. It was Just sort of disappointing, these two characters, but not enough so to offset the other characters charm.
All in all, I give the series a solid 9 out of 10. It had such potential in the beginning, and even near the end, for how crammed it was, it was at least bearable, but seeing your favorite promise of an anime turn into a rather dull paced series, with a quick ending, had me pushed away enough to knock it a point. Still, at a solid 9, it is my all time favorite anime, and I'll never forget the feelings I've had for the characters, and how much I came to enjoy watching the series as a whole.
Not a review per se, but something my club leader said that has stayed with me over the years:
[After watching the Alex and Maestro Delphine scene]
"Ok guys, moral of the story: MEN DON'T LIKE TO BE FLOWER POTS."