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.
In the world of Prestal, Noble men perform noble deeds for noble purposes. All of this is performed under the careful gaze of the Guild, a race apart who live in cities in the sky. We see this world through the eyes of Claus Valca and Lavi Head, as their travels take us above, beyond and through Prestal, and their actions cause ripples that shall never fade.