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.