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.