In 2003, Gonzo made “Last Exile”: a neat adventure story with gorgeous visuals set in a fascinating world inhabited with some intriguing characters and, most importantly, a genuine sense of adventure and wonder. That said, it had its problems: the main characters were bland, the story pace was uneven and the ending was a rushed mess.
Fast forward to 2011, Gonzo is diving into the world of Last Exile yet again with “Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam” (TL: Fam, the Silver Wing). A sequel that's only loosely tied to the original, both in story and, sadly, in quality.
Set an unspecified number of years after the original, “Ginyoku no Fam” is an adventure story starring Fam, a spunky young pilot who dreams of a free and peaceful sky. Said wish is brutally shattered when the powerful Ades Federation declares a war of global conquest. Fam gets involved in the conflict when she rescues a runaway princess from Ades' one of Ades' first conquests and vows to help her get back her kingdom and end the war.
Sounds familiar? That's because it is. It's the same basic story that you've seen in a hundred fantasy books, children's cartoons and role-playing games. Being derivative is not a dealbreaker in and of itself seeing as even the most formulaic story can become riveting when injected with interesting concepts or explored from a fresh new angle. While “Ginyoku no Fam” makes a few decent attempts at the former, but it's undone by haphazard storytelling that focuses on all the wrong things.
The titular character herself is actually one of the shows biggest problems: Fam is obnoxious, naïve, pushy and prone to get herself involved in affair that she knows nothing about. It wouldn't be bad if the narrative actually acknowledged these qualities as a bad thing or tried to somewhat realistically depict the downsides of having such a personality but it's all too obvious that the makers of this show wanted the audience to be charmed by Fam's unyielding optimism. Worse yet is that the creators' infatuation with her extends to the way she manages to charm and influence every character she comes across. Hell, at one point the main villain even expresses his admiration for her even though they never had any meaningful interaction up to that point.
The problems created by the constant focus on Fam actually seep into and corrupt the overall story. Part of what actually made the original series so captivating was that the main characters were part of a much bigger world. Their presence and influence on the grand scheme of things was minimal, as one would expect from a bunch of adventure seeking kids. This hint of realism made for an adventure story with a fresh twist. “Ginyoku no Fam”, however, is very clear about how we're supposed to see Fam: a messiah whose energetic demeanor is the solution to all the world's problems.
It's a real shame seeing as the story had elements that could have made for a great watch. The Ades Federation initially seems like the typical evil empire but are quickly revealed to largely consist of sympathetic individuals whose firm conviction is borne from desperation more than anything. Other bits of world building such as the tensions between Exiles and Natives, both of whom are convinced that they are the world's “rightful people” (allegory, anyone?) are similarly intriguing, as is the brief glimps we get of the seemingly theocratic and secluded nation of Glacies.
But hey, who cares about things like that when you can watch girls walk around in maid outfits or lecture about how people should just “get over” feelings of mutual resentment that have existed for decades?
The production values are all over the place. The visuals in particular range from spectacular to absolutely awful. Anyone who's a bit knowledgeable about animation will tell you that anime series are no stranger to saving their budget for lavishly animated sequences while other scenes have considerably less effort put into them. “Ginyoku no Fam” is no exception, but I can't recall another series where the quality of the visuals fluctuated so massively. And that's not even the worst part: the series renders the airships in CG and it looks terrible. Which is all the more shocking when you realize that the original series looks fantastic despite being one of the first series to rely heavily on 3D computer animation and CG. The final visual insult, however, is that many of the big battles that are fought over the course of the story look absolutely terrible. All of them are absolute clusterfucks that are devoid of any sense of urgency seeing as the main characters always find a way to turn the tides no matter how badly the odds are against them.
Ultimately, the only conclusion I can reach is that this series is a failure both as a standalone adventure story and as a sequel.
Correction: it fails especially as a sequel.
Very few of the original series' characters show up and the ones that do just get completely sidelined in favor of the “fun” adventures of Fam and girlfriends. The only character from the original series whose role comes close to anything substantial is Dio and he flat-out disappears for large chunks of time. There's also very little connection to the original series in terms of themes, atmosphere or world building. A cynic might even suspect that Gonzo simply took a tried-and-true storyline, mixed it with currently popular character archetypes and slapped the label of one of their older and best received series on it. It would certainly explain the creative bankruptcy on display in this mess of a series.
“Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam” is a huge disappointment. I can reach no other conclusion.