Originally this anime did not catch my eye at first; I am a sucker for modern animation. However, do not let the age of this anime fool you; it is a wonderfully told story far ahead of its time.
The story's main protagonist is Shu, who randomly finds a girl named Lala-Ru at the top of a smokestack one day and is thrust into a world of despair, war, and cruelty. The first episode is fairly light-hearted and cheerful; beyond that, the rest of the series descends into darkness.
The tone and themes of this story are based on reality. Its setting in a distant time and place prevents it from being constrained by historical events, which is impressive seing as how most war-themed animes take place during WWII or a futuristic space frontier. Even though it has a little science fiction, it is not overdone to the point of absurdity. It is fairly easy to suspend disbelief in terms of the science fiction, as the narrative and ominous themes are driving the plot forward.
Without giving away too many details, the story of this series is gripping and deep. Emotional connection to the characters is a given; Shu, the unrelenting and positive protagonist; Lala-Ru, a mysterious girl on the run from madmen; Sarah, an innocent bystander like Shu, forced to endure the cruelty of her new environment; Hamdo, a damn psychopath with an army.
This series does in 13 episodes what many other animes aspire to do in 26 or 50. If you're looking for a great story capable of evoking powerful emotions, this is it.
I give the animation an 8/10 based on personal bias, as I enjoy modern day animation much more than that of the late 90's/early 2000's era. However, the animation is still very good for its time, and the animation fits with the setting. It gives the setting and characters an old, worn out feeling, almost as if the animation resembles despair itself.
I can still recall the voice acting, which is well-done for all characters. The music, on the other hand, is forgettable, at least in my opinion.
Each character is well-done and fully believable. Shu is an excellent protagonist, maintaining his optimistic attitude regardless of what happens to him. My favorite character, on the other hand, is Sarah. She is thrust into a world she does not understand and she is forced to endure the hardships of war and human cruelty. Her character grows and develops in such a positive way despite the numerous horrors she is put through; her scenes of grief and struggle are intense on an emotional level.
This is a great series, hands down. If you're looking to get away from the shonen/sily anime, this is the one you're looking for.