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.
StoryGonzo 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. AnimationThe 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. SoundI 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.CharactersWhen 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. OverallIf 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.
Story (9/10): Unlike many other reviews I've read, I found the first half of Last Exile to be quite lackluster and droll, while the second half really perked up and grabbed my attention. The first half is more casual, filler-themed, suited for audiences that just want to kick back and enjoy something light. The second half, beginning around episode 10-ish, becomes very face-paced and involved. If you look away for a few minutes, you're probably goign to miss something. My biggest quip is that they did a mediocre job of really explaining what was happening. At times, I struggled to understand exactly what was going on in an episode until the following episode where I could gain context.Overall, the story is excellent. The execution ever so slightly leaves something to be desired, but as a package deal, I can't complain. Animation (10/10): For an anime of its time (and even for an anime of today), the animation is flawless. It's beautiful and groundbreaking, coming at a time when the steam-punk theme was just gaining widespread interest. The characters are consistent and well drawn, the scenery is adaptable and changing, and the CGI is incorporated very smoothly into the rest of it. At no point did I question the anime visially. It was the look that drew me to Last Exile to begin with.Sound (9/10): First, the soundtrack was stunning. The opening theme makes my list of all-time favorites. Normally I start skipping over theme songs around the middle of a series, but this one I listened to sometimes twice. The extended version of the closing theme is also very easy on the ears. For a dub, I thought they did a respectable job. Alvis's voice was a little too old for her, but it didn't bother me so much when I got used to it. My only complaint is volume control. During some episodes, I found myself turning it up during moments of speech, and then diving for the remote so I could turn it back down during battle scenes. This was kind of annoying, but is not an uncommon problem.Characters (8/10): Some of the characters were very nicely rounded, while others seemed very flat -- and then there were some that were so inconsistent, you just couldn't make sense of them. I thought Dio was especially frustrating, because I hated him at first, then grew to really enjoy him, and then couldn't figure out what on earth happened to the Dio I liked in the end. Lucciolla was much the same. Though I can attribute him to grappling with loyalties, they didn't bother to express his internal struggle, so in the end he just looked kind of fickle. On a positive note, I love how Alvis found some footing and really started to shine as an individual, instead of just a pawn in the larger scheme. As a whole, the characters were well done. Just don't look at them too closely and you'll be fine. Overall (9/10): This anime should be applauded for its effort. There's always room for improvement, but with Last Exile, my only regret is that it took me so many years to finally sit down and watch it. While it's not at the top, it definitely made it onto my list of "must-see" animes.
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. The Story 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 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). The Music 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. Overall Grade: A 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. Happy Watching!
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