With the coming of Last Exile 2 (Last Exile -Fam the Silver Wing), I decided to rewatch the first series and see if it was as good as I remembered. Last Exile was made in 2003 by GONZO for their 10th anniversary, but I probably watched it in 2006 or 2007, when I started to explore classic anime series. With a marathon of 4-5 episodes a day to finish it in a week’s time, I have now relived this amazing anime and this is my review.
Let’s start with a bit of background. The Last Exile world is inspired by 19th century British technology, architecture, and life. You get nobles, poor people, steam engines, and big battleships that float in the air. OK, the last bit is actually linked to the series’ sci-fi elements. A glowing stone called Claudia gives a small aircraft called a vanship (they look like 1930s racing cars) and bigger carriers (a cross between warships and submarines) the ability to fly. The world is shaped like an hourglass with two different lands on each extremity (Disith and Anatoray) and the “managers” (The Guild, the owner of all technologies) of the whole hourglass-shaped world live in the middle, living in something called the Grand Steam where winds reach 120+ knots. The setting is steampunk with sci-fi elements that increase as the story advances and we get to learn more about the world. All the writing in the show is done in Greek with a few symbols added to work to match a few English words. Last Exile also uses chess metaphors quite a bit: all the episode titles use words taken from chess and a few characters play chess against each other.
At the start of the story, there has already been a war going on for many years between Disith and Anatoray. The war involves Disith trying to invade Anatoray by passing through the Grand Stream. Our main protagonists, Claus and Lavie, live alone (at 15 years old) in an old shack with their vanships. Claus is the pilot and sits in the front, Lavie is his navi (short for navigator) and sits at the back of the vanship. Their vanship is their life because they are couriers who deliver packages and mail with it. Kind of an extreme type of UPS employee. We also learn a bit of their background and get acquainted with their personalities. Lavie is the most mature and pragmatic of the two. Claus is a “shounen idiot” (a typical young Japanese male lead: no flaws, nice to everybody, always tries to help, a bit stupid, etc.) Although, these two are said to be the main protagonists, the show doesn’t really revolve around them. They are mostly thrown into the Disith vs Anatoray conflict by circumstances and Claus being the local “shounen idiot.”
The first 2-3 episodes mostly serve to explain the world and to show a few important characters. As the series advances, secondary characters take control of the plot. Lavie really falls into the background in the second part (episodes 15+) and Claus resumes his involvement in the story in a late episode when he says he was just a bystander. In fact, neither Lavie nor Claus get individual focus episodes while some secondary characters do. The most we get on Claus and Lavie is a flashback episode about their younger years that also serve as a recap of the first 13 episodes. It’s a really well done episode though.
The series relies a lot on “show, don’t tell,” putting it in a confusing category for some, but not for me. A second viewing helps to grasp the little things you may miss the first time through. Everything you need to understand is there, you just have to pay attention and keep in mind previous episodes. I actually hate “in-your-face” exposition. I see it as a sign of bad storytelling, personally, so I like the Last Exile storyline because it avoids this. Also, the story is told by the characters’ action rather than speech. In the end, you want the villain to die, not because you were told it should, but because you want to kill said character yourself. The story also have interesting twists and turns. Some things are obvious if you have been paying attention, others a bit more surprising. I know that lots of people don’t like the ending, but I personally find it to be just fine. While it doesn’t close every plot thread created in the show, it is still satisfying to watch.
But I think Last Exile’s best element is the ships and space battles. Imagine Star Wars space battles, but with flying vintage race cars and boats. There are also vanship races that look similar to the Episode 1: The Phantom Menace podrace. The ship-to-ship battles are really good and make use of the GONZO 3D expertise. To this day, it is still the best usage of 3D mixed to 2D that I have seen. You can barely see the difference, probably because the 2D animations are very good and flow nicely. It also has really good music, which helps set the ambience and tension in key scenes.
Overall, Last Exile feels like a historical military movie, with a bit of sci-fi thrown in. So, if you like anime or historical military movies, watch Last Exile, it’s quite worth it. You can also watch it for free on the Funimation website or Hulu (region restrictions apply).