Last Exile

Last Exile

LAST EXILE

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Last Exile is another one of those early 2000’s shows that features pre-Industrialization technology and warring nations whose primary mode of transportation and communication is via aircraft.

Claus Valca and Lavie Head work as sky couriers to transport information within the borders of Anatoray. One day they are asked to finish a level seven delivery, as the last dying wish of a courier they run into. By completing the mission they become entangled into the complex inter-workings of the battle between battleship Silvana and the guild.

So, this is probably one of my least favorite type scenarios. Two nations are battling, there is one ship that is running rogue, there is a mysterious girl who is objectified as the end-all-be-all solution, and a bunch of mysterious intrigue of a superior evil organization that is pulling the strings behind the curtain. This is one of those series that is so obsessed with hiding everything until the last minute, that you never get a good understanding of the motivations of the various sides.

Since we follow Claus and Lavie for most of the series, it makes sense to me that mysteries are slowly unravelled and it takes a while for us to learn everything. Plus, we need some good dramatic reveals to keep things interesting.

PLOT: Like both incarnations of Fullmetal Alchemist, Last Exile is a series that’s hard to summarize. It has a lot of political and military intrigue, as well as many character interactions that thicken the narrative. Furthermore, it establishes a lot of mysteries that, as Whitney points out, aren’t fully explained until the end.

The series begins with Claus and Lavie, couriers who end up delivering a young girl, Alvis, to the battleship Silvana. Members of the Guild, a powerful, mysterious organization with advanced technology, are after Alvis because she’s the “key to Exile.” A lot of the series covers the Silvana’s fights with ships from the neighboring nation or the Guild as the characters figure out what to do with Alvis and how to keep her safe.

Some of my favorite moments in the series come with the exploration of the Guild’s politics, especially through the character Dio. Dio’s supposed to be the next leader of the Guild, but he shirks those responsibilities and his fear of his older sister to join Claus and Lavie aboard the Silvana. I enjoyed seeing him change sides and bring more gray into the world’s struggles.

I thought Last Exile did a nice job of balancing action and intrigue with character development, which really sucked me into the series. I could see it being too much if you want answers right away, but I think the slow payoff and eventual reveals and definitely worth it.

SETTING: Claus and Lavie reside in a small town within the nation Anatoray, on the world of Prester. Prester’s two warring nations are separated by a large sky region known as the “Grand Stream.” Both sides have flying battleships and are constantly trying to get the upper hand against the other side. Meanwhile some secretive organization called the “Guild” is somehow in charge of overseeing the whole thing.

Then there is the “Exile,” which is somehow supposed to revolutionize something in a way that I just don’t even know. Maybe I just mentally checked out while watching this series, but I just don’t get the world building. I don’t get why the Exile exists, why people want it, why everyone’s at war. It seems to me that there are too many shows that think if they give a character magical abilities to be awesome, that the plot will all just fall together without any real world building. FYI, this is one of those shows.

SETTING: Last Exile is a textbook example of a steampunk civilization countered by a slick, futuristic society above them. The people of Anatoray and Disith are clearly stuck in a society early into Industrialization with airships, while the Guild has advanced technology and the pale, harsh, and beautiful aesthetics to go with it.

Personally, I love seeing worlds with these kinds of contrasts, since they lead to interesting scenarios and tend to have intriguing explanations behind them. I immediately felt at home in Anatoray, and all of the worldbuilding with the Guild and the war between Anatoray and Disith just pulled me in harder. The world of Last Exile feels very well-developed and deliberately made, with allusions to various periods in history and two kinds of aesthetics that match each civilization presented and let the viewer know about them. To me, that’s what I want most out of a setting.

I’ll agree that the technology complimented the hierarchy of the two worlds, but I found both systems to be very generic. Neither the technology nor the political systems sought to bring anything new to a quite formulaic storyline.

CHARACTERS: I think what typically makes these kind of stories strong is their unique and personable characters. For example, I’m currently watching Eureka Seven, which has a very similar set up and strong variety of characters. Unlike Eureka Seven, Last Exile’s characters are just kind of mediocre and bland.

Claus Valca is a protégé pilot, who has inherited his abilities from his late father. Him and Lavie Head are childhood friends whose fathers worked together to deliver messages, and who died trying to deliver a message of peace across the Grand Stream. While I could empathize with Lavie’s strong spirit and courageousness, I found Claus to be weak hearted and rather dull. His personality didn’t seem to work well with the scenario trope of the series.

As long as this series was, I never developed a strong connection to any of the secondary characters, nor did I feel like I ever really understood where they were coming from.

I agree with you that Claus can be rather boring, since he’s a standard guy with his own harem of sorts, but Lavie really made the show for me with her spunk.

CHARACTERS: Since Whitney didn’t cover any of the secondary characters, or even Alvis, I’ll go over them. While I liked Lavie a lot, I also found most of the secondary characters appealing.

Alvis, the young girl Claus and Lavie deliver, is a cute and very likable child. She takes a while to acclimate to her new surroundings, but once she does, she loves everyone around her fiercely and wants to help out as best she can.

Alex Row, the captain of the Silvana, and his vice-captain, Sophia Forrester, were characters I loved. They work well as analogues for Mustang and Hawkeye from Fullmetal Alchemist for me, and I instantly was invested in their backstories and development. They didn’t necessarily develop in the way I had predicted, but as a pair of strong and intelligent military officers, I always enjoyed following them.

As I mentioned above, I also like Dio a lot. He’s a confusing character, with his vacillations between being cold and friendly, but he’s very fun to watch develop. I was more emotionally affected by him than I’d expected, and he came to be a very important part of the series’s cast who balanced things out.

Given Last Exile’s grand scale of politics and war, there are many other characters who appear and are important. I didn’t like everyone, especially the pilot Tatiana, but most of the characters felt complex and kept me interested in the development of the narrative.

The primary and secondary characters did nothing for me. I liked some of the backstory for various filler soldiers, as I felt it helped heighten the tension when they ultimately were in peril, but I didn’t really care for the main cast.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I found the character designs to be a bit odd. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but they somehow seemed very childlike. This could be because their proportions are actually life sized, or that they have a softer edge than most series’ designs, either way I had a hard time taking some of the older cast seriously because of their youthful appearance.

The animation for the flight and action sequences is gorgeous. I really enjoyed watching the characters pilot their ships and maneuver around. Watching the town race was especially exciting, though a bit reminiscent of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. While I enjoyed the action scenes, I felt that the calmer moments looked rather flat and banal.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I bought this series because of the cover illustration. The art style and character designs had a simple elegance that called to me, and I had to buy it.

Both aesthetics of this series—that of Anatoray and that of the Guild—are pure eye candy for me, since I like both steampunk and clean, exotic fashions. Everything looks beautiful and subtly stylized, and the art designers clearly put effort into making the world’s elements fit uniformly into one style or the other. The character designs fit into this aesthetic, too, as the characters from Anatoray are a little softened to fit with the old, leather-worn feel of that world, while members of the Guild are all hard lines and sleek fashions to fit into their society.

The animation of this series is also very strong, from before Gonzo had a reputation for series ending weakly. The traditional animation looks nice, and the CG used for the ships fits in better than I’d expected of a show from 2003. This is one of the few instances where CG mixed in with anime didn’t drive me nuts, which is saying a lot.

OVERALL: Last Exile was a decent watch, but I can’t say that it is a top favorite, or that it got me excited about the genre. This is one of those series I could see myself watching on a rainy day while I tune it out and crochet on something or other, which is essentially what I did.

I think part of the issue with this series is that it has so much competition for the scenario that it follows. While it may have been one of the firsts, it is now competing with series like Fractale, which I watched and enjoyed much more than this series. It’s all about character relationships and building a connection between the viewer and the cast, and I just couldn’t feel it.

OVERALL: I really loved Last Exile, as it pushed all of the right buttons for me as a viewer. The worldbuilding and politics were fascinating but followable, and the characters were well-developed and likable. I could see people getting tired of Claus or how long the mysteries keep going, but I never felt that way and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the series. It has a world that I’d love to visit again, and I’m looking forward to a rewatch of this before I watch Fam, the Silver Wing (though I know it has a bad rap). If you don’t like slow stories or steampunk, stay away, but otherwise this is a great world with a complex plot and characters who will make you care to the end. Especially Lavie and Alvis.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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