Anime Reviews: Last Exile
Some Basic Information About This Poor, Forgotten Series
Title: Last Exile a.k.a. LastEXILE
Production: Gonzo Digimation
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/7/2003 to 9/29/2003
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, mild violence)
Summary: On the world of Prester, the two rival nations, Anatore and Dusis, wage all-out war under the watchful eye of the Guild, a powerful sovereign entity that regulates all the affairs of the world. In the small town of Norikia, Anatore, vanship pilot Claus and navigator Lavie work as flying vanship couriers, delivering cargo to anyone anywhere. When they nearly collide with a damaged vanship during the Norikia Cup race, Claus and Lavie find themselves delivering a young girl named Alvis to the invincible battleship, Sylvanna, on an important 7-star mission that will determine their future.
The Good: Appealing character art; thrilling airship sequences; becomes more engrossing as it goes; characters are basic, but fill their roles well
The Bad: Takes forever to get going; few aspects of the world are explained; confusing ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions
The Ugly: The CGI clearly has not aged well
So how did I stumble across this series?
Here is a series that I have a bit of history with, even though I've only seen it in its entirety just recently. Way back in 2003, I attended the Otakon anime convention in Baltimore, Maryland, where several anime were the talk of the town: GetBackers (which everyone promptly forgot about), King of Bandit Jing (which also was swiftly forgotten), Fullmetal Alchemist (which has since become a friggin' anime juggernaut), and Last Exile (this beast, which...has also been forgotten). I remember thinking at the time, "Oh hey, this looks pretty cool." and then it started airing on TechTV the next year. I watched the first few episodes, and then dropped it like a bad habit. Nothing in particular made me flip my desk over and say "Never watching THIS garbage again!", I just never got around to finishing it. But here I am today, finally completing this chapter of my anime-watchin' past and taking a look at Last Exile in its entirety!
Where does Last Exile soar high into the sky?
In usual fashion, let's take a look at Last Exile's good features first. Among the first things you'll notice is that the character art is very crisp, very clean, and very nice to look at. Gonzo clearly were bringing their A-game, trying their damnedest to make this series stand out among the crowd. The character designs alone steal the show with how sleek and chillingly modern they still are, but to make them even better, they are given the premium treatment when it comes to coloration and texture, making these designs look positively beautiful. And okay, sure, the CGI for the airships and various terrains was very obviously made in 2003 and is now showing its age, the flight sequences are still quite thrilling and keep you interested, showcasing a great number of aerial maneuvers and imaginative scenery. Even though the CGI itself is rather obvious and conspicuous, it never actually looks outright bad, so it's not like these scenes are hard to watch, and the 2D characters integrate well without any issues whatsoever, making the whole package surprisingly impressive for what it is.
The characters themselves don't break any molds (Claus is the strong, silent boyish hero, Lavie is the spunky female lead, Alex Lowe is the dark and mysterious captain, Tatiana is the dead-serious lieutenant, etc.), but they are utilized very wisely and progress the story forward while keeping us invested in the drama. You may not remember them as being iconic, but you'll still empathize with them along the way. The story in which they play their roles is quite interesting, though also comfortably archetypal--a small group of heroes setting out to take down the establishment and end a long-time struggle between nations? Surely that's never been done before. However, not everything is as it seems and it does become much more intriguing as new developments arise...you'll be waiting until the half-way point to get there, but they do arise.
...And where does it come crashing back down?
Last Exile, for better or for worse, takes its sweet time getting the plot going. We encounter the wounded courier and meet Alvis fairly early on, but then we spend the better part of 10 episodes going back and forth between staying on the Sylvanna or going back home and whether we should help the fighter ships or not and everything possible that could slow the plot progression down. I would've appreciated a little more direction and a little more hustle, is all I'm sayin'. Sometimes it feels like they had a spectacular idea for a 13-episode series, but decided to go with 26 episodes instead, just to be safe and make sure everything made it in.
It also doesn't help that various aspects of the world are never explained to us until it's too late, if at all, even though there's plenty of time to do so. Remember how I mentioned the world's name was Prester in the summary above? Never once mentioned in the entire series. The fuel supply for the vanships, the substance known as Claudia? Never elaborated on or explained. But wait, the world's currency is also called Claudia? Once again, never explained. What about the star-ranking system for courier missions? How are those decided? Why are the airship battles so rigid and almost sports-y? Why are they timed? Why does the Guild hold so much power? How did the Guild get that power? What is the Exile, anyway? ...No, really, I've seen the ending, and I'm still not sure of what it is. If you think that's confusing, then wait until you get to the ending yourself. You will never understand it unless you read up the various walls of text on the internet explaining it--well, either that, or you're some kind of crazy genius.
So, did this series deserve to be forgotten?
You may have noticed I didn't mention the music or voice acting. That's because there's not really anything to say; both are solid without really being outstanding. So yeah, that's Last Exile. For what it's worth, it's worlds better than its other, forgotten 2003 brethren, GetBackers and King of Bandit Jing, even if it's confusing and alienating. But hey, if you wanna just sit down and watch a very steampunk-y anime with nice visuals, fun action sequences, and some gripping character moments, then this is the show for you. Last Exile may have gotten pushed to the wayside, but a part of me feels that it was unfairly jilted by the anime community, and I would like to see more viewers find their way to it, just as long as they don't expect to have many of their questions answered, anyway.
Final Score: 7 out of 10. Even though Last Exile is often beautiful and exciting, with simple characters we wanna root for all the way, the series' slow pace and its bad habit of leaving important world-building details unexplained will gradually eat away at your brain until you go insane.