Superb animation, a nice cast of characters, and a fascinating story make for good anime. If only Gonzo knew how to finish.
What They Say
It's the dawn of the Golden Age of Aviation on planet Prester, and retro-futuristic sky vehicles known as vanships dominate the horizon. Claus Valca - a flyboy born with the right stuff - and his fiery navigator Lavie are fearless racers obsessed with becoming the first sky couriers to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship.
But when the high-flying duo encounters a mysterious girl named Alvis, they are thrust into the middle of an endless battle betwenn Anatoray and Disith - two countries systematically destroying each other according to the code of chivalric warfare. Lives will be lost and legacies determined as Claus and Lavie attempt to bring peace to their world by solving the riddle of its chaotic core.
Contains episodes 1-26.
Both audio tracks are offered in 2.0 stereo. The mix is decent; all the tracks come through clear with no dropout, and there is nice amount of directionality. However, with all of the gorgeous aerial combat and special effects, it would have been nice if it had received the full 5.1 treatment. It would have really added to what is otherwise a beautiful series.
This is a visually stunning anime. Much of the action takes place either in high-tech air battle ships or out in the skies themselves. The art and animation is gorgeous, and the transfer looks really nice. There are no technical flaws to speak of, and the colors came through wonderfully. With excellent character and technology designs, along with some truly breathtaking scenery, Last Exile is a visual treat.
I have loved the packaging for Funimation’s recent thinpaks, and Last Exile is no different. The four discs are housed in two double-sided thinpaks, with an artbox to carry them in. The artbox is made up to look like the side of the Sylvana, with a shot of Claus and Lavie on the front, and some photographs on the back. The thinpaks are designed to look like the table of contents for a vanship instruction manual. There are some old fashioned, parchment looking sketches of the characters on the back of the thinpak as well as on the reverse sides. It is a really well put together set.
The menus have a really basic design, but I love the fact that they are designed to also look like the table of contents for a vanship instruction manual just like the thinpaks. The selections are laid out as if part of a check list, while an ‘x’ signifies the cursor. It is not a particularly fancy menu, but it is nice that they kept the packaging theme.
Except for a few trailers on the last disc, there are no extras on this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Last Exile was originally released in 2003/2004 by Geneon. Following Geneon’s collapse, Funimation has opted to save it. Hence this release. One of the more popular Gonzo productions, it features a fascinating story, gorgeous scenery, and plenty of aerial action. But like many gonzo titles for me, it peters out a little bit near the end. Still, it is a wonderful series overall.
Claus Valca and Lavie Head are vanship couriers. Using their vanship (i.e. aircraft), they carry messages across the skies, almost like a modern pony express. They hope to use the money they earn to make enough improvements to their vanship so that they can cross the Grand Stream: the region separating the countries of Anatoray and Disith, known for its violent, swirling air currents and which also claimed the lives of their fathers. With Claus’s expert piloting and Lavie superb navigation, they hope to succeed where their fathers failed.
In an effort to make some extra money, they enter a local race. During said race, they crash into a vanship not participating, when it cuts across the track. They search the wreckage of the other vanship, finding the navigator dead and the pilot dying. He was on a 10 star courier mission, meaning the most dangerous type of mission, and was being chased by a mysterious aircraft. He begs Claus to take over the mission, and hands him a little sleeping girl.
The girl, Alvis, has been taken from the Guild. While technically a business entity, the Guild controls all of the world’s Claudia units, which are the technology that allows humans to fly, as well as the pure water sources. Because of this, the Guild’s leader, Maestro Delphine, acts as an Empress to the rest of world. Delphine needs Alvis for an unknown reason, and rebels have kidnapped her in the first move in an attempt to wrest control away from the Guild.
Claus and Lavie have to deliver Alvis to Alex Rowe, the captain of the mysterious Sylvana. The Sylvana is the only major battleship in the world that is not under the direct control of any political entity. They move with their own purpose and have a reputation for battle prowess and ruthlessness. Alex Rowe in particular seems to have his own cold hearted agenda.
Claus and Lavie form a bond with Alvis in the short time they spend with her, and they are both concerned with what Alex Rowe might do with her. So they decide to join the crew of the Sylvana in order to try and protect her. As a result, they find themselves caught up in the fight for independence and the search for the legendary Exile, of which little is known. And in the process, they have to figure out what their roles in this changing world actually are.
Last Exile features a good, well paced plot, decent characters, and is one of the more visually impressive animes. The aircraft have great designs, and with plenty of the action taking place in the skies, it allows for a metric ton of beautiful aerial shots. The coloring tends towards browns and earth-tones, which can be considered bland, but fits really well with the theme.
Though it does not technically fit in the genre, it borrows a lot of inspiration from Steampunk, as the art style, the technological designs, and the overall feel of the series are very reminiscent of modern works from James Blaylock or K.W. Jeter, or even as far back as Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. The societies involved feel Victorian, between their clothing and their militaries that rely on muskets and idealistic chivalry, but the fact that they are able to fly adds the fantasy element you would not expect for such an old fashioned world.
In fact, it is the world and how it affects the plot that fascinates me the most in this. Practically everything is set against a backdrop of war between Anatoray and Disith, with the Guild sitting back and watching amusedly. At the same time, the Sylvana travels around making its own rules, and nobody can tell them otherwise. As the plot develops, we get to learn all of the intricacies behind the politics of this world and how all of the problems ultimately start with the oppression of the Guild. It is a really good mesh of moving parts that all make a believably intriguing world.
The mystery behind Exile is also well done, though it provides what is my lone gripe against the series. When we first hear of Exile, all we know is that it is a thing that exists in the Grand Stream. Even Alex Rowe, who has seen Exile, is a bit fuzzy on the details. As the fight over control of Alvis continues, we learn more about Exile piece by piece, but never more than we need to know. As it is essentially the main catalyst for the progression of the plot, then it is good that it is done so well.
But it is the fact that it is the catalyst for the plot that bothers me the most. As I said before, I loved the political setup of the world. The countries are well thought out, and their relationships are believable. The delicate balance of perceived power of the governments balanced with the true power of the Guild sets up a wonderful conflict for the story to build on.
This conflict is much more interesting for me than anything to do with Exile, and when we finally learn exactly what Exile is and why it is so important, I was really left with a feeling of ‘whatever.’ Since the final battle is essentially a fight for Exile, it leaves the conclusion a little flat. Gonzo does this a lot to me: it does a lot of things right, but there is always one thing that stands out as ‘eh,’ and it always has enough prominence to hurt the series more than it should. Still, all that said, the conclusion does contain one of the more satisfying death scenes I have ever seen, so it has that going for it.
Last Exile is a typical Gonzo title for me: a lot of excellence mixed with one uninteresting theme that hurts a bit more than I wish it would. I liked everything here, but I thought the search for Exile took a little too much time away from the conflict between the Guild and everybody else, especially considering that the outcome was too ‘poetic’ for my liking. Still, I would imagine that many would like this ending, and it certainly did not ruin everything else that I liked. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System