Last Exile Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Last Exile

Last Exile Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     November 14, 2003
Release Date: November 18, 2003

Last Exile Vol. #1
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
Japan's top anime creators bring a richly romantic action/adventure fantasy in an imaginary planet where retro-futuristic sky vehicles permeate the skies. Against this lavish background are the lives of a young and heroic air pilot duo --- Claus and Lavie -- whose assignment to make a special human delivery fails. Before they know it, they become entangled in an aerial adventure between two countries gripped in an eternal war of magnificent air battleships, noble generals, and a mysterious war-mediating Guild. With signature, high quality 2D and 3D animation and stunning attention to fantasy detail, LAST EXILE takes us to a place never before dreamed of in the vast reaches of the blue heavens.

The Review!
One of the more anticipated releases of the season, Gonzo’s latest series (which ended a scant six weeks prior in Japan) is hitting the US market.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. There’s a very active stereo mix going on throughout this show with a lot of very distinct throws to the left and right as ships whiz past or gun turrets from one side shoot across to the other. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout it and the music comes across beautifully in filling the entire soundstage, especially the opening sequence.

Airing throughout the spring and summer of 2003, Last Exile is the latest shiniest show from Gonzo and the first time they’ve truly warmed my heart. While they’ve dabbled in widescreen shows for awhile now and have used the extra canvas to great effect in giving series a much deeper feel, this is the first time they’ve gone and made one enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this series looks nothing short of amazing here with rich, crisp colors, lots of depth to them and very solid darks. Cross coloration is non-existent as far as I can see. The only actual video issue is one that’s simply inherent in the show and that’s with the digital animation; during some panning sequences where the camera follows the length of a shot, some mid-range ships will almost look like they stutter in the air at various points. It has nothing to do with the transfer but with the actual original work on the computers. Beyond that, this is a transfer that’ll just please a lot.

Presented in a clear keepcase, Geneon has gone back to the shiny paper well again and brought that back for another series. It works quite well with this release too considering the visuals. The front cover provides a large close shot of the Vanship with the two leads sitting in their spots along the top. There’s an actual banner across the top with the symbols from the series with the series name in between as well as the logo from the animation lined along the bottom. The back cover continues with the shiny look to it with a nice background shot of the sky and various shps racing across it while on top of it you have the usual materials. The summary gives a brief idea of some of the concepts while there’s a good block listing all the basic features and extras. The discs episodes are listed with episode numbers and titles and there’s a few shots from the show as well. Being a clear keepcase, the reverse side has something on it, though not much but it works well; it’s a two panel piece of fluffy white clouds in a very blue sky. The insert uses the cover art from the first Japanese DVD release with a nice illustration of Claus and Lavie together in their ship. The insert opens up to a two panel spread on just what Vanships are with some technical jargon and a look at Claus’ ship in particular. The back of the insert has the episodes chapter listings as well as some more shots from the show.

One of the reasons I think I continually come back and praise Nightjar menus is because they simply don’t look like every other anime menu on the block. Last Exile is no different, particularly in their ability to take animation and make it look so much more realistic and earthy. Taking the Vanship concept, making selections takes you to other sections on the body of the Vanship where you can do things like setup or extras. The transitional animations are brief and they flow very smoothly from one area to the other. The main menu is nicely done with a backdrop of fast racing clouds across a deep blue sky while you have some of the mechanical aspects laid over it with animation playing in a center scope.

Some good extras with a bit of meat on them are included in the first release. The first one up is a promotional trailer that runs about two minutes and heralds Last Exile as the tenth anniversary release from Gonzo, using some good key scenes to showcase the series. Mahiro Maeda, probably my favorite creative person at Gonzo, gets a twelve minute session to shoot the breeze about the production design of Last Exile since that’s his contribution to the series after coming off of working on the Animatrix shorts. He goes into the aspects of why this particular style and timeframe was chosen and has some good nuggets of information that helps flesh out the feel of the show. Also included is a nice continuing trend from Geneon with not only the textless opening sequence but also the original Japanese opening sequence. I think they’ve been the best so far in mimicking the style of the Japanese opening credits sequence and being able to compare definitely helps foster that belief. Add in an image gallery and you’ve got a rather nice little section to go through after the rush of the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since I’d seen just a few character designs for this show in NewType many months ago, I had quickly fallen in love with the general design and feel of the series. Having already been something of a big fan of Gonzo’s work, I avoided knowing too much about the show until I actually have the final product in front of me to watch since I love the discovery of what’s going to happen, particularly when they create a new world.

The story of Last Exile is quite an alluring one for me. It takes place in its own world, one where technology has developed similar to our own to an extent except that it adapted a sort of 1930’s German thought design to it and the bulk of the movement of people comes from flying. There are massive battle ships that float across the sky and then it goes all the way down to the smaller courier ships called Vanships that flit about the skyline. This is a world where air superiority truly means everything. What little time is spent on the ground seems to show that there’s no real ground based transport, at least in these early episodes.

With the four episodes here, there is a lot of air for them to cover. Not only must the basics of the world be explained, but there are various forces at work and then the lead characters get introduced. And at some point you have to slide in something related to the larger plot as well. That means there’s a fair amount of material to cover, but they manage to do it all here very nicely and without it feeling rushed. If anything, it almost feels a touch laid back.

Within this world, we’re introduced to the two young lead characters fairly quickly. Claus and Lavie are Vanship pilots, people who take on various courier jobs that are listed by difficulty. Since life is tough and every bit of money goes back into making the Vanship work and become more efficient, the more dangerous the job the more money. They take on a three star job, their first one of that rank, so they can afford to pick up a booster for an upcoming local Vanship race. So with the rush of the air around them, they grab the tube of information and head off.

The job is both difficult and simple. After picking up a letter from the daughter of an airfleet commander, Claus and Lavie then have to take the message to her father aboard his ship. The dangerous part is that he commands a small fleet or ships that are searching out for their nearby enemy, the Disith. The Disith have made movements that indicate they’re about the claim the territory of Minagith soon and so they’re assigned to stop them. So Claus and Lavie have the potential of entering a battlefield to accomplish their job.

While their story is told and it eventually brings them up to the fleet, we’re given some very good screen time with the fleet itself. It’s fascinating and eerie how it’s set up, where you have to fleets going line by line across each other and having the bays open up so that the soldiers can fire across at each other, much like the old naval days. The scenes as the men rush up to the line with their powered weapons and stand ready are both powerful and chilling, the gentleman’s way of fighting that has long since left our own world. One soldier in particular is followed as the fight goes on and he prays for the bullets to miss him.

The fleet battle plays out quite interesting as it shifts back and forth from the command area where you have what look like mostly noble types and then back to the soldiers and the mechanics on board. There’s some brief moments spent with the Disith fleet as they attack, but they’re given more over to being mysterious at the moment. What changes during this battle though is that the Disith begin to cast aside the gentleman’s way of fighting and begin to pummel the fleet from above with a second fleet of ships. It’s a cold and striking set of imagery cast across the screen as you see these massive ships crumple and slowly fall until they explode.

With the code set aside, the Disith begin a quick and strong acquisition of territory. But even with their advanced technology and fighting style, there are still things that they don’t do as well with. One of them is a young woman who ends up in Claus and Lavie’s care as she’s being hunted by some of the automated fighters in the Disith’s array of equipment. There’s something about her that the enemy wants, but when she ends up in Claus’ hands and he realizes she’s part of a seven star assignment, his instincts take over and he takes on the job without questioning it.

The other thing, the one that’s explored briefly throughout the episodes here, is the Silvana. The Silvana is something of a rogue air battle ship, not as large as ones in the main fleets, almost something of a pirate ship with their own cause. We see them early on riding in the high wind streams and masterfully attacking several Disith ships. We’re given only scant bits of information about them and end up having to infer a lot through their apparent leader, Alex Row. He carries himself with something of a disinterested look, but has the feel of a calculating and decisive person underneath it all, allowing him to fool those who underestimate him.

Not surprisingly, Last Exile borrows from a variety of other sources. The most obvious one, especially from the trailer where we first see Alex Row, is the Harlock feel. With the capes used on various characters and the heavy German inspired designs, there are more than a few similarities and obvious homages going on here. It doesn’t overwhelm though, which is definitely working to its advantage. Another aspect that’s reminiscent of something else is watching the aerial battles; it’s like watching an anime version of the Skies of Arcadia video game being played out. This has even fonder moments for me as it reminds me of the great fun I had over fifteen years ago playing the Ancient Art of War at Sea by Broderbund.

The Germanic designs to the show really give it something of its own feel though. While it does show some nods to other shows and their origins, Maeda has definitely made the production feel like its own beast, especially as it continues to progress here. His affection for varying designs and the airships is readily apparent and the way he’s worked all together here is fascinating. There’s so much detail in a lot of it and there’s such a mix of metal and aerial backdrops that it brings an interesting juxtaposition to things.

I have little doubt that there’s going to be a large number of revelations as the series continues to move forward. You can actually get a lot of basic world questions answered and basic character bits revealed by checking out the official website. It gives a rundown on the why of the war and about the rivalry between the two forces and it gives information on Row and how the Silvana continues to operate. I ended up reading these while ensuring I had proper spellings for names and places and was surprised to see so much of what I presume to be future episode information being listed.

In Summary:
There are a lot of draws in this show; epic battles, intriguing mechanical designs, a great score and the mystery of wondering where Gonzo will go with the storyline. There’s an epic feel to what’s going on here but spliced into smaller stories that are slowly merging together. A good deal of what’s here, even the slow moments where we get the awkward but not in your face potential romance between Claus’ and Lavie, is filled with details and information that helps build the overall picture.

Having not read anything beyond what little I listed above about this series, I’m blissfully unaware of where it’s going to go. But this first volume has fascinated me with its nods to other shows and its production design. There are probably a dozen hooks that have sunk into me to get me into this show so I’m eagerly awaiting more to see where it will take me.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Promotional Trailer,Staff Interview, Textless Opening,Japanese Opening,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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