Last Exile Complete Season One (Cert 15)
7 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 634 minutes approx
In an alternate world called Prester a conflict between the nations of Anatoray and Disith rages on via aerial battles fought in the Grand Stream airspace, overseen by the arbitrary presence of The Guild. Two teenage air-couriers, pilot Claus Valca and navigator Lavie Head, find themselves caught up in this volatile dispute when they take on the mission from a fallen fellow courier to transport a young girl name Alvis Hamilton to the battleship Silvana for her safety. After being attacked by Guild patrol ships and with a suspicion towards the crew onboard the Silvana, Claus and Lavie decide to stay by Alvis’s side, unaware of just how vital Alvis is to the sinister plans of the Guild.
This may very well be a familiar title for many of you reading this as it was originally released many years back by the now defunct ADV label, but on the tenth anniversary of its original broadcast – itself a creation to mark the tenth anniversary celebration of animation studio Gonzo – Manga have dusted off the cobwebs and reissued this Steampunk fantasy adventure in one handy box set. For newcomers to the show, it gives you a chance to see what the fuss is about as Last Exile has since become a big favourite among anime fans.
The story is deceptively simple but the execution is anything but. With twenty six episodes to play with, Gonzo have made use of every episode to eke out the story that never seems to stay still, piling on layer after layer of new developments as it progresses. The opening two episodes are your standard introductory outing that barely touch on the main plot and instead allow us to meet our two young protagonists and take a brief look at the unstable surroundings in which they ply their trade, following in the footsteps of their late fathers. It is in episode three during the Norkia Cup, an annual Vandrive race, that the altruistic duo stop to help a fallen racer who is also a courier, his cargo being young Alvis.
From then on, new characters are introduced at a rapid rate and new twists are added to the story to create plenty of intrigue or confusion, as is your wont, such is the rapidity of these new developments. It is not until the second half of the show’s run that things slow down for that all important exposition which finally gives us a chance to get to know the cast and the backgrounds to many of the disputes and crisis that befall of heroes. There is a lot to follow here so don’t feel overwhelmed if you lost track of who is who and which side they are on, or how someone who was one minute a ship’s officer is a powerful princess the next.
There is a heavy Star Wars influence in the first few episodes with the two orphaned youngsters living under the threat of global Armageddon while the Norkia Cup Vandrive race is the Podrace from Phantom Menace in all but name. Whilst Alvis may not be a princess, she is the vital component in scuppering the plans of The Guild, having been often referred to as “the key” to opening Exile, a mysterious object that could be anything but its opening also rests on a series of poems called Mysterions that one man, Silvana captain Alex Rowe, knows bar one.
The other obvious influence this show wears on its sleeve are more homegrown, with obvious visual nods towards two Studio Ghibli classics Nausicaa of The Valley Of The Winds and Laputa: Castle In the Sky, while the influence of Last Exile can be seen in such subsequent anime a Xamd: Lost Memories, Eureka Seven and Fractal. The Steampunk aesthetic allows the designers to be as free as possible with their uniforms and building layouts to create a futuristic world with inhabitants stuck in a pre-20th century European time warp. The costumes on display range from Tudor period gowns, Egyptian ceremonial headgear, revolution period French army style uniforms, Russian Cossack inspired attire and World War I flying gear! A real pot pourri of a fashion statement there.
The airships are majestic beasts based on naval battleships while the Vandrives are a cut and shunt of big old Buick style cars at the front and two seater fighter planes at the back. No propellers or wings though, these are engine driven and fast to boot, also capable of travelling on water. The vehicles and flying scenes are all tender in CGI and despite being ten years old, they hold up pretty well in isolation, with only a few instances where they fail to blend smoothly with the 2D backgrounds or characters. The actual battle scenes are nothing less than spectacular and great care has been taken in creating exhilarating flight scenes that take the viewer right into the heart of the journey.
A sequel Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing surfaced in 2011, presumably making this re-issue a way to test the waters for interest in a UK release. After ten years which has seen anime fandom in this country grow considerably and with ADV’s catalogue all but gone, there is a fair chance this much loved series will win a new audience, especially by not dating as badly as some older show have. In fact, in many ways it gives modern shows a genuine run for their money and possesses a lot more substance and intelligence than the slew of lazy fan service efforts we’ve been subject to of late.
A modern classic given a second chance to make its mark, Last Exile is a heavily involved but action packed, rip roaring Steampunk adventure of epic proportions.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Original Japanese Opening
Van Ship Guide
Textless Opening 2
Anatoray & Disith Battleships
Rating – ****
Man In Black