Last Exile: First Impressions

By Shamus Posted Friday Jun 9, 2006

Filed under: Anime 6 comments

Almost two months ago I asked about Last Exile and several people suggested that the series was good. They were right. This series is something special. I just finished Disc 2 and I’m hooked.

I can’t say much about the plot because the last eight episodes have been mostly introducing us to the questions, but haven’t really begun to answer them. (Stipulation: The following praise for the series shall be null and void if they don’t answer these questions.)

Last Exile - Vanship

The technology in this world is interesting. They don’t have radios or any other means of wireless communication, but they do have some sort of anti-grav / hover technology. The major method of communications with a mobile target is by the use of “vanships”, which are small torpedo-ish craft that require two people to pilot. At first I thought these were absurd Miyazaki-style flying machines with two-foot wingspans. But once I saw them in action it became clear that these aren’t wingless jets. They can hover around in place and don’t have props or turbines. When they lift off, there is very little air displacement, suggesting that they use some totally foreign technology for flight. I actually find mystery technologies more appealing than known technologies which are depicted in an unrealistic or nonsensical way, so I really like these vanships.

Last Exile - Vanship Pilot Claus and Co-Pilot Lavie

Claus and Lavie are vanship pilots. They take various message-delievery jobs as a means of financing their real passion, which is vanship racing. (Vanship racing reminds me a lot of podracing from Star Wars Episode I.) They take a few dangerous jobs which end up dragging them into a large-scale conflict, the sides of which are still unclear at the end of episode 8.

Last Exile - Claus

The character designs are wonderful. Claus is an incredible pilot, but he isn’t the typical cocky, “I’m the best in the world and I know it”, anime stereotype. He also isn’t filled with angst and self-doubt that causes him to choke at critical plotpoints. (At leat not so far.) He’s young and a bit idealistic but also wise and practical. I really like him.

Last Exile - Lavie

Lavie is the perfect co-pilot for him. Her co-pilot skills aren’t really a match for his piloting skills, but she’s highly motivated and forceful. She keeps Claus on track and pushes him when he might be tempted to take the easy way out. She’s also a solid mechanic.

The art reminds me a lot of a Miyazaki film. It’s wonderful, detailed, and nearly decadent in it’s use of wonderful one-time visuals. I have yet to catch them re-using footage, even when the story made it easy to do so. The characters are drawn in soft earthtones: no gravity-defying spikey hair, no purple hair, no crazy costumes.

Last Exile - Vanship Carrier Deck

While Claus and Lavie don’t have any weapons on their vanship, we eventually do see vanships used in combat against some rather interesting foes. I love watching these things fly. The sounds and the motions are perfect and really convey the speed and intensity of the dogfighting. It remainds me of the thrill I felt the first time I saw X-Wings and TIE fighters going at it. Seriously, it’s that good.


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6 thoughts on “Last Exile: First Impressions

  1. Pete Zaitcev says:

    I’d like someone tell me what is up with the fascination with uniforms from 1750s. Sakura Wars had it (SDB sez, “if 13-year-old girls ran the world, this is how uniform would look”). Gundam Wing had even more. And Last Exile is all of the above plus production values.

    I think, from what I saw, the only anime empire without retarded clothing was Abh.

  2. DVS says:

    I’ll emphasize the comparison with Star Wars. This series is a lot like Star Wars but done better.

    I lack’s the nostalgic bonus Star Wars will forever have in my life, but as a long film Last Exile is superior by almost any measure.

    There are many similarities, but none of these are forced. I doubt the Last Exile folk decided to redo Star Wars but better. (At least not in the careful way Astro City deliberitely outdoes the comic characters it mimics.)

    There are agile pilot/co-pilot ships. There is a princess who is away from her planet. There is odd technology with later explanation of why it’s that way. There is a loner “rogue” who runs an independent ship while being involved in major political efforts against the heartless main government. There are “grunt” warriors as well as enormous guns. There are honor and corruption. On and on…

    But all of these, even individually, are handled better than their Star Wars counterparts.

    This is not to detract from how original and incredible Star Wars was. At its time, a science fiction western with sword fighting was inconceivable, but it created the genre very well. That’s a tough act to follow.

  3. Kayle says:

    Last Exile’s character designer is Range Murata, whose lush illustration work is quite distinctive. He also did the character design for Blue Submarine No. 6. He’s published several books of his illustrations and drawings. Outside of anime and illustrations, he’s branched out into designing clothes and accessories, and sculpting figurines. Check out his website for some photos.

  4. HC says:

    I think it promised more than it eventually achieves… but it’s still very good. And, although I don’t know your list of questions, my guess is that they do get answered, if not quite so well as they deserved.

    The introduction is superb, however, and the aerial battles are marvelous. Not just the vanships, but the battleships – and the cloud effects! Pretty.

  5. Adrian says:

    I saw the collector’s edition boxed set at the mall the other day, came home and did some research. I saw the first few episodes online and bought up the very same boxed set a couple days later and I’ve been watching it since. Last Exile is, by far, the most beautifully done anime of any genre I’ve ever seen. The character designs are brilliant without being over-bearing in any way. The scenery is superbly drawn, as said before, never reusing anything. The equipment/vehicles are genius and the plot just keeps me going. I would highly recommend this series to anyone!

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