Last Exile Anime Review
US Release By
Airborne European-Influenced Fantasy
26 25-minute episodes
2003-04-02 - 2003-09-29
Claus (that rhymes with "mouse"; it isn't like Santa Claus) and Lavie are the pilots of a small, fast plane called a vanship in a world suspiciously like that of Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa. One day while running a vanship race which they were on the way to winning after years of being put down by the nosehair guy and the fat chicken, they see another vanship go down in the forest, pursued by a freaky star-shaped thing. The vanship's pilot gives them a little girl called Alvis to deliver to Alex Rowe, the captain of a legendary ship called the Sylvana which is supposed to make you shrivel up if you see it.
More and more these days, it seems like I hear absolutely nothing about anime before it comes on TechTV. Cartoon Network's choices you can see coming from a mile away, but TechTV has practically no rhyme or reason. And they just keep getting better.
After the abysmal Geneshaft (okay, if I'd known that existed I'd have seen it coming from a mile away), TechTV was... not in my good books. It seemed more and more that they could only get ripoffs or sequels of things they already had. But Last Exile is a complete departure from anything they've ever had before, AND it's actually good! Wow, I got my anime and watched it too!
Unfortunately, Last Exile isn't completely without flaws, which mainly has to do with the story and the way TechTV shows it. It starts out interestingly enough. Two countries are at war, and there's a mysterious organization called the Guild that makes sure everyone sticks to the rules. The other guys disobey the rules and the Guild doesn't do anything. Then Claus and Lavie get their mission to deliver Al to the Sylvana. If the entire show had been about them delivering her to the Sylvana, it would have been painfully traditional, but they end up getting her there two episodes later and joining the crew. All this was fine, but the problem is that nothing is ever explained about why the two countries were at war, why the Guild didn't do its job, why it was chasing Alvis, or anything that Alex Rowe or his ship was or did. So essentially no part of the story is explained. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that TechTV decided to license episodes 1-13 before episodes 14-26 were even made yet, which would have put them back in my bad books if this hadn't been so good anyway.
If the characterization hadn't been as good as it was, the story would have sent this show's rating plummeting through the pavement (though still not into the sulfurous abyss of pure misery occupied by Geneshaft, Beyblade, and Medabots). It isn't super-deep; it's about like Cowboy Bebop, with each character having ostentatious personality traits, but also having personal motivations and a past. Being the hero, a kid, and a skilled pilot, Claus is much more soft-spoken and modest than other such characters. Other characters in this mold are usually loud, lazy, and overconfident, and filled with prattle about dreams (like Luffy in One Piece, Naruto in his manga and anime of the same name, Ash from Pokemon, and of course the king of this stereotype, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars!) Claus doesn't decide to pilot a battle vanship so he can go show off and win himself fame and glory; he only does it because he wants to help Al and the Sylvana's crew. And since Claus's personality is so much more restrained, that means Lavie doesn't have to play the stoic straight-man every second of the show. She's loud and filled with attitude, but like Claus her traits were kept to believable levels instead of exaggerated to inhuman heights. There were also two things done with her in the story that I appreciated very much: First of all, she actually decides after failing once that she doesn't want to be Claus's battle navigator anymore. Most anime plunge one of two extremes; either: failing would make Lavie mad and drive her to insane levels to be Claus's navigator; or, Kikaider-style, she would sit and stew in misery and decide that her entire existence was pointless. And the second thing is that she isn't in love with Claus! Praise be to the Holy Spirit! Thank you for expanding this beyond Jinto and Lafiel in Crest of the Stars! Another great thing about the characterization is that it's used as the source of some humor, instead of shoving in out-of-place slapstick humor or making the entire production take itself too seriously and become dry like so many things these days do.
Making that little difference it always does in my opinion was the technical values. As I've said in some review before (or maybe I didn't, but who cares), I won't usually take notice of anything technical unless it's either really bad or really good. Last Exile is the latter, with beautiful animation even faster and smoother than the previous champion, FLCL. It uses the same technique as Zoids, with most of the ships being in computer graphics, but unlike Zoids or any other show to use this technique, in Last Exile it improves the look. Many of the ship scenes take place in the dark or in extremely wind-torn skies, and by making it shadowy or washed out or generally disorienting, they manage to blend the ships into the cel animation almost flawlessly. I didn't even notice the ships were in CG until the third episode. The music is as close to perfect as anything can come, with several varied tunes that always play at exactly the right moment. I liked the opening a lot, which is something I can't usually say for anime that doesn't use J-Pop of some kind.
But even more impressive than the music, just for being what it is, is the dub. Dubbing companies seem to be building up a stable of tried-and-true actors that fit a variety of roles, and every actor here is in it. Claus was voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, a former Power Ranger who was later fired and turned to anime acting instead of sinking into the depths of Hasbeenia like his colleagues (I'm sure he wishes people would forget his past). Proving himself previously as Vash the Stampede in Trigun and Kaneda in the new dub of Akira, he brings a mild, easy-going voice that (aside from sounding a bit too grown-up) fits Claus's personality perfectly. I'm not sure of the exact name of the actor who played Lavie, but I know she did Haruko's voice in FLCL. As Lavie she uses a higher pitch, but is still perfect for the role and a good actor besides. Everyone else was well-cast and acted too, and some of them are in the notes lower down (I didn't know the names of all the actors, but everyone I knew is listed). Another great thing about this dub is that they didn't do that stupid L/R thing with the names!!! May even more praises come to the Holy Spirit!!! Deo gratia!!!
Last Exile is good all around, but not great in any area. The story is definitely the weakest part, and the technical points the strongest, but the rest of the episodes will probably fix the story. As it is, it's good enough to be worth buying and definitely good enough to watch if it's ever on TechTV again. It also managed to rekindle whatever faith I had in TechTV a long time ago before I saw--okay, see notes for what made me lose faith in them, if you actually haven't heard yet.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
Notes and Trivia
Created by Gonzo, the legendary animation studio responsible for... okay, the only thing I've ever seen that they were responsible for was Gatekeepers Full Throttle, but I know they were responsible for some good things, like the original Gatekeepers (and this, of course). Available from Pioneer (excuse me, Geneon) on DVD. Since I didn't actually buy the DVD I don't know anything about it, but I did hear somewhere that they sell a special edition version with a box for the entire series that has a shiny cover!
The anime that made me lose faith in TechTV are: Betterman, The Soul Taker, Gatekeepers Full Throttle, and the crown princess of faith-losers, Geneshaft. Most of their other choices range from mediocre to okay, and the only really notable ones are Crest and Banner of the Stars (both excellent) and Boogiepop Phantom (unusual and impossible to call).
I've labeled this as the first half of the series, and will review the second half when TechTV shows it next year. Chances are it'll be pretty much the same, but if they don't resolve those dangling plot points I'll be very angry.
Unlike some other anime which attempt to use the character's names to promote a motif, Last Exile neither uses a bunch of regular words nor does it just use Japanese names in a European world (which even Laputa did a little of). Silent Mobius used regular words like 'liqueur', 'device', 'fennel' (misspelled as 'phenil') and Cheyenne (the Native American tribe) passed off as names, but Last Exile uses actual European names, from German (Claus) to Russian (Tatiana) to English (Alex). Only two names that I know of weren't actual names: Dio, which means 'God' in Spanish (descended from the Latin word 'Deo', which I used above); and Shetland, which is the name of a tiny island off the northern coast of England.
On a related note, all the writing is in either Greek or Cyrillic (the Slavic alphabet developed from Greek). I'm leaning towards Greek, but I'm not totally sure. I think you can probably tell now that in addition to being a total martial arts fanatic, I'm also a complete language nerd who spends hours of time reading articles on the evolution of the Proto-Indo European languages that would put any normal person to sleep instantly. I was started on this path by my stumbling attempts to learn Japanese, which were spurred by my interest in anime. So look, with anime, learning can be fun! (But I still can't actually speak anything except boring old English).
US DVD Review
The DVDs are in anamorphic widescreen with both Japanese and English soundtracks, and English subtitles. Extras scattered through the series include creditless and original Japanese openings and endings, commercials, art galleries, and interviews. There are four episodes per disc, and the first disc is also available with an artbox for the rest of the series, and with the artbox plus a mousepad and an action figure. Some of the other individual discs also come with small bonuses along the lines of postcards or vanship cutouts.
For conservatives 13-up; for liberals 7-up.
Violence: 2 - A few humans are killed with tiny sprays of blood, but mostly it's ship-to-ship combat.
Nudity: 1 - Some tight outfits, and Lavie periodically wears a belly-shirt.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Dio has some bizarre attraction to Claus, but you have to look way too deep to see anything bad.
Language: 1 - There were probably some damns, but I don't remember them.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Claus: Mayumi Asano
Lavie: Chiwa Saito
Alvis: Anna Shiraki
Tatiana: Eri Kitamura
Dio: Junko Noda
Luciola: Tomoe Hanba
Alex Rowe: Toshiyuki Morikawa
Mullin Shetland: Shinichiroo Miki
English Dub Cast
Claus: Johnny Yong Bosch
Lavie: Kari Wahlgren
Alvis: Michelle Ruff
Tatiana: Michelle Ruff
Dio: Joshua Seth
Luciola: Mona Marshall
Alex Rowe: Crispin Freeman
Mullin Shetland: Dave Wittenberg
Created by: Gonzo
Director: Kouichi Chigira
Art Director: Keiichi Oku
Character Designs: Osamu Horiuchi
Mechanical Designs: Mahiro Maeda
Music: Dolce Triade
Available in North America from Funimation on a bilingual DVD box set of the entire series; a Viridian Collection version is scheduled for release as well. They also announced a Blu-ray version an unheard of ten months in advance; it's scheduled for release in June 2011. The series was previously available from Geneon on 7 individual bilingual DVDs; they also released part of it on UMD.