A classic series re-released to the UK which has aged fantastically well in this age where steam punk is a popular subculture in the anime society combined with it being a well told written story, likeable and engaging characters, a creditable villain and an excellent finale.
What They Say :
Take flight with Last Exile Studio GONZO presents a richly romantic action-adventure fantasy, set in a world where retro-futuristic vehicles permeate the skies. Against this lavish background are the lives of young and heroic van ship sky porters – Claus and Lavie – who are forced to take on the mission to deliver a mysterious girl, Alvis, to the battle ship Silvana. Before they know it, they become entangled in an aerial adventure between two countries gripped in an eternal war of magnificent air battleships.
The re-release seems to basically just be a copy of an original release (from the menu actually seems to be more based on the R4 Australian release rather than the previous R2 release) – because of this, the audio is only 2.0 for both English and Japanese, which is very disappointing considering the quality of the show. I didn’t have any problems in terms of the audio, it was fine and didn’t need to increase the volume for my standard arrangement but it still feels disappointing. The video quality on the other hand sadly is extremely poor because of the upgrades to my system, it is very obvious. For example, the credits rolling always seem blurred and whilst the picture itself is fine, you know it doesn’t seem that it could be what it needs to be. No issues in terms with synching with subtitles and such, but with blurs during the credits and pausing, it is pretty obvious there was no update to a previous release, just a re-release in one package.
Menu is similar with each of the 7 discs, we get shots and sounds of the show on a horizontal screen, under a fighter pilot type insignia in grey, selecting Play All, Episodes, Extras and Set Up. One of the few good things of this being a straight re-release though is that we get a rare scene select screen which is something I appreciate more, whilst each of the selections are easily accessible both from menu and from the show. Also on the first 3 discs we get actual voices from the show in the background as the clips are playing whilst on the last 4 discs we get the opening theme tune. Very different and unique.
More proof that this seems to be a re-release of individual discs but in a boxset, Discs 1-2 have the clean opening on the same disc and discs 5-7 have the second clean opening on each of their discs which again, seems to showcase no real checks or updates were made and was just a re-release of an old release. However, we do get a few other extras throughout the set.
Discs 1-3 have character profiles of a majority of the main cast, including Claus, Lavie, Alvis, Alex, Tatiana, Alister, Sophia, Mullin and Dio, all of which are pretty basic with just a bit of general information. Discs 1-5 also have art galleries, with pencil drawings, sketches, artwork, character designs, ship designs, weapon designs all spread over the discs and there is quite a lot of them so it is actually nice and varied. The first two discs also have various trailers and promos about the show in English and Japanese.
Disc 4 has my favourite extra, the Tokyo Exhibition. It showcases pictures of an actual Last Exile exhibition in Tokyo in 2003, basically having actual stuff from the show being made into real life, albeit on a much smaller scale, i.e. pictures, designs, artwork, clothing, symbols, frames, models, devices, figurines, paintings, etc. I loved the detail on some of the stuff and it was a shame it was just a slide show, would have loved to have seen a video there.
On Discs 4 -7 as well we have descriptions and profiles of each of the types of ships used in Last Exile, the Vanships, the Silvana, the Anatoray and Disith Battleships, and the guild ships which give basic explanations of their tech, size, shape, use etc. All the extras can be got through quickly enough on the 7 discs so not much detail overall but a few nice things here and there.
Last Exile is a series I’m ashamed to admit I never saw during its original release and I can’t understand why I never did – though I’m not a steam punk fan, the sheer animation style and music from the clips I saw would normally be enough for me to give it a shot. Thankfully, despite the obvious fact that it is a re-release and not an updated one, the box set comes out to get the whole series in one tasty little lunch, and am really glad I’ve now seen it and then some.
The story starts by combining the battle aspect with the showcases of the main ship Silvana destroying a rival fleet, then cutting to our main characters, two youngsters by the names of Claus and Lavie, a pilot and navigator simply preparing their vanship (airship) for a local race. Working as couriers, they get a job sending letters to a duke…who is also leading a battle into war under orders from the mysterious Guild. So whilst the two go out there to deliver the letters to the duke, they are thrust upon the war as their enemy Disith attempts to conquer. However thanks to the letters being read out by Claus, the Duke actually concedes and things end peacefully. At that point, looks like things will return to normal as the two prepare for the race…
…or it would be if not during said race, a squadron outfit crashes where the two of them try to save him – he does die and leave behind his mission, delivering a young girl named Alvis to the battleship Silvana. After some skirmishes, they do get her to the Silvana, where she is apparently a mysterious link to something known as ‘Exile’. Silvana’s captain Alex Row, takes custody of her whilst the two are somewhat stuck on the ship. Here, they meet a lot of characters, ranging from pilots like the headstrong Tatiana, and also being investigated by members of the Guild, one in particular named Dio takes a very strong interest in Claus and his piloting abilities. There is some interesting conflict here as Dio is very flamboyant and Claus is a little bit creeped out by him, but this does lead to some excellent character development which goes throughout the series until the finale…
As they are trapped on the ship, Claus and Lavie join up as a new fighter pilot team as well in Lavie’s case an engineer, and also both of them become surrogate family for Alvis who appears to have lost everything. The character development is very subtle but develops so well throughout – for example Lavie has to grow up as she realizes just how inexperienced she is in this new field whilst Tatiana is very hard on them thinking they are poor, but has to consider their circumstances so she has to grow up as well. There are several fun episodes like how the whole crew gangs up on a haughty crew who cheat during gambling games and Lavie just snaps, which is highly amusing, as is the subsequent ‘battle’…but even that has ramifications as during an episode where Alex bids on an item that has links to Exile, the father of the captain who was killed during the above skirmish is seeking revenge, so almost everything does have a link to something else, which real draws in the viewer watching Last Exile. Even side characters like the hapless Mullin who seems a bit of a brat, grows up well as he learns that he has to survive and not rely on shortcuts whilst on the Silvana – every character is memorable…
…this leads us to the antagonist. It actually takes a while before she is revealed, but during the auction, Alex’ main rival is someone over the phone named Delphine who is also Dio’s older sister. She basically gets Dio and his comrade Lucciola to interrogate the ship under the guise as prisoners, whilst being a very tyrannical and subtle leader of the Guild. Arrogant and cocky, it is revealed that she and Alex have some past involving her killing his fiancé, which is the cause of Alex being quite reserved and cold himself. Through her and Dio, we discover that Alvis can unlock Exile, a power which will turn the tides for any side in this war, where Alvis knowingly or unknowingly causes havoc whenever she is told information about Exile or when she recites the verses to release Exile. And whilst this is all going on, there is plenty of other battles internally and externally, such as one of the Silvania’s crew members Sophia, the main confidant of Alex, actually being royalty and thus, returns to her kingdom to try and stop this war (this is very tender when Claus learns his home town has been taken over by Disith as she says her goodbyes to him) which in turn causes turmoil for Alex when he has the chance to kill Delphine…but Sophia is also there and she could be killed too. It inevitably leads to Claus, Alvis and Alex to be captured by the Guild as Delphine prepares to use Alvis to unleash Exile, and lots of questions are asked between friends, family, and unity as everyone gets involved in some way – from Lucciola wondering where his loyalties lie, Dio actually learning that Claus’ way of life and being true friends maybe worth it and what happens when that is taken away, Claus’ hatred of seeing an aristocrat treating others like filth with no regard, and how everyone finds their way of living…
As you can see, there is a lot of this series, and there is so much I haven’t talked about. First of all, the in depth of the characters really makes this series what it is. The lead Claus is overshadowed at times by other characters but is still an excellent protagonist, as he juggles friendships with Lavie, Alvis, Dio, Tatianna, Sophia – learns about his parents past through Alex, and sees what a despicable being the antagonist is – yet he keeps his calm go enough to balance out with the more hot-headed Lavie, yet you can see the care and compassion he has for his friends (particularly his protective nature of Alvie) and his quiet rage seeping in when someone or something threatens his friends. Lavie is also done well because this is one of those rare series where a lead male and female protagonist are never shown really inclined to be romantic, and instead it is a really well told friendship story. We get episodes on her past and how inside she is a scared young lady but outside she wants to be strong and hotheaded. She has to learn to get that strength and does that by being forced to grow up without losing her naivety – it’s really refreshing and a credit to Last Exile’s writing. Alvis also is initially shown as just cargo, but develops with a personality with the love she gets from the two leads, combined with the environment she has to now grow in. Her role in the finale is just spectacular and a real highlight of the series.
The rest of the cast really add to everything as well – Alex is the gruff leader who hides his emotions but there is a reason for the way he is, and manages to find his happiness in the end combined with tragedy, whilst the villain Delphine is a very good villain being so calculated and enjoying every minute of the protagonists being uncomfortable that you really want her to be snapped in half – the Silvania’s crew are a mixed bag of jolly engineers to the hardnosed Tatiana who is just waiting for her cold heart to be melted by the rookies. But my favourite of the cast is actually one of the apparent antagonists Dio – he has an interesting ‘attraction’ to Claus, giving him a nickname Immelman (a reference to a WWI ace and his flying ability) and yes, it does vaguely seem like attraction. But the best thing is again, how it evolves when he voluntarily is captured and tries to screw the Silvania from within, but actually sees life on the ship far better, away from his sister and actually being to wonder if life there is far better – when he gets a ‘birthday’ the changes in his face from smirking to smiling combined with using more casual dialogue is a great transaction of character development that you really get sad when the inevitable happens and his sister gets a hold of him again, as he fights whether to stay as he is or become one with his friends. It is one of the sadder parts of the show and really makes you feel for his character.
The animation is superb, the detail with the ships and the battle scenes are excellent, the backstories are told wonderfully (Alex and Lavie’s in particular) – everything is juxtaposed with everything, even apparent filler episodes link to something later in the series, and it is told beautifully. It is a great introduction to the steam punk genre and is much recommended in general. The only niggles I would have which doesn’t get it a perfect grade is that at times, maybe there is too much going on and it takes a while for the true villain to be revealed, plus Exile itself is not explained brilliantly as this all powerful deus-ex-machina. However to be fair, that is just a means to an end for the story to takes its path, and the wonderful character development that comes about. It is a shame it is a re-release and not a fully updated one with 5.1 sound and better video quality, otherwise this would be near recommendation for anybody.
Last Exile is the epitome of a character driven series where everyone is involved and you see it building the story to a climatic finale. With its clever visuals, engaging storyline, back-story, and above all the characterization, it is one of the series which I regretted missing originally and so glad to see it now. Whilst the format may not be updated, the show itself hasn’t aged at all and is truly a wonderful array into the steam punk genre, with lots of twists and turns, laughter and tears, all coming from the sky and being bombarded onto your screen. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clen Opening, Japanese opening, Promos, Arg Gallery, Character Profiles, Commercial Collection, Tokyo Exhibition
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Manga Entertainment
Release Date: 17 Jun 2013
Running Time: 650 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.