Last Exile Vol. 4: Breakthrough
We've featured this show on our cover once, and now as the fourth disc is finally available, it's high time we talk about one of the greatest shows running today - Last Exile.
Last Exile might take place on Earth, but then again, it might not. It could be an alternate present-day tale, or a story set in the far future. Wherever and whenever it may be set, it is an enthralling, fully realized world with complex politics, thrilling technology, and a firmly established code of honor.
Much of the story focuses on two young vanship pilots, Claus and Lavie. They were raised together, and sadly, orphaned together. Their fathers were highly skilled pilots, but a difficult mission ended their lives before they had much of a chance to train Claus and Lavie in the ways of flying the sleek, streamlined, two person aircraft.
However, that did not keep our two protagonists from teaching themselves how to fly. Years later, Claus and Lavie, determined to make the flight that ended their fathers' lives, have become exceptionally talented pilots. And now they find themselves in the middle of a major war - a war that's been brewing for too long - and they just may have the key to ending the conflict on their parent ship, the Silvana. If only they can survive to fulfill their destiny...
This volume explores the history of the two kids, also delving into the mysterious past of the Silvana's captain, Alex Row. Episode 14, "Etude Lavie" is a bit of a recap episode, which is actually a welcome sight due to the stretched out nature of Last Exile's release schedule. On the one hand, it's painful to wait so long for such an addictive show, but on the other hand, we're getting these DVDs almost as fast as the show is being produced, and I can't say that I'd rather wait a year and get them all at once.
We also get a chance to see Tatiana - a top dog fighter pilot aboard the Silvana - drop her mask of composure when she and Claus get stranded after the major airship battle that transpired in the last volume.
The world of Claus and Lavie is so well-designed, so astoundingly detailed, that I have to wonder how long it took just to design a single town in any given episode. While a mysterious fuel source powers the vanships, the flying machines evoke memories of propeller-driven planes of the First and Second World Wars, only with significant speed enhancements.
Everything in Last Exile is imbued with a delightful sense of anachronism and cutting edge science fiction - things are simultaneously quaint and technologically wondrous - that it's quite satisfying to watch.
It's hard to imagine animation getting much better than this. I'm sure it will at the rate that things are improving, but GONZO is not only a pioneer, but a master when it comes to blending CG elements with traditional cel animation. Most of the hardware in the show (ships, guns, etc.) and all of the particle and weather effects are rendered in 3D to a respectably effective degree. Backgrounds - even when only consisting of clouds in motion - are lush and vivid, effectively displaying a living, breathing world.
I was impressed with Yukikaze, another one of GONZO's 10th anniversary projects, but Last Exile boasts equivalent production values and one of the most interesting, imaginative stories I've had the pleasure of hearing in my experience as a fan of anime. The characters are easy to fall in love with, and even if the animation weren't superior to practically every other TV series available today, it would still have a warm place in my heart, earned by its amazing cast.
Not only is the writing, voice acting, and story incredibly impressive, but the visuals can knock an unprepared viewer unconscious with their sheer beauty, elegance, and originality.
Top it off with a soundtrack that is as unique as the show, courtesy of Dolce Triade, and you have a show that can be appreciated by anyone. The music is a dynamic blend of techno, violin-led symphonic compositions, and various other tracks that sound like hymns or traditional folk songs. The show would be grand without this soundtrack, but with it, it approaches perfection in my opinion.
The only shortcomings that I can think of is the fact that the show is only in stereo, not surround sound, and as I mentioned before, there's a few months in between the arrival of each new disc. The delay in domestication is understandable, but I'm not sure why a 5.1 channel soundtrack wasn't included. I suppose it's because this series was made for television, but still, hearing this show in surround sound on a big screen while snacking on ramen noodles would be the closest thing to heaven that I can think of off the top of my head.
I guess that just means that I'm a shoe-in sucker for the special edition of this series we'll undoubtedly see in the future.
Without a doubt, Last Exile is one of the best anime series I've ever have had the pleasure of viewing. More than just a good show - Last Exile is more akin to a genuine work of art. The amount of love and ingenuity put into this series is both obvious and inspiring. The word masterpiece is tossed around quite a bit, but in this case, it's quite applicable. This is GONZO's flagship title, and one that any anime studio would be proud to display.
In the end, I'd have to say the best thing about Last Exile is knowing that GONZO will only move up from here, and I look forward to seeing what new wonders they'll dream of for us to enjoy. Until then, I suppose I have to go back to waiting for the next installment. At least I have the soundtracks to keep me company until that day!