“Hey you! Have you ever had a day where you couldn’t sleep because you were so hungry?! As far as I’m concerned, chivalry can kiss my a**!”
With the military’s misguided chivalry during that episode, I’ll have to agree with Lavie on that one.
Last Exile is one of those anime series that I randomly watched due to it having a cool name. Turns out, it was not only cool in name, but also has a compelling story along with endearing characters.
From the get go, the first episode already started pushing within me all the right buttons. You have giant airborne battleships, pounding each other with artillery barrages, vanships which are essentially this world’s equivalent of aircraft, and a civil war style shootout between footsoldiers. I was immediately gladdened by my choice to pick up this series.
The story starts of with the everyday life of childhood friends Claus Valca and Lavie Head, how they make a living, and what are their basic values. Claus is a young vanship pilot with exceptional flying skills. His character is shown to be a bit laid back but honor-bound to accomplishing his duty. Lavie is a somewhat hotheaded girl that is shown to be very practical in life. They share the dream of crossing the Grand Stream, a massive air current that disrupts aircraft attempting to fly to other continents, together. A few episodes later, the story introduces Alvis, a mysterious young girl, and, from here on end, this leads them into unexpected twists and turns forcing them to make difficult decisions and evaluate their purposes in why they do what they do.
One of the strong-points of this series is that it develops its characters really well. You could see the changes that are happening to the main characters as they are plunged into a world they were not expecting. Not only the main characters, but even the supporting cast are all very well fleshed out, having their own personal struggles and growth. You also have characters who are not who they seem they are at the start. This works very well as crises are resolved and even more are introduced as these true characters are revealed.
Pilots who desire nothing but to fly freely in the sky are now faced with the decision of taking up arms. Friendships get tested by the various scenarios and the friction as to be resolved somehow. Jealousy, love, duty, honor, and purpose conflict within in the hearts of the characters and are shown to have effect on things and people around them.
Last Exile is very nice to look at. The way they used CG to detail mechanical objects and traditional artwork for the characters, works out very well. The battleships, especially the ones on the Anatoray side appear to be modeled from real battleships and exude the same aura as their ocean borne cousins when you see them. The battles feel huge. When a large ship goes down on your side, it feels like a massive loss. The same way it feels like a great victory when one of the opponents ships is taken down.
This aspect of loss is subconsciously heightened by the very good sequencing of events. In the very first episode, one is put in the shoes of a foot-soldier who has very little chance of walking away alive from each engagement, showing how the life of that single individual is so very precious and the personal sacrifice these people make for a greater cause. Each battleship is not just a massive flying hunk of metal with cannons. Each battleship is also the home to hundreds of human beings, who also perish if the ship goes down in battle. The contrast of the value of human life, and at the same time its insignificance in such a large conflict adds depth to the story. Watchers can feel the pang when a familiar character is lost, yet have to shield themselves emotionally and mentally from the deaths of multitudes when entire cities and fleets are wiped out.
The musical backdrop of the story is excellent. The music never stands out to take over the storytelling, but always stays there in the background never detracting the watcher’s attention. The music does its job subconsciously supporting the events on screen and evoking the right emotions. Epic music for the ship battles, a medieval sounding tune for a casual scene, and even an old school RPGish sounding theme for an auction house. The music department does not fail to satisfy.
On a side-note, I liked the way they used chess terminology to name each episode. The titles were very appropriate. It also made me look up some of the unfamiliar terms.
The most memorable aspect of Last Exile for me are the characters. Each of their stories have been ingrained in my head. Even a certain battleship had its own character despite not being alive.
I would highly recommend this series.