With its hierarchical societies, which are divided between nobles and commoners, its complex politics, and its steam driven airborne battleships, Last Exile's imaginary world is surprisingly well crafted. Its two warring kingdoms, Anatoray and Disith, are separated by a mass of turbulent air called the Grand Stream, which only the inhabitants of the latter kingdom know how to cross. As their own lands are being engulfed by ice and snow, the people of Disith have traversed the Grand Stream in their enormous floating warships and invaded Anatoray, hoping to conquer and colonize that country. The resulting war being fought by the two nations is conducted according to strict rules of chivalry enforced by the Guild, which has also provided both sides with the engines that enable their battleships to fly through the skies.
The program makers have not stopped at creating such a fascinating world, but have peopled it with a number of equally engaging individuals. In fact, most of the series' characters are skillfully developed. Lavie, in particular, is a real joy. Not only is she brave, stubborn, kind, and wonderfully vivacious, but almost every other aspect of her personality that is revealed is so fetching that the viewer cannot help but be enamored of her. Claus too is a likeable individual, but, while he is daring, indomitable, and genuinely good hearted, he is never as nicely crafted as is Lavie and is, consequently, never as able to engage the viewer. None of the series' supporting characters are as well realized as is Lavie either, but almost all of them are appealing. While their number precludes my going on about every one of these persons, I will say that, despite the occasional misstep, the program makers have created such interesting characters that the viewer is likely to be both captivated and moved by their struggles, conflicts, trials, and adventures.
The narrative unfolded around these persons is generally fairly loosely structured, but it is so fast paced that the viewer's attention is never allowed to waver. The numerous dogfights and races in which Claus and several of the other characters are involved are especially exhilarating, and they constitute a substantial part of the series. While some of these, and a number of the characters' other adventures, are tangential to the central narrative, they are so well integrated into that wider story that they are never distractions. In fact, they give the story a sort of breadth and complexity it might not have had if it had been more tightly focused.
What is more, the quality of the animation with which this story is brought to life is often breathtakingly good. The character designs are consistently attractive. The landscapes are beautifully done, and the vast, impossible airships with which Last Exile is filled are simply astonishing. The series is so richly realized visually that the viewer is likely to be absolutely enthralled by the images which it presents to him. The director is, consequently, able to use these images to arouse whatever emotion is appropriate to a given scene, whether that emotion is excitement, awe, joy, or sorrow. The animators do, however, stumble from time to time, and there are moments when the series' computer generated images are not entirely successfully combined with those produced with cell animation. Fortunately, such occurrences never greatly detract from the series' visual appeal.
While Last Exile is remarkably inventive, it does frequently borrow, visually and narratively, from other works. The program is deeply indebted in both these regards to David Lynch's Dune, Hideaki Anno's Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, and a number of Hayao Miyazaki's films. It is possible that the viewer will be distracted to see so many elements he has encountered in other places, but all these elements are well integrated with one another, and with those original to the program makers, so that the whole is both coherent and appealing. In truth, an artist's borrowing from other sources should not be an issue. After all, are we to dismiss Shakespeare because he did so? What really matters is how well a given artist has utilized whatever material he has borrowed, and, in this case at least, Chigira has crafted such a genuinely attractive, even fascinating vision that I cannot criticize him for including elements he found in the works of other film makers.
Despite its considerable virtues, I must, nevertheless, admit that Last Exile does have a number of flaws. The director includes several scenes that are so overdone or so melodramatic that they can be distracting, or even embarrassing, and he introduces into the narrative a few threads that are either later ignored or are never sufficiently explained. Happily, none of these weaknesses are sufficiently severe to ruin to series' appeal.
Visually beautiful, imaginatively conceived, filled with engaging characters, and imbued with a real sense of excitement, Last Exile is among the most enjoyable television programs I have ever encountered.
Review by Keith Allen
© 2005 firstname.lastname@example.org Keith Allen. All rights reserved.