Posted by psgels on 20 June 2011 with categories: Anime Reviews




Okay, so I finally managed to finish this series. I can now understand why when it first aired in 2003, it made quite an impact. It had this unique charm and excellent CG animation that actually still holds up today. It’s got a few problems, but overall it’s a unique adventure series.

The big strength of Last Exile is that it’s inspired and imaginative in just about every single way: it’s heavily influenced by the Miyazaki flying movies, but it managed to build its own original setting around that: there are original ideas behind just about every facet of this show, the designs too are just completely unique (with excellent CG to back this up). This is a wondrous journey from start to finish.

Now, beyond the ideas, this show also has the execution to back it up. I want to specifically praise the characters and the acting, who too feel unlike other shows of its kind. To best explain this: the dialogue feels much more natural and balanced than what you usually see in anime, making good use of pauses and nonverbal communication as well. The drama in particular is really well delivered thanks to this.

In terms of the story, this is a bit of a strange one, though. It’s the kind of series that really dislikes exposition, and keeps most of this as brief as possible. Because of this, a lot of the stuff in this series is left to the imagination as to “how and why” they happen.

Due to the acting, another interesting effect is that some characters go completely against their supposed archetypes. The one big exception is the main villain who really is an evil megalomaniac no matter how you cut it, but characters like Lavie, Mullin, and even Alex Rowe: they really know their characters and don’t try to be anything more for the sake of some extra forced drama. I really appreciate that, but because of that this series does have a few points where it drags because of that. It does come together wonderfully for the ending, though.

The strange thing with this series is that it may not be the most exciting series. And despite the solid acting, there are certain moments in the story that do feel forced. And yet, now that I’ve finished watching this show, it feels so complete. The end of this series really feels like the end of a long journey, and yet I can fully see a second season that focuses on a completely new cast work; the setting is more than rich enough for that. I wouldn’t call this amongst Gonzo’s best; they made too many classics for that, but it still makes the top 7 and it’s definitely a great show to watch.

Storytelling: 8/10 – Lots and lots of style. A bit one-sided at times, but never really drags.
Characters: 9/10 – Characters who fit the setting incredibly well. Very natural dialogue and voice acting.
Production-Values: 9/10 – This show is eight years old and still looks unique and amazing. You don’t often get to say that about 3D CG in a tv-series.
Setting: 9/10 – The setting still stands on its own with great ideas and a detailed description. It leaves things unexplained, but gets a nine because it really speaks to the imagination.

Suggestions:
Shangri-La (just note that while Last Exile is really subtle, Shangri-la most definitely isn’t).
Simoun
The Third

31 Responses

  1. Avatar Joe Bob says:

    I think you might have switched the production values and setting ratings.

  2. Avatar Meep says:

    Yay so glad you finally watched and reviewed this! :3 Last Exile is a very special series to me, and it made me fall in love with scifi/steampunk. I was very surprised to learn about Last Exile 2, but nevertheless ecstatic.

  3. psgels psgels says:

    Ack, forgot a nine there. Took me a long while to debate whether to rate this one 85/100 or 87,5/100, which lead to that typo…

  4. Avatar ojisan says:

    Good assessment. The story itself seems to be made of poorly hinged sections, but it’s a fully believable world, and a wonderful experience to watch. I have a big weakness for ‘new worlds without exposition’ – speaking of which, perhaps Xam’d could join Simoun as a Suggestion –

  5. Yay, glad you finally got around to it (although ironically it looks like this is going to be a fall show now *headdesk*) and glad that you enjoyed it. I watched it recently and was glad to see how much I still liked it but you hit the nail on the head when you said that it hates exposition, a lot of events in that ending made no sense (I mean, one of the characters who appeared to have died in the ending actually lived, I never would have known that if I hadn’t looked up stuff online).
    Now, all we need you to do now is watch Princess Tutu sometime and all will be right in the world. >:D

  6. yeah I had to watch the show twice to actually GET the ending, about the world/space station they were on, and the exile itself…its funny becuase they gave hints about it all throughout the series, but had to watch it a second time to notice it!

  7. Avatar hairgreen says:

    got be the worst overrated gonzo-savior shit ever made….

  8. Avatar Alec says:

    @hairgreen: Overrated? care to explain why it’s overrated? I seem to think of it as underrated.

    beside Gonzo was already famous/rich before they even made Last Exile

    Last Exile… my fav. anime of all time. I still listen to it’s songs, minus the insert songs, everyday

  9. Avatar gandalf8 says:

    I’m glad that you finally got through this one. The main draw of this series for me was always the well thought out and imaginative setting of the world. Especially the use of steampunk and chivalry, which at first glance looks rather out of place, is integrated beautifully into the well realized world of Last Exile. Only the storyline was a bit disappointing, which dragged at times, while the ending feels rushed. I’m okay with leaving some things to the interpretation of the audience, but I was not satisfied with how little explanation is given on the significance of the Exile and why controlling it is so important.

    If there is one thing that screams “epic” in Last Exile, it is the aerial battles. From huge floating battleships that fight with cannons and musketeers using steam powered rifles, to aerial dogfights between vanships and those advanced Guild fighters, every battle was intricately planned and well executed. The battles are won by strategy, and not just brute force. My most favorite battle was the one between the Silvana and the Urbanus fleet at the Dragon’s Fangs. Now that was one intense battle, with both captains striving to outwit and outmaneuver each other. Even outnumbered and seemingly outgunned, Alex’s tactical acumen and sheer guile managed to save the Silvana. This battle will probably remain as one of the most epic battle in anime in my book.

    One part that I would love to see expanded in the sequel is about the Vanship pilots and their missions. Claus and Lavie’s fellow vanship pilots were imo very underutilised in the original series. In fact, I wouldn’t even mind if the first half of the series (hoping that it’ll be 2-cour) focuses solely on the Vanship pilots, and the missions that they undertake.

  10. Avatar Kyubey says:

    @Alec: I thought it was vastly overrated too. In fact, the plot was so forgettable that I don’t even remember it.

  11. Avatar hairgreen says:

    The plot is not the worst I’ve seen; the annoying characters are the problem.

  12. Avatar hairgreen says:

    @alec not overrated? Take a few years back even narutards were raving about this piece of crap.

  13. Avatar phuzy says:

    One of my first anime series, actually. I’ve loved Range Murata’s work, ever since.

  14. Avatar AKI says:

    Finally, you have watched Last Exile! One of the best anime I’ve seen in years. Getting thru the first few episodes requires a lot of patience but once you get to the “meat” of the story, you’ll be satisfied. It won’t be on my top ten (not perfect of course) but the eyecandy on this series is unmatched, even after a full decade after it’s released. I would say that this was once of Gonzo’s ambitious series when it was released – and it didn’t disappoint (I’m talking dvd sales of course).

  15. Avatar @Alec says:

    @hairgreen: okay, having characters you personally don’t like makes this anime a piece of crap? Oh God, who knows how many animes you’ve labeled as “piece of crap”

    lemme guess, the list involves honey and clover, cowboy bebop & gankutsuou

  16. Avatar hairgreen says:

    @alec how dare you to compare last exile to cowboy bebop.

  17. Avatar Watcherzero says:

    I just loved the original influence of Greek in the style (when in most anime its German influenced). Wasnt a huge fan of the main charachters apart from the little girl and crew of the Silvana, the princess in particular you really felt how she was competing with a dead girlfreind always. Many series have done the people on an ark ship going backwards but I dont think any have ever done it this well or kept the suspense of that reveal so long.

  18. psgels psgels says:

    Kids, please try to at least be civil. There’s no need to fly at each other’s throat just because your opinions differ.

  19. Avatar Alec says:

    @hairgreen: I just figure you found Ed annoying, hence being part of the list.

    And besides Cowboy Bebop is overrated. There’s too much hype put into it compared to last exile.

  20. Avatar Alec says:

    There were a few things left unexplained in the series, like how or why Alvis is the key to last exile. But I guess it no longer mattered in the end

  21. Avatar hairred says:

    @alec yeah right CB is overrated.

  22. Avatar Guest says:

    I enjoyed this anime up until the unnecessarily vague end. Not perfect, but very enjoyable.

    One thing Last Exile really brought home to me is that there has to be a “how to make anime targeted at the foreign market” checklist the animation studios use for some projects.

    Obvious items I’d include on the list are:
    – (i) is the name in English? or at least translatable into something easy to say in English?
    – (ii) is there minimal-to-no fanservice?
    – (iii) is romance omitted, or at most alluded to but kept implicit and offscreen?
    – (iv) are characters of varied, largely non-asian ethnicities?
    – (v) are characters drawn in ways that “look right” (asians with black hair, europeans with other colors, etc.)?
    – (vi) is violence largely bloodless / gore-less?
    – (vii) is the setting outside of asia? or, if set in asia, the does the plot not really depend on being asian in any way (“it could’ve been set anywhere…”)?
    – (viii) are the main characters largely adults, or at least no longer enrolled in primary (k12) education?

    …etc., with the commercial logic being that if you get it right you can probably at least break even domestically and have a shot at making megabucks by creating the next Cowboy Bebop or Ghost In the Shell style overseas sensation.

    So: Last Exile, Fullmetal Alchemist, Darker than Black, Baccano!, Planetes, Death Note, etc., all would do pretty well on this checklist; Bakemonogatari, Toaru Majutsu no Index, Madoka, etc. (and many others) would do pretty poorly.

    This isn’t meant as a criticism per-se, it’s just that Last Exile was the one that made this pattern / presumptive checklist apparent for me.

  23. Avatar Alec says:

    I’d like to put overrated in 2 categories — the crappy overrated and the good but still overrated. I’d like to think that both exile and cb are in the latter

  24. Avatar missi says:

    I read so many times on this blog about “overrated” and “underrated” anime. What does it mean? What is a “underrated” anime? One that is SO INCREDIBLY good, but most viewers are to dumb to recognize its greatness (or don’t have enough patience to sit through 10 episodes until the real “meat” of the story comes)? The word itself is ridiculous. If an anime is not liked enough, there is a reason for it (most of the time there are MANY reasons)! It just doesn’t appeal to a greater audience. And when it comes to “overrated” anime, they DO appeal to a greater audience!!! Period.

    I personally liked the visuals and the music of Last Exil. But the storytelling was pretty lame. So I never finished it. Maybe I should try it again.

  25. Avatar ender650 says:

    I really disliked the ending of Last Exile but the animation was very good at the time and still looks decent. The steampunk setting is interesting, and I’m sure anyone who likes steampunk would enjoy the show just because of the world its set in.

  26. Avatar Scruffy says:

    @Guest. TBH I don’t think that Japanese studios ever make that much money from overseas sales, mainly due to the price that overseas buyers are willing to pay. For example look at the price for PMMM. The first BluRay has sold ~65,000 copies and was selling for around $100 USD. That included just TWO episodes!!!! There’s no way that overseas sales can ever match that sort of money.

  27. Avatar Cholisose says:

    Ah, Last Exile is a great series–one of the first anime I was ever into. The setting is wonderful, and there was a great variety of characters. I had to watch the show a couple times though to really get what was going on.
    I’m excited for the sequel series (or OVA?) that is coming out soon.

  28. Avatar Hades says:

    Not a fan of Gonzo, but well this is one of their best works (since most of Gonzo animes are decent/mediocre to begin with). I’d put Last Exile below Gankutsuou and NHK. The rest of Gonzo’s anime didn’t pelease me that much. Why so much hate this?

    CB overrated?!… this section is about Last Exile, don’t bring animes that don’t have anything to do with the discussion about Last Exile.

  29. Avatar Hades says:

    Not a fan of Gonzo, but well this is one of their best works (since most of Gonzo animes are decent/mediocre to begin with). I’d put Last Exile below Gankutsuou and NHK. The rest of Gonzo’s anime didn’t pelease me that much. Why so much hate this?

    CB overrated?!… this section is about Last Exile, don’t bring animes that don’t have anything to do with the discussion about Last Exile.

  30. Avatar DangerMouse says:

    Great to see this finally get watched/reviewed by you psgels! :)

    Totally agree gandalf8. Hit on so many of my favorite points about the series. Such a great series.

    “Yay so glad you finally watched and reviewed this! :3 Last Exile is a very special series to me, and it made me fall in love with scifi/steampunk. I was very surprised to learn about Last Exile 2, but nevertheless ecstatic. ”

    Yeah, Last Exile is one of my all time favorite series and it’s incredibly designed and developed setting and visuals of the world, the ships/tech, characters and how they look and the fully realized flight suits and uniforms etc. remains one of the best I’ve seen.

    Can’t wait for the sweet surprise that was that announcement of a new Last Exile series and like Gandalf, I hope it’s getting a full 2-cour run like this first one did.

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