Steam Punk Fantasy
Anything with the name Range Murata attached to it is an instant lure for me. One of the most talented people working in the world of Japanese manga, his art-magazine series Robot is always full of the most stunning and unique images. His work in anime is rare and always worth checking out.
“Last Exile” reunites Range Murata with the four-episode OVA Blue Submarine, No. 6 team of Studio Gonzo and director Koichi Chigira (Brave Story). “Blue Submarine No. 6” was hailed as Japan’s first “CG Anime” although more truthfully it blended both 3-D computer graphics with traditional technology. Whereas “Blue Submarine No. 6” was adapted from a 1967 manga series by Satoru Ozawa, “Last Exile” is an original story created as a celebration of Studio Gonzo’s tenth anniversary.
The world of Prester sits in the Golden Age of Aviation, where swift two-seater Vanships flit their way in and out of the spaces left between the mighty flying battleships that pound each other with cannon broadsides. The two nations Anatoray and Disith face off in eternal conflict obeying rules of chivalrous combat laid down and enforced by the technologically advanced Guild.
Two vanship couriers, Lavie Head and Claus Valca, get caught up in this world when they accept the job to deliver a message to Duke Mad-thane of Anatoray’s military. Escaping from the battle, the two discover a small child named Alvis E. Hamilton who they take charge of. Alivis is being hunted by everyone, and so the three are forced to take refuge in the undefeated rouge vessel of outlaw Alex Row. Row himself is a mystery, at first appearing to be little more than a successful pirate but soon revealed to be tracking down the rumored four Mysteria where are said to be keys to the greater mystery of something known only as Exile.
It took me awhile to get into “Last Exile.” The first several episodes are pure set-up, leading us into the world of Prester, of vanships and air battles. The focus is heavily on Claus and Lavie, touching little on the politics that will later come to dominate the series. It is not until the third episode, when Alvis E. Hamilton makes her appearance, that the story starts to deepen, and several more episodes while I was fully hooked. The first mention of the “Exile” that the series takes its name from does not even appear until around episode ten, well into the second disk in the series.
From the box cover and synopsis, I was expecting something along the lines of Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, but instead I got an updated world of Matsumoto Leiji’s dramatic space opera universe of Captain Harlock. This is not a bad thing, as I love political space opera, but “Last Exile” is definitely not the light and fluffy series I was expecting.
Like “Blue Submarine No. 6,” “Last Exile” merges computer animated 3D with traditional 2D animation. This also reminded me of Matsumoto Leiji, who uses a similar tactic of 3D animation for his ships and 2D for his characters. I always find this combination jarring unless it is down flawlessly, and it is not flawless here. But fortunately this style settles down after the first few episodes.
Aside from the slow start, once “Last Exile” gets going it is a fantastic series. Range Murata’s unique designs are brought to life beautifully, and it is clear that he spent quite a bit of time on the detail of each character. Some of the Steam Punk influences are incredible, like the musketeers lining the deck of the flying battleships and using steam-powered muskets while fighting and dying in strict formation. The vanships themselves take a bit of getting used to, as no such vehicle could every truly fly, but their speed and sleekness soon takes over any awkwardness of design.
Funimation’s collection of “Last Exile” is perfect, with the entire twenty-six episode series put on four disks packed in two slimline cases. This release is not part of their Viridian Collection, but offers the same value for an affordable price.