Last Exile takes place in a fictional world which resembles ninteeth century Europe except for the fact that complex flying ships exist and are used as a primary methods of transportation and warfare. We’re introduced to our two young characters, Claus and Lavie, as amateur couriers who fly a vanship – a small flying vehicle which requires a pilot and a navigator. The early episodes did a great job of getting me attached to the characters and partnership of Claus and Lavie. They didn’t tell us too much of their backstory, but they didn’t have to. The interaction between the two, both inside the airships as well as out, gave us a clear indication of their relationship and was quite endearing. The anime shows them making one troublesome delivery and then participating in a race which is interrupted by a nearby crash. The pilot who crashed was in the middle of an important mission of great difficulty, which he asks our main characters to complete.
The stage was set, and I thought I had a good idea of where this anime was headed. I figured that the duo was going to be thrust into this dangerous mission which would probably place them in the midst of the ongoing war in the skies. I figured we’d see their partnership strain at times, perhaps even fall apart, but eventually be strengthened and validated as they overcome whatever obstacles they faced. This all sounded very good to me.
Unfortunately, it seems the anime studio had a completely different vision with this series than what I had thought. Contrary to what the initial episodes (not to mention promotional images and descriptions) seemed to imply, the partnership of Claus and Lavie is not the focus of the series. In fact, after the first few episodes, they almost never fly together for the rest of the series. They barely interact, in fact. Lavie is reduced to a near “housewife” role and remains in the background for most of the series, which is very disappointing because she was without a doubt the character that interested me the most. Claus is a likable main character, but I was just too engrossed at their dynamic and to have it fall apart like that was jarring to say the least. Why even have a character like that, introduced in such a way, just to push them away for most of the series?
Perhaps my disappointment at the 180 this series had taken also coloured my reaction to the rest of the series. There are various secondary characters introduced and they have their own roles to play, but I don’t think I really became invested in the characters as much as I did in a show like Planetes. Last Exile is in my opinion an example of a plot-oriented show, one where unravelling plot details and twists takes precedent over individual character development or growth. The plot, which is comparable to wars between nations, is imaginative, yes, and if you like watching large-scale warfare, then you will certainly enjoy the dazzling action sequences in this anime. Action sequences can be gripping when they directly involve the fates of characters that you care about, but many of the battle sequences in this anime were done on a larger scale between commanders, and I didn’t find them too interesting.
To be frank, I just didn’t feel like the series felt very cohesive, it wasn’t a series where you look at the beginning, middle and end and then see how all of them perfectly complement one another. I’ve already mentioned my disappointment at the changes the show took after the beginning with regards to the main characters. There are other oddities – romance subplots are thrown in but never really go anywhere and feel unecessary. Attemps at character development (Tatiana) feel somewhat forced and half-hearted. The villain also felt very cliched and “cartoony”, for lack of a better phrase. That being said, different people like different genres, and I can see how someone who likes this so-called “steampunk” genre would enjoy the large scope of this story and the various action sequences. But I’m also very much a character-oriented viewer and I didn’t feel like the anime delivered in that regard.
I guess what bugs me most about this anime is that it seemed like something I could have placed in my favourites list with ease, if only it had continued to show us the story of Claus and Lavie, which both the beginning of the series and even the very end imply the series will be. It had everything else – great animation, great music…but it just wasn’t able to make me really connect with its characters, and while the plot was good, it wasn’t so incredibly captivating as to hold my interest without any characters to anchor onto.
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