Last Exile - Volume 1: First Move Review

In a distant land known as Prester where airships rule the skies lives two young pilots; Claus and Lavie who earn a living by making deliveries in their small cargo craft known as a Vanship. Together they dream of making it across the Grand Stream and succeed in doing what their fathers' never could. One day Claus and Lavie are given a task to transport a young girl by the name of Alvis Hamilton to the battleship Silvana, when her original carrier is killed in a mysterious attack. The two young, ever promising pilots realise they've taken on a huge burden that will change their lives in ways that they had never imagined.


To celebrate its 10th anniversary, GONZO Digimation have gathered a team of highly talented animators; a large number from their 1998 series Blue Submarine No.6, headed up by known "Steampunk" director, Kouichi Chigira. Together they have created a fantastic new world in an attempt to further seal their reputation as being amongst the best of the best when it comes to animated TV features.

Last Exile's world is one of vastness - a combination of retro technology, industrial revolution settings and beautiful landscapes that open it up for miles. The towns and villages are quaint, resembling poor but comfortable communities that hark back to an age that's long been lost to the history books. Aircraft are the only transportation available to search beyond new horizons and their steam powered engines provide an interesting look at a newly created environment where these are so heavily relied upon.

Thanks to art director, Hiromasa Ogura who notably worked on Ghost in the Shell the series maintains a lavish quality that surpasses a lot of what GONZO have achieved in the past, not really in terms of its blend between CGI and cel paintings (more of which in a moment) but in terms of spectacle, which is considerably pleasing after seeing their work on Gad Guard from the same year. By taking the series out on a broader scale the team have come up with a lush canvas that is as detailed as it is huge.

As we know GONZO always try to push themselves harder and if the two opening episodes to the series are anything to go by then they have more than done their job. This usually brings a little bit of concern for me as the studio always manages to start off with a bang and then wanes toward the end with several productions, but for now I shall stay in high and positive spirits as quite frankly the series is as extravagant as can be expected. Once again GONZO use their trademark computer aided wizardry to bring us some striking images that give the story greater impact, which is much needed when we are thrown into the midst of a huge blitzkrieg in the skies. Later on in the volume we see a scene that is not too dissimilar from The Phantom Menace's famous pod-race, as a string of Vanships compete through the narrow town streets and canyons beyond. For the most part the CGI is effectively used and more then pleasing to the eye, but there are moments where it fails to gel quite so well due to some superfluous moments. There is little to pick out and accuse of being handled poorly because there is an abundance of energy and although there are several, epic action pieces they blend in well, never straying too far from the story, which most importantly is a genuinely intriguing one.


With its establishment set Last Exile gives us some great characters to appreciate. On a personal note, Lavie struck me as being one of the best anime characters I've seen in a long time. She's instantly likeable with a personality that crosses between child like playfulness and adult responsibility, despite her tender age of fifteen. Lavie is Claude's saviour as it were; always there for him, always cooking his meals and nagging at him like a mother and yet enough of her vulnerability comes through to show us that she relies on Claude as much as he does on her. Claude on the other hand is quieter in nature. He likes the simple things, he's used to them and his aspirations in life keep him strong. He's a dedicated boy who will go out of his way to see that a job is finished, even if it means that trouble may loom ahead. The contrast of this pairing is greatly balanced, with each lead supporting the other as they make for a decent duo who are a lot of fun to watch onscreen.

The introduction of Alvis however is a lot more difficult to sum up, for the reason being that we don't really know much about her yet. It's early days though and if the writers spilled all the beans for us then it wouldn’t be much cop now would it? With shows like this you have to keep reminding yourself to be patient, which isn’t too difficult in this case as there is so much more going for it. We do learn that some alien force is after her in the form of mechanical beats, again of which we don't get a good insight into.

The nice thing about the series which makes it interesting is its heavy use of chivalrous display, though not a deterrent by any means. We get taken through some epic battles where we witness the events from all sides. Here various inner conflicts are shown, from the battalion generals to the low ranking soldiers and thankfully it's handled as humanly as possible. With the realisation of war comes the realisation of life and death, which is depicted sympathetically, highlighting such harsh realities.

Finally it wouldn't be right not to mention Dolce Triade's brilliant score, which the series needs as much as anything else. Its eclectic world mix of musical cues are implemented so flawlessly and delicately that their impact is all the more satisfactory for when the required emotion is touched upon. From grand, classical performances during sky chases to the human development and undertones throughout the score is nothing short of stunning.


Last Exile Volume 1 contains the following four episodes, which will contain some spoilers:

First Move
Claus and Lavie are two young pilots earning their way by providing a delivery service. Their simple day to day duties suddenly come to a stop when they are called to deliver a message to Duke David Madossein who is currently fighting a battle. Claus and Lavie are quickly caught up in crossfire between the grand Guild ship and the Anatore - can they make it through and deliver the important message?
That's not too tough to guess really is it? It is episode one after all.

Luft Vanship
As the battle rages on Claus and Lavie make their way toward the Duke but as they draw near the Guild is hit and they must set their Vanship down in a safety zone. Determined to get the message delivered Claus reads the letter over the ship's speaker system, much to the annoyance of one of the Duke’s men, who promptly sends a group of guards out to capture the youngsters.

Transpose
Every year Claude and Lavie take part in the great town race and this year they are certain to win as Lavie has installed a new booster for the Vanship. Well into the race they take the lead but their number one dreams are soon dashed when a lone Vanship crashes into theirs, forcing them to land. Claus and Lavie head out to find the man who crashed into them and when they do they see that he is in bad shape. His name is Ralph and he asks them to take care of his "cargo" - a young girl named Alvis, whose carer had died instantly in the crash. As an enemy ship approaches them Ralph sacrifices himself in order to buy some time for the kids but the enemy is not too far behind.

Zugzwang
Claus and Lavie have taken Alvis back to their home and soon an argument erupts as Lavie disapproves of Claude's acceptance of this new mission. Not willing to be swayed, Claus insists on taking care of Alvis and soon he and Lavie must explain to the young girl that her beloved Gita had perished in the Vanship crash. As everyone is getting ready to sleep an alien craft attacks their home and once more they must flee, but this time things are looking impossible as the trio find themselves in immense danger.


The DVD

ADV bring us another attractive package with a double sided sleeve that adorns some nice artwork. The outside shows Claude and Lavie in their Vanship, while on the inside we get a lovely piece of art that features all three principal characters.

Picture

Presented in an anamorphic 16x9 ratio, Last Exile looks as good as any other recent production but still contains the usual problems that persist with these transfers. Digital banding is once again the main deterrent with smoke effects suffering slightly, with some visible compression artefacts. Aside from these relatively small problems the transfer is very vibrant, making great use of the various colour choices that range from sepia tones to beautiful blue skies. Detail is strong as are black levels, making this another high end transfer from ADV.

Sound

ADV provide us with the original 2.0 Japanese track and a 2.0 English dub. Interestingly the series was released stateside through Geneon but ADV have carried over their original dub for presentation here. What we end up with is a fresh sounding track from the guys over at Pioneer which includes the great Steve Blum. The English track has been given a great makeover with the addition of surround effects, making this series in particular stand out greater than most. It is not until you get to the battles and race sequences that you can really appreciate the range of sounds that flow through the front and rear speakers, adding much depth and excitement. But as good as this sounds I'm inclined to go with the Japanese dub as the voices are better matched and the sound and music is still wonderfully channelled.

Extras

Clean Opening
Like your openings sans credits. Here ya go.

Original Japanese Opening
This is pretty much the same as the opening we see in the series, with the main exception being that we see the original Japanese characters on display.

Promotional Trailer
This is an original Japanese promo reel that features enough exciting shots to wet appetites.

Character Profiles
For this first volume we have mini profiles for Claus, Lavie and Alvis.

Art Gallery
There are 25 pages of original art, starting off with principal characters and going on to military characters before finishing up with a varied supply of Vanship paintings.

Previews
A trailer reel for the following ADV series: Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden, Zaion, Kino's Journey, Generator Gawl and Final Fantasy: Unlimited.


Overall

Last Exile gets off to a cracking start. There's enough action, beautiful scenery, great characters and ideas to please most and there is still plenty to talk about regarding this series. I'll be looking forward to Volume 2 next year and hope that the series continues to live up to the high standards as set by this debut.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 01/07/2018 00:40:29

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