First Impressions – Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam

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I was sorely tempted to title this post “(at long) Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam”…

OP: 「Buddy」 by 坂本真綾 (Sakamoto Maaya)

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At long last, the final First Impressions post of the Fall season.  So obviously, I’m sorry this post couldn’t have come sooner but the delay was unavoidable for obvious reasons. Last Exile is all about waiting – eight years since the first series, and now a seemingly interminable three days since the airing. LE is an awfully important series in my anime development, from the days when I only saw anime on DVD or American TV. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s in my top 10 series of all-time, and I looked forward to this sequel with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation.

First things first – the show looked really great. Mind you this is Gonzo and the animation could be like this by the second cour, but the premiere was stunning on the HD raw I watched Saturday. This being LE there’s a ton of CGI, but no one in anime has ever been able to seamlessly integrate CG as well as Gonzo can. Guilty Crown has the best cel animation of 2011, but Last Exile is still a beautiful mesh of very good hand-drawn and peerless CGI. Virtually the entire staff is back, including Kuroishi Hitomi, whose score once again soars right along with the imagery. There’s one change, though, and it’s a troubling one – this series is written by Yoshimura Kiyoko, who was not involved in the original and whose résumé is, quite frankly, unimpressive.

Which brings me to the content of the episode. There are pluses and minuses, but as I look back I realize something: I liked the raw better than the subbed version. I’m sure there’ll be suspicion that I’m just being a curmudgeon and too loyal to the original series, but for me, the first ep of “Fam” was like a good Last Exile cover band that played a little too loud. The vanships looked great, the music was mostly right, it was great to see Dio and even the Gonzo eyecatch at the beginning brought a surge of nostalgia. But it felt hollow to me. It seemed too flashy and too self-aware and just a little false.

One of the qualities I adored about the original LE was how it didn’t fit into any convenient genre niche for TV anime. If anything it was a reminiscent of Miyazaki’s “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” with it’s steampunk sensibility and theatrical storyline. This version feels much more conventional. In effect, it’s a “Last Exile” setting with a 2011 cast – mostly 15 year-old girls who check off all the character tropes. The tomboy, genki pilot Fam Fan Fan (Toyosaki Aki). Her sleepy-eyed, shrinking violet navigator Giselle (Yuuki Aoi) complete with younger siblings in tow. Regal oujo-sama Turan Princess Liliana (Sawashiro Miyuki) and her tsuntsun younger sister Milia (Kayano Ai). The character designs are moefied compared to the original too – compare Fam and Gisey against Lavie and you’ll see it starkly demonstrated. The blatant appeal to a more conventional anime audience begins in the very first scene – Fam hanging from a rope in her undies – and never totally lets up.

I don’t begrudge Gonzo for trying to modernize LE and make it more otaku-friendly, because it would be hard to overstate how important this project is to them financially. They’re in trouble and have been for years, and they desperately need this to be a hit and sell lots of Blu-rays. I don’t know if this is the way to do it, though – by trying to please new fans they may lose old ones, and I’m not sure otaku will ever embrace a Gonzo project, especially a Last Exile project. The plot so far seems fine for what it is – the Ades Federation under the command of Luscinia Hafez (Okitsu Kazuyuki), under the guide of phony peace talks, has declared way on the Turan Empire. Fam and Gisey end up rescuing theTuran flagship with the help of our old pal Dio Eraclea (Noda Junko), who gives a nod to the first series with one of Claus’ patented Immelman Turns. There’s no preamble here – “Fam” jumps right into a large global plot, whereas the first series took its sweet time introducing us to the characters and their daily routines. It’s a matter of personal preference which approach you prefer, I guess, though this is certainly a significant change.

In summation, I would say that for the most part the first episode looked right and felt wrong. That’s coming from a hard-core LE fan with a U-Haul full of biases and expectations, so take it as you will. I’ve learned not to trust first episodes as infallible predictors of a series’ quality, and this one certainly wasn’t bad to begin with – just not as authentic to the source as I’d hoped. We did see a few familiar faces, and it looks like Dio will have a large role here. We can also look forward to Alvis making a return at some point, thought in what capacity I’m not sure. What about Claus and Lavie? Well, if there were plans for them to return I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody if I were Gonzo – so their absence from the official sources is hardly definitive. As “Fam” is set two years after LE ended, Claus would be 17 and Lavie 16.

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ED: 「Starboard」 by Hitomi

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26 comments

  1. d

    Shoujo Ai??

  2. DV, the mere fact that that question came to mind tells me that this reboot of LE doesn't quite get it. Do we really need yuri vibes in LE like we get in EVERY OTHER DAMN SERIES?

  3. d

    I won't go so far to call it Yuri, shoujo Ai at most. But I can't really see a FamXprincess. Especially since the OP song shows them hug in mid air and transform into a wing?!
    Or perhaps FamXnavigator: Since Fam seems to be living with navig's family.
    Note: i did not watch Last Exile but my impression of Silver wing is that it going towards the direction of Simon.
    My Guess after reading some Last Exile Wiki background: are the moons pre stars? and is that golden ship that appeared while Dio was daydreaming an Exile?

  4. F

    DV, the mere fact that that question came to mind tells me that this reboot of LE doesn't quite get it. Do we really need yuri vibes in LE like we get in EVERY OTHER DAMN SERIES?

    Do we really need heterosexual romance like we get in EVERY OTHER DAMN SERIES?

  5. We don't need LE pandering to every faddish otaku trope, that's for sure.

  6. F

    I really think you need to rewatch Last Exile, its not the show on a pedestal you seem to be remembering it as. It was a great show, but it had far more than its fair share of pandering (and yuri subtext. Hell, the fact that Alister was desperately in love with Tatiana was pretty damn obvious). And that doesn't even touch on the yaoi subtext, which was even more blatant.

    Anyway, if Fam was male, we wouldn't even be having this discussion, there would already be camps set up pairing "him" with either Giselle or Milia.

    Anyway, your complaints about "authenticity" are pretty silly considering that this franchise has all of a single datapoint, and is similar to all the people who have their panties in a knot over Gundam Age not being "True" to Gundam.

  7. e

    @Fencedude: while I was not a die-hard fan of the first LE series, I quite agree with Enzo's impressions overall and I'm not very fond of the way the pandering is presented.
    It's literally in your face and the first element you're presented with. What a turnoff. The only pantyshot I've tolerated was at the beginning of the Bakemonogatari anime : different mood, different presentation… I'm not a in-series fanservice kind of gal usually, but in this case it worked in a WTF amusing way.
    Back to Exile: the first LE series had its pander-y hooks but was either more subtle or introduced them later and after you had a better view of the characters as persons, and as such for my taste in this aspect it's already superior to the new offer.

  8. F

    Oh, I see, we're doing angsting over fanservice. What a crock.

  9. A

    Fanservice fits some series better than others. I don't seem to remember anybody complaining over the fanservice in Boku wa Tomodachi (in fact, I seem to remember Enzo praising it!), but here it just feels out of place. Can't quite put my finger on why, but perhaps someone a bit more articulate could. It might have a bit to do with genre–school life comedies lend themselves better to that kind of blatant sexuality than epic adventure stories do.

  10. e

    @Fencingdude: different strokes for different folks. And there's a difference between angsting and being disappointed while trying to express their reason in an articulated and polite manner.
    Anyway, Enzo is entiled to express his opinion *in his own blog* as much and in the way he wants. As a nice bonus he also happens to be pretty level-headed about things. (I wish my forum members were always as mature XD).
    In a nutshell: if you want respect you also have to give it. No need to get rude or dismissive just because your opinion is different from his or mine. Jus' sayin'.

    Peace.

  11. d

    For this 1st ep, i did not see any fan service. even hanging by a rope in her undergarments was ok with me. I saw it more of the draw a point, the point being Fam's character. She loves the skies and won't go screaming if left hanging upside down in mid air. And also she is a bad sleepy. and the words she muttered while sleeping seems to indicate…

  12. F

    Ok, that was a bit too flippant.

    The way I see it, there was three major bits of "fanservice" (defined here as potentially gratuitous displays of female skin)

    A) The OP.
    Meh. There have been naked people in anime OPs for no particular reason for years, this is hardly the most crass or out of place

    B) Fam's impromptu bungie jump
    She could have been wearing almost anything, but her sports-bra and granny-panties were hardly the sexiest thing ever. The stockings and garter might be a tad gratuitous

    C) Liliana's outfit in the lake
    By far the most gratuitous bit in the episode (and the one no one mentions), also without a doubt the hottest. I don't know why she needed to wear a full length, open fronted neglige and no panties, but I'm not going to complain.

    As for other stuff, most of the things he and others have cited boil down to "its different from how Last Exile did it", which is pretty useless as a complaint, since doing things exactly like Last Exile did it would be completely pointless.

    The character designs are different because its been 8 years, and artists styles change and evolve, Range Murata still did the original designs, Horiuchi Osamu the animation versions. Maybe someone told him to make them more "traditional" (whatever that means…), but thats baseless speculation at most.

    And I still think that there are serious rose-colored glasses issues here. Last Exile, while a very good show, had a number of major flaws, though the majority didn't really rear their head until towards the end. But regardless, judging the first episode of Fam against the entirety of the original series is doing both a disservice.

  13. A few thoughts. First: vigorous discussion here, which I love. Thanks for participating, but let's be careful to keep it civil.

    Second, it's a mistake to think complaints about "Fam" and just about fanservice. For me, it boils down to taking a show that was successful because it was unique, and making it ordinary. There are boatloads of elements of LE I could praise because of how unusual and even unique they were. What I saw in "Fam" was a conscious and deliberate attempt to do things practically every other show does. Fill it with moe, yuri vibes and make sure you have every "modern" teen girl character trope checked off. It might work for Gonzo, but it saddens me.

    Finally, it's very easy to dismiss every complaint about a sequel as "Wah wah wah, it's too different!" If you don't care to respond to the substance of criticism, especially. But it's a lot more than just being different, first of all, and second of all it's perfectly valid to critique a show that calls itself "Last Exile" on how good a job it does of living up to the name.

  14. F

    Maybe its just that I don't think Last Exile was that "special". Like I said, its a good show, but I really feel like you have serious nostalgia goggles on (nothing wrong with that! I have my own blinders and goggles) when it comes to the show.

    As for the "moe" tropes, Last Exile hit most of them as well, plus had an incredibly standard male lead. Granted, he was well written and avoided most of the major problems I have with male leads (I really do like Claus quite a bit), he wasn't anything that hasn't been done before, just done better than most. And thats something in the show's favor, they didn't fuck up the number one thing these shows fuck up.

    As for the yuri, I really think they are going to try something different here. I mean, what if she really is lesbian? What if we actually get a serious, honest-to-Madokami lesbian romance in this show? I hate to get my hopes up, but having the lead character in a show like this not be male, and making the two closest characters to her also female…I have to think. What if? Wouldn't that be something else?

    Like I said earlier, if Fam were male, no one would doubt that Giselle and Milia were intended to be love interests. Milia especially. Or hell, they could easily have reversed the dynamic from Last Exile, with a female main pilot and male navigator. Or made Milia a Prince instead of a Princess.

    Over on RandomC someone said this was an attempt to cater to the "K-On and Strike Witches audience", putting aside the not very veiled assumption that those shows aren't good, and that people who like them don't have good taste, it doesn't really make much sense. Not having a male lead here doesn't seem like it really expands the audience.

  15. I'll just say I disagree with pretty much every point in that comment and leave it at that!

  16. A

    Heh. I haven't seen the original Last Exile (though it just moved up a few dozen spots on my to-watch list), but I get the impression that it was rather unconventional. I do see how the latest series might be catering to the K-On and Strike Witches crowd, and while I have no interest in watching Strike Witches, I do rather enjoy K-On.

    Problem is, that aesthetic–however original it may or may not have been at the time–is rather conventional nowadays. (Ditto with the yuri undertones.) As somebody with no attachment whatsoever to the original LE, I'm perfectly willing to accept at least this first episode for what it is, but if I had been hoping for something a bit more unusual…

    Seems this one, even more so than usual, might just come down to personal preferences regarding what's become "typical" for today's anime. Compared to the likes of C3 and Tamayura and Mashiro-iro, this sure is something special and unusual. Compared to the original LE? I dunno. Gotta watch it. Probably gonna wait until this one's over, though.

  17. Nice post, Anon. If it were me, I'd wait till after Fam to watch LE.

  18. d

    But would that not be some spoilers? like what exile is? and who certain chars are? I read up on wiki to find that out. but for others who are interested in watching the 1st. going chronologically may be better.

  19. At this point we just don't know how relevant that info is going to be for Fam. It might make following the story easier – I'd just be wary of how the new series will compare with the original if that's fresh in your mind.

  20. F

    Of course, its very possible that others won't find the original as…"affecting" an experience as you did.

    You have to be wary of overhyping people's expectations for the original, which has more than its fair share of detractors to begin with.

  21. OTOH, it's the easiest thing in the world to dismiss all criticism of a sequel as dewy-eyed nostalgia for the original, especially when you can't substantively refute it. Fact it, the majority of the time sequels simply aren't as good as the originals. Not always, but usually. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

    There's a reason "Last Exile" is as highly regarded as it is – it was a damn good show and it's beloved by a great many anime fans, with a profile that doesn't align that closely with the typical anime fan. If "Fam" wants to call itself "Last Exile" then it's going to have to deal with the comparisons – you can't have it both ways. You want to cash in on the name? Get ready to be held to a high standard.

  22. F

    with a profile that doesn't align that closely with the typical anime fan.

    This phrase is doing an awful lot of work, you need to define what a "typical" anime fan is, and then is it a "typical" fan from 2003, or 2011?

    And I don't know about you, but I've seen just as many "typical" anime fans who couldn't stand Last Exile. Be it for the now jarring CG work, or the somewhat glacial starting pace, to name the two most common complaints.

    I'm not saying Fam is perfect, but then again, the original wasn't either.

  23. Yes, that's exactly my point – LE was popular among many non-traditional anime viewers, which some more traditional ones resented. It was a crossover hit, with a large following – it just so happens it was a more diverse following than most series had.

  24. F

    [citation needed]

    No, seriously. You're gonna have to back that up if its the crux of your position.

    I don't know about you, but I was there in 2003 when it aired, and it was not spectacularly different from any other given series that aired around that time, and was not treated as such.

  25. "TechTV vice president Laura Civiello stated that Last Exile "had more universal appeal than other types of anime shown on the network, which often contained lots of references recognizable only by hard-core fans

    The network moved its Anime Unleashed programming block into prime time to take advantage of the quality of the series,[64] eventually launching it into a top ten position on the Nielsen VideoScan anime survey in the middle of 2004.[65] Sony Pictures Entertainment selected Last Exile, Blood+, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, and R.O.D the TV as part its promotional campaign throughout 2007 and 2008 targeting audiences ages 15–35.".

    "To sum it up, Last Exile is one of those anime's that achieved the epic status. It's reception worldwide was excellent (even in the USA, it was recommended by the New York Times)."

  26. F

    Thats pretty interesting, actually. I hadn't heard that. Of course I totally ignore most things about anime airing on US TV

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