I was sorely tempted to title this post “(at long) Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam”…
OP: 「Buddy」 by 坂本真綾 (Sakamoto Maaya)
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.
ED: 「Starboard」 by Hitomi