I’m in a no-win position with “Fam” in some ways, because if I say I like an episode some people are going to think I’m caving and playing to the crowd. And if I don’t, some people (mostly the same people) will call me all the same silly names they did last week. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the show – and in the end, all I can really do is give my honest opinion and let all the hate be “water off a duck’s back”, as it were. I’ve been called much worse than a duck, anyway. And there’s plenty of internet out there for anyone who doesn’t care to read what I have to say and have a respectful dialogue about it.
So with all that said, I’ll just come right out and say it – I thought this episode of Last Exile was better than the first two. Much better, in fact, and for one very simple reason. Watching people do things is a lot more interesting and more involving if you understand why they’re doing them. Once you get past the pretty pictures and CGI, it’s all just background static unless you understand who the characters are. And this ep made so many good choices in doing just that. I wish it had happened sooner but I’m still glad it happened.
In the first place, I’m pleased that the episode started with what I felt was the most interesting element of the last one – exploring the Ades Federation’s POV. Things aren’t looking so black and white now, and the “good guys” better be careful – the Ades have their own cute little girl and this one’s an empress – The Augusta, Sara (Itou Kanae). Their perspective is becoming clear – they see themselves as defenders of those who were displaced by the descendants of the refugees who returned on the various Exiles. Luscinia’s methods might be extreme, but at least for now it appears that they see this is a war for the human rights of those who stayed – or at least, returned earlier. Interestingly, of course, it now appears that the Exile that returned two years before the start of this series bearing Claus, Lavie and Alvis was indeed literally the “Last Exile” to return.
Another solid move was pairing off Teddy (Saitou Chiwa) with Giselle’s family. That’s a much better use of his character than as a verbal punching bag for Millia (even if he was mistaken for a girl by Giselle’s siblings). Giselle is still a bit of a cliché at the moment – well, that’s pretty much the sum of her character – but the more exposure she has in some context apart from being Fam’s sidekick the more she has a chance to become a distinctive character. As for Millia, the most important milestone for her this week was to learn some humility. It was certainly understandable that she be angry and full of self-pity, but seeing her proud nation reduced to refugee status – symbolized by seeing the Turan flagship cut up and sold for scrap – brought the reality of her new situation home to her, loud and clear. In this new world, she’s not a princess – just a child who lacks the skills that make everyone else in the community useful. Hopefully the kindness she showed Teddy at the close of the episode is a sign that this is more than a passing change on her part, but real acceptance and even growth.
As for Fam, truth be told I’m still having major problems with Toyosaki Aki’s bubbly performance. But the character itself made some strides this week, merely through the practice of a little exposition. An orphan, OK, not a shocker there but useful info. But the thread that ties her to her predecessors in the Last Exile franchise is her dedication to the pilot’s existence as something more than a moneymaking proposition. The Grand Race – “Grand”, eh? – is an interesting dream. If I read the tea leaves right it looks as if Giselle’s father was the last champion of the race before it was cancelled due to war, and never reinstated. We saw a kind of altruistic devotion to the ideals of flying for the love of it, and living by a code of conduct that’s as old as stories about lovable rogues, and those are the most interesting elements we’ve seen from Fam so far. This ideal of a kind of code of outlaw decency was summed up for me in the best scene of the episode, the “Okuribi” – the candlelit ritual to show the souls of the Turanese dead the way to the skies by returning their wings. If any moment in the first three episodes captured the essence of what the classic Last Exile felt like, that did it for me.
Progress is all I can ask for, really, and this is progress. There are still some big issues to contend with here, and for me they still involve character. None of the three leads has really stamped themselves as a charismatic figure that can carry a series, and none of the supporting cast has really been given enough development to make a real difference. I’d like to see more of the edge and sense of mischief that Dio showed in the original – his niceness here has neutered him as a character, although it would be nice if that were all an act and he has hidden agendas. Of course, we know that next week is going to bring the entrance of the reaper ship “Sylvius”, a name familiar enough to send ripples through the heart of any “Exile” fan. And if you followed the publicity you know that the fourth episode is one that the staff have referred to as one that will really begin to tie the new series in with the old, in more ways than one. Whether that provides the needed impetus to push the existing cast to the next level is impossible to say, but at the very least it should provide a compelling diversion.