Sunday, May 18, 2008

Last Exile: Being a Review Replete with Sarcasm

As the heavenly bodies shift in their spheres, making their eternal music, they occasionally come into alignment, and that alignment can have a major effect on our lives. Sometimes, it means that gibbering madness strikes the mind of a great man, and he begins making gargantuan brass automatons to bring death and destruction to the world. Sometimes, it means that the mystical realm of the faerie is brought close to our world, and the diabolical workings of the dying species of "good people" wreaks havoc on our advanced civilization. Sometimes, it allows creatures of vile dimensions to pour forth onto our unguarded world, bringing terrors with them too dark for the human mind to hold. And sometimes, it means that I spend my evenings in front of my computational engine, watching a programme until I have exhausted its line entirely. This was the case recently. The elements brought into alignment were:
  • Consecutive image magic lantern shows from the mysterious Orient, also known as "Anime series;"
  • Steampunk, which you, my esteemed colleagues, are all familiar with;
  • Dr. Cornelius Netflix's "Watch It Now" device
When these three things came together, they formed a phenomenon known as "Last Exile." Add to it a projected rating of over four stars on Dr. Netflix's "Rate-O-Scale" and I really had no choice about watching the show.

This review owes a huge debt of gratitude to the wonderful Vanship Soaring site, which is where I found most of the images for this review!
First, my initial reaction: fans of some of the more well-known aspects of Steampunk will be disappointed to know that there are no lighter-than-air craft in Last Exile. No balloons, no dirigibles, no zeppelins to be found. Nor are there ornithopters, autogyros, or even those ingenious fixed-wing aircraft that seem to be all the rage. Instead, we have heavy airships that clearly owe more to World War II-era battleships than to anything from the Age of Steam. There are also the so-called "vanships," smaller two-man vehicles that look like bobsleds with lightbulb filaments attached underneath.

I do hope you like the idea of a vanship, because, believe you me, you will be seeing many of them.

Readers who are familiar with typical anime plotlines will not be surprised to discover that the hero of the story is a spunky, courageous, but occasionally lazy and emotional young man. This one goes by the name of Claus Valka, and like so many other anime heroes before him, he is completely unremarkable except for his courage and his one amazing talent that just happens to coincide exactly with the one talent the plot calls for its hero to have. In this case, that talent is vanship piloting.

Our hero is joined by Lavie, the spunky redhead who has been his friend since they were tiny children and who serves as his mechanic. If I have to inform you that she is harboring romantic feelings toward our hero, you really are not paying enough attention.

During the course of the story, these two come across an adorable little orphan named Alvis (called "Al" throughout the show). She was being rushed via vanship on a top-secret mission when the vanship got shot down. Our heroes take it upon themselves to complete the dying pilot's mission and deliver her to Alex Row, captain of the notorious independent ship known as the "Kill 'Em All" Silvana.

Now that the cute child quota for anime has been fulfilled, the heroes face the latest challenge: Guild ships are looking for Al, and they must see that she is delivered safely to Alex Row. If you were hoping for chunky pistons, exposed engines, and billowing steam coming from the Guild ships, you will be saddened to hear that the Guild's technology is outrageously advanced. Their fighters look like four-pointed stars and can fly just as well flat side-forward as they can in more traditional aeroplane-like alignment. They also transform into walking robots when they land on something, which they do often.

Our heroes get Alvis safely delivered to Alex (now might be a good time to mention that there is a minor character named Alister). However, they decide that they must keep Alvis safe and remain to watch out for her. After all, Alex's ship, the Silvana, is black, as is his uniform, and we're sure it didn't get the name "Kill 'Em All" because it has state-approved day-care facilities.

It turns out that Alvis is the key to something called Exile, which explains why everyone is after her. Like any good anime Macguffin, Exile is mysterious and powerful and nobody is quite sure what it is. What they do know is that they want it.

I mentioned in passing the black uniform of the Silvana crew. Well, let us take a closer look:

Let me remind you that, despite the sinister appellation of their vessel, these are the show's heroes. Most of the other characters have appropriate 19th-Century naval uniforms, but apparently when you're the brooding captain of a rogue vessel, you can make your own dress code. Brooding is, after all, what Alex does best. He's doing his part to fill that anime quota, by the way.

While I am on the topic of dress code, I should say something about the Silvana's Vice-Captain, Miss Sophia. If you will excuse me for saying so, she does manage to make that uniform look quite fetching. Ahem!

Also joining the crew of the Silvana is a rogue Guild noble, Lord Dio, with his servant Luciola. Dio may have flown on the enemy's side, but he decides that Claus is more interesting, so he will hang around on the Silvana for a while. Despite being far and away the creepiest main character on the show, Dio somehow manages to be likable with his childlike enthusiasm for things.

The show continues with plenty of drama, heroism, and flying. We get more characters, such as the show's villain, Delphine, who also happens to be Dio's sister and Alex's nemesis. We also get Vincent, a secondary character who at least manages to put some effort into his Steampunk wardrobe.

I'm glad someone got the memo.

The show, for all its impressive graphics (it boasts some of the best animation I have seen), somehow never gets around to explaining what has really happened. I will avoid posting spoilers, but I will only warn you that you should be willing to take a lot on faith.

The show delivers on some Steampunk elements, while completely lacking others. Goggles, you will be happy to hear, are found in abundance, as are gauges and clockwork. Connoisseurs of engines will be disappointed to learn that the show's main power source is Claudia, which is a mystical blue liquid created by the Guild. We get precious little shots of engines in action, gears grinding, piston stamping, etc. We do get 19th-Century-inspired uniforms, which is nice.

So, in the end, it's an entertaining show, and well worth looking into if goggles and flying machines are your cup of tea. I will continue to keep an eye out for interesting Steampunk shows and movies, and bring you my thoughts on them as I get to them! Cheerio!


bluefish said...

I left you a comment earlier, but the internet went NOMNOMNOMNOM and it's gone now. Some console cowboy must have slipped through my ICE and misdirected my data packets....

Woops, wrong -punk.

Suffice it to say, I found your review to be hilarious and spot-on. I watched the first episode, but I don't think I'll watch any more. You know how I feel about most anime, and this one doesn't seem to rise above the rest.

Meems said...

Wait, you NEVER told me one, that you had a blog, and two that you met Will Wheaton!!!!! You are my true hero!