Whenever someone asks me for anime recommendations, one title that always comes to mind is Last Exile (2003). While not perfect — the ending is a bit rushed, for instance — it still has a lot going for it: excellent animation and design, interesting characters, and above all else, a fully realized and well-drawn (npi) world and mythology. As I wrote in my Last Exile review:
Although the seeds of Last Exile’s story have been sown in these 4 episodes, much of the time and effort so far has gone into realizing the world of Prester. The episodes take their time developing, offering many strange and wonderful sights to behold — those cliffbound cities, a maze of underground ruins, an array of vanships flying through the morning sky. But there are more subtle touches as well — economic details, daily customs and habits, architecture, the cockpit of Claus and Lavie’s vanship.
Everything in Prester seems familiar and even nostalgic, but with an alien twist that makes it feel strangely unique at the same time.
Needless to say, I was very excited when Gonzo announced they were making a Last Exile sequel. I was also nervous that the sequel would fall short of the original. After sitting through the sequel, though, I can safely say that “fall short” doesn’t even begin to describe Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing. It’s a letdown in almost every possible way imaginable — and it’s all the more disappointing because the storyline and setting does have potential.
At the end of the original Last Exile, it was revealed that the series’ world of Prester was an artificial world created in space as a refuge after Earth experienced an environmental cataclysm. The series closes with the characters returning to their ancestral planet. But what about those who never left Earth in the first place, but instead, built a post-cataclysm civilization? How would they react to countless humans descending from the sky in giant spaceships and returning to reclaim lands they hadn’t occupied for centuries? This is supposedly Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing’s premise, and it’s certainly one with promise. Unfortunately, that promise is never realized.
Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing takes place four years after the original series: humanity is re-settling Earth and conflicts are breaking out over the limited resources. The world’s most powerful nation is the Ades Federation, which consists of those who never left Earth in the first place. Their navy of massive flying battleships has subjugated numerous countries and they have now set their sights on the Kingdom of Turan, which consists of those who did leave Earth. After a sneak attack, the Federation quickly decimates Turan with the aid of an Exile, one of the massive ships that humanity used to originally escape the planet, and which can be turned into an unstoppable weapon.
During this time, we are introduced to the series’ greatest weakness: its protagonist, an impetuous, strong-headed, and hyper-emotional 15-year-old Sky Pirate named Fam. Along with her co-pilot, the perpetually dull and sleepy Giselle, Fam flies through the skies in her small Vespa vanship, hunting for and capturing ships for money.
Fam may be intended to be that sort of winsome character whose earnestness and impetuousness turns out to be endearing, but she’s really just irrational and foolish. Her actions and demeanor stretch both the viewer’s credulity and empathy to their breaking point, and then some. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, the series throws some moe your way, completely ignoring both the gravity of current events and the trauma facing other characters — such as the exiled Turan princess that falls in with Fam — in order to be cute. (There’s even a gratuitous “hot springs” scene that exists for no reason other than to, presumably, show off the female characters in their bathing attire.)
Thing is, though, “the gravity of current events and the trauma facing other characters” is where the seeds of a truly interesting story lie. As the series progresses, we meet some interesting people and places, such as the isolated nation of Glacies. Sadly, they — along with such themes as ethnic and ideological conflict and the horrors of war — are consistently overshadowed by Fam’s antics.
Again, I can only assume that the intent was to win people over with Fam’s enthusiasm and optimism, and that her arc was supposed to find her coming of age amidst the horrors of war. The series simply doesn’t do that, though. Instead, we’re treated to unbelievable escapades, annoying character interactions, and plenty of heartfelt, teary-eyed speeches about world peace, etc. that uncannily crack the shells of hitherto cold, calculating, and unstoppable villains. In other words, the series trivializes anything that might make for good drama and opts for hyper-melodrama and huge gaps in logic and believability. Ultimately, you find yourself not caring about anything that happens to anyone because it’s all so ridiculous.
The new series does contain nods to the original Last Exile series with the reappearance of some old characters, including fan favorite Dio Eraclea. However, it also assumes that you’ve read the Last Exile: Travelers From the Hourglass manga, which bridges the two Last Exile series. If you haven’t — and I’m guessing most non-Japanese fans haven’t since it hasn’t, as far as I know, been officially released outside of Japan — then the original series’ character appearances are essentially unexplained (which is particularly troublesome in Dio’s case). As a result, the references to the original series serve only to highlight Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing’s failings. (The series’ creators certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by including an episode that recaps the original series: even the opening strains of the original Last Exile theme are better than anything comparable in the new series.)
I’m not sure why I sat through every episode of Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing. I realized about half-way through that it was going to be a disappointment, but I stuck with it, probably out of some lingering devotion to the Last Exile brand. Or perhaps those glimpses of some deeper concepts and themes, and of more interesting characters — e.g., the Ades Federation officials who begin to wrestle with their country’s increasing militarism — kept some small hope alive. But in the end, I’m sorry I wasted my time with it. If nothing else, the antipathy that I feel for Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing will make it that much easier to forget that it exists and to pretend that Last Exile is all there is. And I’m fine with that.
Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing is currently streaming, with subtitles, on Hulu Plus. But needless to say, I suggest you watch something else.