When you're looking at the world of anime art and Japanese artists who stand out the most, you really don't get much more popular than Range Murata. From his Robot artbooks to series such as SoltyRei and Blue Submarine No. 6, Range's distinctive style sets him apart from everyone else. There's a certain elegance to his artwork and just about everything he does is full of wonder and personality. With that in mind it should go without saying that 2003's Last Exile stands out as one of the best animated works to use his art style as a medium.
Produced by GONZO, Last Exile is a 26 episode series that was formerly licensed here in the States by Geneon. Times being what they are Geneon has obviously gone the way of the dodo, and today we're looking at the complete series release by the good folks at FUNimation. From a visual standpoint the show is simply stunning. GONZO really captured Murata's style, and when in motion with the Victorian-like setting and unique sky bound locales, it looks absolutely amazing. But then again, you don't necessarily grade a show based on how it looks. It's the story that really counts and thankfully Last Exile has a fascinating tale with memorable characters and some real heart.
The whole series takes place in another world called Prester. Prester is broken up into two smaller places known as Anatoray and Disith, though most all of the action takes place on Anatoray. In the show, Anatoray is going through an industrial revolution of sorts with a high amount of mechanical production and whatnot. Unfortunately due to the terrain being as mountainous as it is the only way to really get around is via vanships (a type of plane). This makes society take to the sky, but also adds to some other problems with warships and the like. Adding to the complexity of living on Anatoray is the fact that there's something of a war between them and Disith and water is a precious resource. Adding to the complicated nature of the plot is the fact that Disith is going through an ice age and both worlds are watched over by beings known as The Guild. It gets more complicated further on when the show gets into some detail about the Grand Stream and a ship known as the Exile. To say that there's a lot going on in Last Exile would be a great understatement, but the show's director, Koichi Chigira, and staff handle the complex material quite deftly.
Now, a show of this nature would be nothing without characters to focus on. In Last Exile the main protagonists are a courier pilot, Claus Valca, and his navigator, Lavie Head. Together they make a living running errands for others, and it's worth mentioning that they basically rely on each other to get by. Their fathers were lost attempting to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship some time ago and it basically left these kids to fend for themselves. One day, while out on a run, their lives get even more complicated when a package of a different sort is dropped into their laps.
This precious cargo that Claus and Lavie have undertaken is none other than a young girl named Alvis Hamilton. Their mission is to bring her to the mysterious and feared ship, The Silvana, which is an entity all its own and free from the control of the governments or nobles who run everything. Captained by Alex Row, The Silvana is definitely not a target that Claus and Lavie really want to find, but soon they aren't given any choice. As members of The Guild come with guns blazing to capture Alvis, our two heroes are put on a run for their lives.
From here the show gets somewhat more complex and much more interesting. You see, Alvis is basically the key to the ship, Exile, which was stuck in the Grand Stream, but has recently been found. The Guild doesn't want anyone to us it apparently, and they want to keep humans tethered to Anatoray and Disith. As more and more of the plot unfolds and we see Claus, Lavie, and company make up their minds regarding a course of action, the battles between The Guild and Silvana really heat up. I really don't want to give away much more than that because, quite honestly, Last Exile is an experience all its own. It's something that must be seen to be appreciated and if you haven't seen it yet, you're in for one hell of a ride.
I have always appreciated Range Murata's character designs and style, and when paired with the romantic steampunk setting that Last Exile offers it truly ignites. This is one of those projects that is captivating from start to finish, and it's nice to see FUNimation resurrect this title from licensing obscurity. If you missed out on Geneon's release of this series, you do not want to miss out on this chance to check it out. Last Exile stands as one of the most breathtaking shows from the past decade and it should be on everyone's "must see" list.
You've already read how much I loved the visual nature of Last Exile. I'm pleased to say that the technical presentation of the show matches the art direction in terms of beauty and depth. The series is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. Geneon's fantastic original transfer holds together very well with FUNimation's presentation of 26 episodes on 4 DVDs. Despite a small amount of interlacing and aliasing, the quality of the video here is astoundingly sharp. Just about every scene pops from the screen and you'd be hard-pressed to find another show that captures as much beauty and elegance as Last Exile does. The very minor flaws hardly nick the overall quality here.
The sound presentation for Last Exile comes in the form of two stereo tracks. The English and Japanese dubs are quite solid overall, and the presentation is find enough, though I do feel the lack of 5.1 support. The sheer amount of battles, flying sound effects, and ambient noise simply begs for rear channel support. Alas we don't receive that, but regardless of that fact that 2.0 stereo is adept enough to handle everything. It just feels a tad too flat at times.
Aside from some trailers there are no bonus features available on this boxed set.
Last Exile is a captivating series with a rich, deep story and memorable characters. It's a standout presentation on just about every level. From the character designs to background on the show, plot, music, and voice acting, everything gels in a way that few series can claim to. Because of that Last Exile is a truly unique piece that absolutely must be seen. Consider this boxed set by FUNimation highly recommended if you missed the Geneon release a couple of years ago.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!