Last Exile is the newest show from Gonzo studios. Creators of Blue Submarine No. 6 and Full Metal Panic, Gonzo has a reputation for putting out action packed shows that have a lot of flair. They are also masters at meshing traditional two-dimensional animation with 3D CGI. This series continues with that tradition.
I was really blown away watching this DVD. It is a wonderful show, with lots going for it. The designs of the various ships, weapons and equipment are beautiful. The imagery is just gorgeous. The music used in the series just enhances nearly every scene, and the actions and flying scenes are absolutely breathtaking. But all of this wouldn't amount to much if the plot was weak and the characters weren't engaging. Luckily, that is not the case. After seeing the first two episodes that Pioneer sent out on their review disc (the retail version is supposed to have the first four shows on it,) I am very intrigued.
The world where this series is set, Prestale, is intriguing. Technology wise, this planet seems stuck at a pre-industrial revolution stage. Steam is still a major power source and gunpowder has not been invented, neither has the radio, and its doubtful that electricity has been harnessed either. Communication at a distance is done by Aldus lamp. One thing that has been mastered though, is the air. Wars on Prestale are fought with huge flying battleships, with steam powered guns. These battles are overseen by the mysterious "guild" that enforces the rules, at least in theory. Chivalry and honor are very important.
Socially, the planet resembles 18th or 19th century Europe. The highest rung is occupied by nobles, who are the officers and leaders of the country. They live in lavish homes with everything they could want. The rest of the population are peasants. They live in squalor and do not have enough food to eat. They do most of the fighting, and dying, in the wars that the nobles start.
The show centers around two young mail curriers, Clause and Lavie. They have dreams of winning a major race with their plane, but until that time they still have to pay the bills by delivering letters, often under very dangerous circumstances. They accept a mission to fly two letters to Duke Madossein aboard his battleship that is in the middle of a war. Evading enemy fire, they arrive just as a battle finishes, with the Duke seemingly victorious. But before they are able to deliver their messages, an unknown fleet launches a surprise attack from above. For some reason the guild refuses to stop this illegal action, and the Duke's fleet takes serious losses.
With only being able to view two episodes out of the 26 in this series, it's hard to be sure where this show is heading. These episodes serve to introduce the main characters, and set up the background. It is clear that this is not going to be a show where Claus and Lavie have to deliver a message to a different dangerous location every week. This show has a story to tell that has only begun with this first disc. There are many interesting concepts that are brought up; the idea of rules in a war, the value of honor, and the nature of freedom. The unanswered questions and mysteries brought up in this introductory pair of episodes leaves me longing for more. If the rest of the series lives up to the standard set by these two, this will be a series that's not to be missed.
The anamorphic widescreen video is extremely clean and sharp. Absolutely beautiful.
In the bowels of the giant flying ships where the musket squad resides, the scenes are dark yet you can discern small details such as the knobs on the guns. The shadows go from dark gray to total black. The colors were just as astonishing. From the lightning filled slipstream to the white billowing clouds, and deep blue sky the colors used are eye catching.
The level of detail is astounding. Even in the fast flying scenes, you can see the lines where the plates of metal that make the vanships meet. The wisps of clouds that speed by and the cracks in the windows of damaged ships all add to the atmosphere of the show. A really good looking disc.
The review disc that Pioneer sent out only had an English sound track in two channel Dolby Digital. I usually prefer to watch movies in the original language with subtitles, since the dubbing is often atrocious. I was very surprised with the quality of the voice actors that did the English dub. There were no phony southern drawls or Brooklyn accents, and the female characters did not have high pitched squeaky voices. The voices were all distinctive without resorting to outrageous caricatures. They even did an excellent job on lip synching. I only wish that the Pioneer disc had the original Japanese soundtrack as the retail version is said to have.
The sound in the series was excellent, for two channel stereo. Good use was made of the front sound stage, and it was very crisp and clear. Even at high levels, the disc sounded great. It would have benefited from a 5.1 mix though to give it more oomph, especially during the battle scenes. Unfortunately the Japanese track will not be in 5.1 as a was the case in a previous Gonzo release, Blue Submarine No. 6.
The preview version that Pioneer sent out did not have any extras on it, but the retail version is supposed to have a non-credit opening, the original Japanese opening, a "Staff Interview" and an art gallery.
It should be noted that you can buy this DVD in three different ways: The DVD alone, the DVD with a collectors box that will fit all the volumes in series, or the DVD and collector's box along with a mouse pad and an action figure of one of the characters.
From the first shot to the last, I was entranced. The remarkable art design and they beautiful scenes coupled with the great music and interesting plot make this one of the best anime series I've seen this year. The quality of the disc itself is icing on the cake. Highly Recommended.