Imagine a world divided into two warring nations, full of airborne warships, political tangles, and a mysterious riddle that will decide all their fates.
"Last Exile: The Complete Series" is full of all these things, filled with glorious CGI, likable characters and some truly brilliant plot twists near the end. The plot becomes kind of knotted up in the last lap of the series, but it's still a beautifully rendered story about love, friendship and occasionally revenge -- and it's rendered in such beautiful animation that it simply sweeps you away.
Vanship pilot Claus Valca and his buddy Lavie Head are in the middle of a race when they encounter a mystery pilot being chased by a Guild star-ship. His cargo: a little girl named Alvis.
Unfortunately, getting Alvis safely to the rendezvous is no easy task -- especially when the ship picking her up turns out to be the legendary, deadly Silvana. But Claus and Lavie don't want their new friend to be alone and frightened, so they manage to make their way onto the Silvana, and end up becoming part of its crew. Of course, the head vanship pilot Tatiana Wisla isn't too happy about that.
And life aboard the Silvana is anything but boring for the two teenagers. Claus and Lavie take part in a vast vanship race, a battle with the overblown Goliath, a rebellion against the Emperor, and a crash landing in the middle of the desert. And Claus has caught the interest of the whimsical Dio of the Guild -- the younger brother of the cold-hearted, calculating Delphine.
What's more, the Silvana's journey is somehow wrapped up in the mysteries of the Grand Stream, a search for revenge by the Silvana's captain, the secrets of the Mysteria, and the very future of their world. What is Exile, and where will it lead?
"Last Exile" is one of those series that blurs the lines of genre and style -- it feels like a more ethereal brand of steampunk, complete with Victorian trappings and advanced airships. It's full of glowing light, vast expanses of cloads and flowing cities, and beautiful mountainous landscapes and clouds that could have come straight from a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Not to mention some brilliant airborne battles.
The many subplots of the series unspool gradually throughout each episode, twining together as the plot goes on -- such as Alex's vendetta, the plans of the villain Delphine, and the mysterious Grand Stream that seems to be central to the mysteries of Prester. The dialogue is rather run-of-the-mill, but the carefully-drawn world (complete with water shortages and a fictional fuel called "claudia") make up for that, as well as the tangled political clashes that stretch from one episode to the next.
The last few episodes are a bit of a mindbender. The plot becomes a bit tangled up, before twisting into a startling revelation about the world of Prester -- which admittedly, while carefully foreshadowed, is quite a surprise when it's revealed.
Claus and Lavie make a likable pair of protagonists -- he's mellow, sweet and rather laid-back, while she's fiery and easily upset ("This is OUR vanship, and YOU can't touch it!"), so they end up playing well off each other. And the supporting cast is a pretty solid one, with a ride range of personalities and plenty of likable minor characters (like the mechanics). Among the standouts: the melancholy and mysterious Alex Rowe, Alvis, the whimsical and tragic Dio, and vanship pilot Tatiana (who develops a crush on Claus).
"Last Exile: The Complete Series" has a few odd twists, but it's a solid and atmospheric anime series that glides slowly to a rather startling conclusion.