ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 11th August 2013, by Matt Kamen

Last Exile - Season 1

Ambitious sky couriers Claus Valca and Lavie Head return to UK shores - and, more importantly, DVD availability - with this complete collection of the fan-favourite Last Exile.

Set on the planet Prester, the series follows Claus and Lavie as they go from their relatively obscure, mundane lives to becoming central figures in the midst of the ongoing war between the nations of Anatoray and Disith. Charged with completing a fellow courier's final task - delivering an 11-year-old girl named Alvis to the battleship Silvana - the pair choose to stay by her side to ensure her safety. A good decision too, as Alvis has been targeted by the Guild, supposedly the neutral arbitrators between the two forces of Anatoray and Disith. However, in reality, they have their own, sinister ambitions for the girl.

Last Exile is a great mix of mystery and adventure, channelling the likes of Nadia, Secret of Blue Water and even classic shows such as Mysterious Cities of Gold. The youthful cast are rarely treated like children, which shows a certain respect for the audience's intelligence, and the pace ratchets nicely from character introductions through escalating conflicts, alliances and betrayals. In the grand scheme of anime, there are few real narrative surprises or truly shocking twists and turns - the reason everyone seems to want to get their hands on Alvis in particular can be deduced early on, as soon as other people start referring to a 'key to Exile'. Despite that, it holds together well and entertains throughout.

Where the series may stumble now, a decade on from its release, is comparatively less impressive visuals. A product of the Gonzo studio, Last Exile's digital blend of computer generated models and 2D animation seems rudimentary in places compared to more recent shows. Everything looks softer than it should, a problem of the master materials rather than the authoring of the DVDs. That the series hasn't been remastered for high definition - meaning no Blu-ray release in the near future - hurts it more in this respect.

However, the high standard of the animation itself - the motion and fluidity onscreen, if not the sharpness - make up for this. The design work helps dramatically too, as illustrator Range Murata's characters are as appealing now as they were on the original release. The elegant features and quasi-European fashions of Murata's style are a far cry from figures found in most other works. So too do the mechanical and background aesthetics remain a delight, taking a beautiful blend of imaginative steampunk technology and Victorian-inspired architecture, and dipping it all in a sci-fi veneer.

Director Koichi Chigira does an exceptional job of capturing the thrill and danger of aerial combat, and the frantic dogfights that Claus and friends engage in are nothing short of stunning, even now. There's considerable character growth delivered through the action too, as the core cast grow from being mostly naïve children to seasoned fighters.

Whether Last Exile remains as palatable to fans as it did on its original release remains to be see, but for our money it's still one of the better and more intelligent action efforts of the last decade.

Manga's license rescue of the former ADV title will be much appreciated by those who missed out first time, or those who simply want to replace old single-disc cases with a neat slimline case, but the aging visuals and increasingly ropey CGI elements may disappoint those coming into the series completely raw. Still, Last Exile proves an entertaining and thrilling adventure series.
SCORE: 4/5
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