ANIME & MANGA - Review
10:00 - 27th December 2013, by David West

Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing - Part 1

Fam is a sky pirate who loves nothing more than to sail through the clouds in her Vespa vanship with her navigator and best friend Giselle at her side. They hunt 'skyfish' - ships that they ensnare with their aid of other pirates, which are then carved up to sell for parts and scrap. The pirate who lands the first harpoon on the target ship lays claim to the bounty from the catch, and Fam is always out to score that initial, vital hit. However, Earth is in the midst of war, as the aggressive Ades Federation seeks to annihilate the other nation states that control Earth's limited areas of fertile, inhabitable land. The next country in the crosshairs of the Ades Federation is the small, peaceful nation of Turan. When Fam comes to the aid of Princess Millia of Turan, the young sky pirate is drawn deeper and deeper into the ongoing battle against the might of the Federation.

The original Last Exile anime was released in 2003, and this sequel - which is really a spin-off with new characters - debuted in Japan in 2011, so there was a lengthy gap between the two instalments from animation powerhouse Gonzo. The studio has clearly pushed out the boat on the production front for this series. It looks gorgeous, with appealing character designs for the principal players and interesting ships of all shapes and sizes flying through the skies. Backgrounds are vivid and detailed and there are a wide range of locations on display, each of them different from the last. The battles between the sky fleets are wonderfully realised, with the small, lightweight vanships darting between the huge battleships as the sky ignites with tracer rounds. This music is similarly impressive, with a rich score by Hitomi Kuroishi.

Unfortunately, Kiyoko Yoshimura's script is the weak link in the chain. While the screenplay is not a disaster by any means, there are plot holes aplenty and the story is cluttered rather than clear. There are multiple different factions caught up in the conflict, but the military uniforms and insignia of the various countries are not all that easy to differentiate at first glance. The story allows a good deal of time for world building, but leaves many questions unanswered, not least the rules of engagement between the sky pirates and the ships they target, or how the anti-gravity technology works. Luscinia, the heartless and cruel commander of the Ades Federation fleet, seems to know more about the bloodline of Princess Millia and her sister Liliana than they do themselves, but the script never explains how he came by this knowledge or why they lack it themselves. Plot holes sprout in the story like mushrooms after rain - how does Giselle know the internal layout of the Ades battleships? Why is it so easy to fool the battleships' crews with signal lights - wouldn't they have codes? Given that the heir to the Ades Federation is just a child, why is there no Regent? And even if the battleships don't need wings to fly due to their anti-gravity devices, why are their designs so un-aerodynamic? They would still have to contend with wind resistance.

The story is very much centred around the female characters. The male characters are either villains, like Luscinia, or plot devices like the pilot that Fam has to race in episode six, who is nothing more than a moustache and a vanship. To be fair, his cookie duster is very impressive. Fortunately, the female leads are much more engaging. Millia starts the tale as a stuck-up, snooty little princess who looks down her nose at the lowly sky pirates, making her distinctly unbearable. Luckily, she grows out of that phase - in fact, she becomes such good pals with Fam that Giselle starts to become terribly jealous. The interpersonal dynamics, and the hefty doses of melodrama, suggest that director Koichi Chigira is aiming for a largely female audience, although there are several scenes that hint not so coyly at the possibility of romance between Fam and Millia. That said, both girls are very much cut from a moe cloth - all youthful innocence. In the script Fam is 15, but she looks to be on the cusp of adolescence.

The American dub, overseen by ADR director Christopher Bevins, makes the decision to give the Turan princesses English accents, which will surely raise a smirk from viewers who actually are English with some of their twisted vowels (a highlight is aspirations pronounced as 'arse-pirations' which sounds like a very painful form of gymnastics). Tyson Rinehart, who was excellent as Daru in Steins;Gate, pops up as the voice of a navigator on board one of the Ades battleships - then reappears whenever a navigator speaks, which makes it seem like this one guy sure gets around and always seems to be right in the thick of the action. Jad Saxton is plucky as Fam, while Leah Clark brings the right note of insecurity and vulnerability to Giselle.
The release includes episode 9.5, which offers a recap of events up to that point just before the halfway mark. It's actually not a bad idea, as it can be a challenge to keep track of all the different factions at war, a matter not helped by the tendency to get caught up in spectacle and set pieces at the expense of the central plotline. But if you can forgive the script's inconsistencies and enjoy sailing through the skies, it's a fun ride.

Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing is a feast for the eyes, but your brain may be left feeling hungry afterwards. The series' strengths are the likeable trio of lead characters and the thrill of the sky chases and aerial battles, but the moment the plot is held up to scrutiny, it begins to unravel. Close, but no bull's-eye.
SCORE: 3/5
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