Last Exile is a 26 episode anime produced by Gonzo that aired in 2003. The story follows Claus Valca, a vanship pilot, and his navigator Lavie Head. The two are sky couriers with aspirations to one day be the first people to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship. During one of their missions they are tasked with protecting a young girl, Alvis, from her pursers. Before long, Claus and Lavie soon find themselves wrapped up in the middle of a war between the Anatoray and Disith people. The two attempt to bring peace not only for themselves, but for the world, in this highflying show.
This section goes over the characters that I feel are important to cover; this is not to say that the characters that I do not cover in this section are not important. Characters left out in this section are done so in the interest of time, especially in the case of a large cast. The characters of Last Exile make up for an interesting cast most of the time. The main cast consist primarily of Claus, Lavie, Dio, and Alvis.
Claus is a young vanship pilot who feels obligated to help those in need. This obligation drives a lot of the narrative and eventually creates most of the conflict between himself and other characters. At the same time, this kindness often rewards him throughout the series. His only other real trait is that he is one of the best vanship pilots around. He often pulls off maneuvers that some viewers will find unrealistic, but it didn’t really bother me too much. Overall he feels kind of like a cookie-cutter protagonist, especially at the start, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like him.
Next we have Lavie. She is a childhood friend of Claus and serves as his navigator. At the start of the show there is a lot of focus on her and Claus, but eventually she is pushed more to the background until the end of the series. If you like Lavie, this might make the middle of the anime a little less interesting for you, but if you don’t like her that much, as is my case, then it’s not really a big deal. She does undergo some development that makes her less whinny and obnoxious by the end. At the start her main motivations are to race with Claus and one day cross the Grand Stream in their vanship. These goals don’t jive well with where the show actually goes, and that’s where some of her development comes from, but until it actually gets there, she just comes off as annoying.
Dio is an interesting character. He’s infatuated with Claus and often aids him in his objective. He does so always in ways that seem odd or that aren’t straightforward, but that’s what makes him so interesting. Beyond this he is a member of the Guild, a race of people meant to look over wars and intervene when necessary. They are an elite group, but from the get go you can tell Dio doesn’t quite fit with the other Guild members. He is easily my favorite character for many reasons, one of which being the excellent voice acting of Joshua Seth in the English dub. There’s a lot of complexity to his character, and to avoid spoiling things I’m going to just leave it at that.
Lastly, for the main cast we have Alvis. She is a little kid with mystery surrounding her. When she is first introduced, all that the viewer knows about her is that she is being perused by some ship and that she is important. Being a kid, she is obviously not crazy developed at the start of the show, and by the end she really isn’t all that much more developed either, but she serves as a nice vehicle for the plot as well as a way for some important dialog to occur between the cast. Additionally, acting as a stand-in for the audience when something needs explaining.
As for the rest of the cast, there are people ranging from Lucciola (Dio’s companion), Alex Rowe (captain of the Silvana), to a myriad of side characters. For the most part, these other characters are pretty interesting and have just as much to do with the plot as anybody else, even if they get less screen time. There are a few goofy side characters who don’t matter as much, but they were still interesting none the less.
In this section, the story will be looked at in a bit more detail than what is done in the overview. It will be as spoiler free as possible, but if there is any kind of spoiler discussion I will let you know in advance. To help in this I will intentionally be less specific in some cases, splitting up what I am reviewing up into acts or arcs (whatever is more appropriate) to give a general rundown, and my feelings, without giving too much away.
At the start, the anime is primarily about mail delivery and racing. It’s fairly slow paced, but doesn’t last for a terribly long time either. The show follows Claus and Lavie as they go delivering messages while also trying to juggle competing in a race in their home town. During this section of Last Exile, a lot of the general background is given to the viewer. It has an almost historical feeling despite being set in a fictional world.
It isn’t until the introduction of Alvis that the show’s primary plot really kicks into gear. Thankfully, she’s introduced fairly early in after the viewer gets to see a bit of the world, the war between the Anatoray and Disith, and who Claus and Lavie are as characters. Once Alvis is under the protection of Claus and Lavie, they must find a way to bring her to Alex Rowe of the Silvana, an infamous ship that many fear and speculate to be mere legend. At this point the plot starts to move considerably faster without feeling rushed.
Once Claus, Lavie, and Alvis are aboard the Silvana, the viewer gets introduced to a lot more characters as the plot begins to really develop. I particularly enjoyed this section of the show. It was fairly interesting and got me ready for the last episodes, as this section makes up a good portion of Last Exile. In the second act, Lavie is sent to the backseat and Claus receives more of a focus along with the most important members of the Silvana crew. During this time, characters are given room to really develop and a majority of the motivations and story elements are given to the viewer. This makes for a good build up to the concluding episodes in the third act.
In the last few episodes of the anime, the viewer gets to see what the Guild is all about, and just how corrupt it is. The viewer gets snippets of this group and is shown that they are the main villain of the show, but before these last few episodes, it’s not entirely clear why. These episodes felt exciting to me and had me invested in the outcome of the characters. Who would live, who would die, and ultimately how good would the resolution be?
The ending of Last Exile was good. It felt like it should have ended the way it did and left me satisfied with the experience, since it wrapped everything up nicely. This is a particularly important part of any show or movie to me, so in this regard Last Exile did a great job.
Animation & Sound
The animation for Last Exile is remarkably good considering its production studio Gonzo. For those of you unfamiliar with this studio, they tend to have hit or miss animation, but for this anime it’s definitely a hit in my book. It used a tasteful blend of 3D and 2D art that never felt out of place or garish. Considering some disasters with this kind of 2D/3D blend and the studio, that’s pretty fantastic. Don’t just take my word for it though, take a look at some of these pictures from the anime:
As for the sound, it was pretty good. The opening is definitely among some of the more original, as far as the type of instruments used and the general vibe given off. The ending was only ok; I liked it, but nothing too special. The background music always seemed to fit the tone of what was going on and I generally liked it. I haven’t really heard this sort of sound from any other show, which is a hard thing to pull off.
Last Exile is both subbed and dubbed. I watched it dubbed and aside from Lavie, I liked all the voice work. As mentioned, Joshua Seth as Dio, is a standout performance that alone made the dub worth it for me. I can’t speak for the sub as I didn’t watch it that way.
Last Exile managed to surprise me by having a more complex and action filled story than I expected. When I first started the show, I kind of expected it to mostly be about mail couriers with light war elements in the background. However, this was not the case and it managed to bring a mostly mature and interesting story about war, socio-economic inequality, and death with a historic atmosphere.
Despite these themes and topics in the anime, it’s pretty safe for most people, I wouldn’t recommend it with small children but it’s definitely an anime almost anybody could enjoy. If you haven’t seen this hidden gem of a show and you are a fan of action shows with some light mystery elements and a real feeling world, then you should really consider giving Last Exile a watch.
Score & Extra Info
I give Last Exile a solid 9/10 with the recommendation to buy it.
Last Exile is licensed by Funimation and is available for sale (DVD only) and legal streaming (There’s no excuse, go watch it!) in North America on their website [here]. I personally recommend picking shows up at rightstufanime.com [here] but you should be able to find it pretty easily from the site of your choosing.
For another view check out Glass Reflection’s review of Last Exile:
Granted this video is one of his older reviews and isn’t nearly as polished as some of his later works. That being said, this guy is one of my go to video reviewers and I highly recommend giving his content a look for differing (or sometimes similar) opinions. For future reviews you may see him or others featured in this section.
Please note that Tristan and I are not affiliated in any way and I’m just featuring him here because I think he’s a cool guy. When possible, I ask the original creator of any featured content for permission to use it. During the wait period, (if there is one) the article will read like this until either receiving permission or being asked not to feature them in the review. At this time the review will be edited accordingly.
Let myself and others know what you think of either the review or the anime in the comments below. Please do not post spoilers and be civil to each other as well. Thanks so much for your time!