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Last Exile

Studio Gonzo’s 2003 anime series Last Exile (written and directed by Koichi Chigira) is one of the few examples of Dieselpunk in popular culture. Dieselpunk is Steampunk’s lesser-known cousin, a genre that embraces the technologies and styles of the 1920’s through 1940’s. It’s also one of those rare instances of an anime which serves as inspiration for a manga, rather than vice versa. Exile is a creative and fascinating show, a brilliant yet flawed masterpiece in a sadly under-represented category.

Last Exile takes place on the fictional world of Prester and features endearing characters and fascinating aerial technology. Though its style is primarily Dieselpunk, it incorporates elements from multiple historical periods. The world’s culture combines a medieval code of chivalry with military tech ranging from the Napoleonic Wars up to World War One. A weird high-tech race called “The Guild” adds a futuristic, almost cyberpunk element.

The series’ lead characters are Klaus Valca and Lavie Head, teenage orphans who support themselves by operating a delivery service with their fathers’ vanship. This is a small aircraft which flies by magnetic levitation. It’s as fast as a prop-driven airplane but easier to pilot, except that it requires a second person to serve as navigator. The two kids are drawn into the ongoing world war and eventually join the crew of the military airship Silvana. It is one of many airborne warships which are much larger than vanships but utilize the same magnetic technology. They serve as aerial platforms for rifle-bearing infantry and floating hangars for fighter craft similar to Klaus and Lavie’s vehicle.

Stylistically, Exile is amazing in both its concept and artwork. Its people, machines, and costumes are a delight to the eye. The many primary characters are well realized and the action scenes (air races and dogfights) are fantastic. Its main drawback is the story, which is very complex and sometimes self-contradictory.

For example, Prester has just two nations (Disith and Anatoray) but for some reason, there are multiple air squadrons warring in the skies. The Silvana is a rogue ship that serves the mysterious agenda of Alex Row, her darkly brooding captain. Yet its executive officer Sophie happens to be heir to the throne of Anatoray. Even stranger is the fact that a violent permanent band of storms (the Grand Stream) separates Anatoray and Disith; it is said to be nearly impossible to cross. Somehow the two nations’ air navies manage to do so in order to battle each other in the same skies.

As the story progresses, Lavie and Klaus befriend and become the protectors of an innocent young girl named Alvis. She is said to be essential to taking control of an abandoned spaceship called Exile. This is the ancient craft that brought Prester’s human colonists from Earth. It’s difficult to see why Alvis is so necessary, except for some information in her head which the bad guys could probably coerce out of her.

My favorite element of the story is the Guild, an elf-like race that lives in a floating city high above the battle zones. Their ruler is the cruel and decadent Maestro Delphine. The Guild’s technology is far above that of the other nations. They provide the magnetic technology of flight, and they allow Disith and Anatory to continue warring as long as their own supremacy is not challenged. The Guild might have the power to fix the many problems that plague Prester, the worst of which is a shortage of clean water, but they have no interest in doing so.

One of Exile’s most interesting characters is Delphine’s brother Dio. Though selfish, spoiled, and reckless, he’s also a brilliant pilot. After facing Klaus in an air battle, he develops an obsession (possibly romantic) with the boy. He allows the Silvana to capture him and makes himself a constant nuisance to Klaus while ignoring the cute and charming Lavie. While on that ship, he gives Captain Alex information about the Mysteria, four ancient artifacts which are also needed to control Exile.

The original series of Last Exile consists of 25 episodes. I have not yet completed the 2011 sequel, subtitled Fam the Silver Wing, but I will review it at a later time. As for the original series, I greatly enjoyed every episode, though I had to re-watch parts of them to figure out what was going on. Its originality, beautiful art, and atmosphere make it a wonderful show. I just wish the story line was more internally consistent and easier to understand. I give it 4 out of 5 gears.

For great steampunk adventure, check out the adventures of Ione D at https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Ione-Mayan-Marvel-Adventures-ebook/dp/B01G2TBBPU and https://www.amazon.com/Professor-Ione-Epicurean-Incident-Adventures-ebook/dp/B071J7WNQG .

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