Back in October 2009 Tor.com declared the whole month was steampunk month and I thought it would be fun to watch a steampunk anime to celebrate along with them (well, and enter every contest they had, didn't win anything at the time but I did win one of their posters later on!). But the thing is, there isn't a lot of anime out there that could be called "steampunk" even if it has recently become incredibly popular in the west. One of the few titles I found, and one that I recognized, was Last Exile which I rather enjoyed, even if immediately after finishing it I had to go look up all sorts of information to understand the ending. I had been thinking of re-watching it sometime but didn't have the motivation until a trailer for the sequel, Last Exile Fam of the Silver Wings (airing this summer), came up and made me super nostalgic for the series, bring on the re-watch!
Summary: Living on the world of Prester, Claus and Lavie are vanship pilots who make a living delivering messages all the while tuning up their vanship so they can one day cross the Grand Stream, an area of aerial turbulence that splits their world in half. But one day they come across a downed pilot who entrusts his delivery to them, a little girl who every power wants and needs so they can use her to change the world.
The Good: It's surprising that this anime isn't better known in the steampunk fandom since the first half of it is a really good example of the genre (better yet, the anime is from 2003, a few years before the current craze, so it doesn't feel like the creators are throwing in random trappings to attract these fans, it feels like a very organic setting). The show starts feeling less steampunk-eque around the middle of the series, when the goals of the characters change a bit, but the story is still well plotted and is mostly well paced. It's a very satisfying show in the end, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end with explained backstory and reason for the characters actions (mostly) and there is real change in the end.
The Bad: Oh the ending, there's such a thing as an open ending and there's such a thing as a "we ran out of time!" ending*. What the show really needed to do was reduce episode 25 (a breather episode) to half an episode, put the first half of episode 26 as the second part of 25, and then expand on the rest of 26 in it's own episode, it desperately needs more explanation. The middle of the series has trouble too, there's a period where nearly every female named character has a crush on Claus (the romance in general could have been handled a little better to be honest) which makes most of them act horribly out of character for no other reason than "they're jealous," despite not being jealous before or after this bit. These aren't little details either, these are big details that, in the end, are a bit hard to ignore or forget and make the show less great that it could have been.
The Art: The show is from 2003 so the CGI looks outdated and then you throw in the fact that it was created by Studio Gonzo and the CGI is rather conspicuous and, since it's used on all the vanships and airships, it pops up a lot. But other than that, the characters all look distinct, everything stays on model, each group of people (Anatory, Disith, the Guild, the vanship pilots) have a distinct look and aesthetic to them so it's clear that a lot of work went into the designs for the show.
The Music: There is only one opening and one ending theme for the series and both of them are rather memorable and a bit haunting. The opening starts off with some strange engrish (although the imagery is far weirder) but flows well and the ending is a well done ballad. Sadly neither of the songs are translated on the Netflix stream but, as far as I can remember, the lyrics made sense the first time I saw the show. Speaking of which, the first time I saw the show I saw it subbed but this time around I watched it dubbed and I'm pleased with both languages. Some parts of the dub felt a little flat and merely average and some of the voice acting was spot on, the only voice that felt odd was Dio who came off as a bit creepy in the dub and sounding like certain spikey haired characters from Digimon and Wolf's Rain.
So I'm really happy I re-watched the show, although I'm annoyed that, even after a year and a half piecing together everything I could about the ending, (it appears there was some more information on it that never made it's way out of Japan and was never translated) it's still confusing. And now I'm even more excited for the new season coming out this summer. It has a lot to live up to (and a lot to explain!) and if it's anything less than amazing I'll be sad, which leaves me vaguely terrified since Gonzo's last work (Shangi-la) was a mess and I just don't want this to be a mess.
*Normally I'm alright with an open ending but in this case, where it's not entirely clear what PLANET the characters are on, that's a bit of a problem. Based on a few scenes plus material for the new show I think the end was on Prester but you could make a good argument that it was on Earth instead. Also, one character, who I always thought had died (since they were last seen in a situation where they practically couldn't make it out alive) appears to have lived after all and, while I'm certainly happy they're alive, the fact that it took eight years to confirm this is not a good thing.