It's been a while since Studio Gonzo did a full and proper tv show, the last one was Shangri-la from 2009 which had a rather cool premise but completely failed by the end (and the main reason why I get nervous whenever I see a sci-fi story trying to throw mysticism in, reaaaally didn't work here). Despite that I was curious to see Gonzo's newest offering, a sequel to the original Last Exile series which I enjoyed quite a bit. I don't consider the show a masterpiece as I have seen many other people do, the middle/two-thirds mark falls too flat for that, but like Hugo from yesterday it's a great example of a story starting out with a small premise and growing into something that encompasses the characters entire world. I was a bit confused by some of the early promotional material ("okay, how did Earth go from having one moon to seven, did we really mess up the planet SO MUCH that we destroyed the moon in the process or something?") but thankfully those details were cleared up by the series, even if some other important ones weren't.
Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing
Summary: Set two years after the first series and now on the planet Earth, Fam is an orphan who was taken in by the Sky Pirates when she was just an infant and loves nothing more but finding adventure in the skies with her friend Giselle as her navigator. But the two of them quickly get out of their depth as they become entangled in a brewing war between the imperialistic Ades Federation and find themselves siding with the young heir to the opposing Turan kingdom Millia.
The Good: If the viewer considers Millia instead of Fam to be the main character in this story (despite the fact that her name is in the title Fam feels and acts more like a supporting protagonist) then the story works very well showing how Millia starts out as a pampered and privileged young girl who must quickly grow up and seize control of her world lest it be completely wiped out. There are some returning characters from the original show and, while sometimes they aren't given enough screen time (and by that I mean multiple times they disappear for three or four episodes without the show having a 30 second scene showing what they are currently doing) they manage to have important roles but never upstage the main trio. The show is exciting and fun overall but when you look too closely at some of the details it starts to lose it's glean.
The Bad: If the viewer considers Fam instead of Millia the main character and lead of this series then it starts to fall rather flat. I have no problem with Fam being an optimistic character, indeed with how dark the series gets at points it's needed, but her character development is spotty and occurs much too late in the series (and there's really no reason she should've had so little, even side characters need to grow in a story). But a bigger problem than Fam is the overall villain and their plan which just doesn't make sense. At the heart of the conflict is a land war similar to the Israel-Palenstine conflict of today, who is supposed to live where? Do the original settlers who were displaced for hundreds of years have a right to take the land or do the people who moved in the intern and have no other "native land" than that have a right to stay? The problem here is that not only does the story contradict itself, the returnees from the first show have found livable land far away from everyone else so there clearly is more land to go around, but I'm also highly skeptical that the only liveable land is right around what the fans believe to be the Mediterranean Sea, the creators seem to have completely forgotten there's more than 2/3 continents here. Not only is this conflict had to take seriously because of it's flaws but the villains actions in the end just don't make sense and it's frustrating because some of the other characters could have made better villains. While many of the staff from the first series returned the writers did not and it's a difference that is keenly felt.
The Audio: Both the original and LE:Fam share musical composer Hitomi Kuroishi and, as a fan of Celtic inspired music, I was very pleased with this choice and the music sounds gorgeous. The music has a very similar feel to the music from the first series and is well-placed. The opening and ending songs aren't as memorable as the ones from the original but they work alright and don't feel out of place. The voice acting is solid as well, I believe all of the returning characters except for Alvis used the same voice actors as before, although it sounds like the English dub will have a hard time doing the same*.
The Visuals: The art was surprisingly a mixed bag here, while the CGI looked rather good in many places (and blending CGI with traditional 2D animation is one thing Gonzo used to be good at) there are many times where if you pause and look closely the regular art looks a bit sloppy or the characters look off. LE:Fam is hardly the only show to do this (and I'd argue that it never gets as bad as the background messiness of Persona 4 the Animation) but it is distracting to have some very gorgeous scenes right alongside overly simplistic details. In the end I still liked the look of this show very much and hope that some of it was cleaned up/corrected for the DVD/BR releases.
It may not sound like it but I did really like this show, it just went down in it's second half and is certainly not as good as the original. There is one more problem with it that didn't quite fit in with the review, there were several events in the show where viewers went "wait, that's different from the original show, how did that happen?" and everyone had to throw up their arms and go "we don't know!" There is a manga that is set to bridge the two series, Travelers of the Hourglass/Sunadokei no Tabibito but it only started running the same time the anime aired so that so far has raised more questions than it has answered. Honestly I wish that manga had started back last February or March when the anime was announced so it had more of a lead and started to cover things (in an ideal world it would've been finished before LE:Fam or been a show itself) but hopefully in another couple of years this show will make at least a bit more sense. For US/Canadian readers the show can be viewed for free on Funimation's website.
*to clarify, Last Exile was original licensed and dubbed by the now-dead Genon with California actors and both shows are now licensed by Funimation who is based in Texas. Worse yet I've heard that Dio's voice actor no longer does much acting and I might have heard that another actor had passed away and there's still another half dozen or so returning characters that they'll either have to match or make special accommodations to make this work.