Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 21st 2014
Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing
BD+DVD - Part 1 [Limited Edition] and Part 2
Two years after the events of Last Exile the action has shifted to Earth, where returnees from other planets via other Exiles have been around for many years and established their own political states. One returnee state, the Kingdom of Turan, is prepared to make peace with the Ades Federation, a collective of people who remained on Earth after it was abandoned by the Exiles centuries before, but its ambitious Prime Minister, Luscinia, has other ideas. Young hotshot sky pirate Fam Fam Fan and her “navie” Giselle get involved when their attempt to snag Turan's flagship out of the heart of the battle, and claim it as pirate salvage, also results in the rescue of Turan's princesses, Liliana and Millia. When Liliana falls under the influence of Luscinia, which results in the veritable destruction and annexing of Turan, Millia must set off on her own to keep Turan alive in spite of her sister. That sets her, Fam, and Giselle on an adventure which takes them to the Anatoray expeditionary ship Silvias (aka “The Reaper”), the northern nation of Glacies, and even the imperial capital of the Ades Federation. Meanwhile Luscinia's quest to bring about world peace, even if he must use force and defy the wishes of his young Augusta (aka Empress), proceeds apace, and several faMilliar faces from the first series pop up.
This 2011-2012 sequel to the popular, acclaimed 2003 series Last Exile is nothing if not ambitious. That ambition becomes both its blessing and its bane, for in striving to tell an epic story which employs allusions to modern geopolitical situations, integrates in characters from the previous story, and yet still primarily focuses on an entirely new cast of characters, it grasps for a unified whole which stands far beyond what it has the time and talent to pull off. Its intent was laudable, but what we actually get is a project which can occasionally be compelling but is more often choppy in its story progression and depends too heavily on questionable logic and improbable accomplishments.
Strictly speaking, having previously watched Last Exile is not an absolute necessity for making sense of this one. While nearly all of the significant characters from the first series who left on the Exile make at least cameo appearances here (with Claus and Lavie, the lead protagonists of the first series, appearing only briefly in the final episode), none have more than significant supporting roles and in no case is knowing who those characters were the first time around critical – and a lot of them function in different roles here than in the first series, too. The only real benefits to having seen the first series are knowing ahead of time who Dio is actually affiliated with and how the Mysterion work in activating the individuals who are the keys to the Exiles. In addition, episode 15.5 is entirely devoted to summarizing the most relevant facts from the first series. For the most part the direct references to the first series are just bones thrown to established franchise fans.
That's because the focus has shifted to a new set of youngster: Fam, Giselle, and Millia. And they are an excellent replacement set, too. Fam is the classic cheerful, enthusiastic, and also somewhat naïve tomboyish busybody, one with plenty enough energy and spunk to drive a plot, make things happen, and endear herself to viewers at the same time. Droopy-eyed Giselle makes an excellent complement to Fam as her brilliant but much more reserved navigator (and veritable adoptive sister), and Millia is good enough as the second princess who has to quickly discover her own pluck when she must take on a role she never anticipated would fall to her. They are hardly the exclusive focus, though, as for much of the series the attention is split about evenly with various factions within the Ares Federation, including the Augusta. Dio also has his fair share of feature scenes, as do some other characters that the lead trio meet along the way, especially the Glacies vanship pilot/priestess Dyan.
The degree to which the focus is spread out actually has very little to do with what goes wrong in the series. The story is a grand one about conflicting ideals on how to bring about world peace, what loyalty to one's ruler actually entails, and the struggle for limited resources – or at least that what it claims, anyway, as all of these points sometimes get subsumed into the pressing desire to show large-scale aerial battles and vanship maneuvering. The most potentially interesting point it brings up is how the return of those on the Exiles forced the displacement of the populations present in the areas they took over; whether or not this was intentionally meant to be a reference to Israel and the Palestinians in our world, the situation described here has some distinct parallels. However, that aspect is only occasionally mentioned, rarely focused on for long, and totally ignored in the end. A bigger problems is the way the sky pirates' “skyfish” hunting seems vastly oversimplified for as dangerous and involved an endeavor as it should be; their ability to hijack even well-armed ships with seeming ease strains credibility. So does the improbably easy way that Fam gets herself involved in major strategy meetings and the way that she is essentially allowed to do he own thing with little restraint even in politically sensitive situations. She is not the only character who gets to dodge consequences for her actions, either, as one character assassinates a major political figure (and in so doing irrevocably breaks a truce), and yet is treated in the end as if it was nothing. The other big problem is the sense of disconnect between major scenes, as the story sometimes jumps from event to event without bothering to fully resolve previous ones or explain how points A and B connect. That some scenes had to be rushed and others had to be savagely trimmed to keep within time constraints is glaringly obvious; this series probably would have fared better with 24-26 full episodes instead of 21 and two recaps.
The ultimate scheme that has been cooked up by Luscinia for bringing peace to the world is another issue. Although his motives are always clear, not until the climax is the truth behind his methods even hinted at, and even then his scheme is implied rather than explicitly revealed. Interpreting it as using the same gimmick as a certain other highly-popular late 2000s series may be charitable, although the actions of Liliana only really make sense within that context. And even if that really was his intent, a plan like that does not resolve the underlying problems which triggered the whole mess in the first place (i.e., the pinch on resources, the loss of land to the people returning on the Exiles).
Like with the original series, Fam, The Silver Wing heavily uses CG animation for its airship exteriors and vanship movements. While this works pretty well for the big ships, its use is less smooth for the smaller ones, which sometimes bob and jerk around in unnatural fashion. Character animation is generally good, though, and designs are typically quite appealing and distinctive; Giselle's design in particular is quite distinctive, and Dyan is a true beauty, but the series also has eye candy for the ladies, too. Couple it with great background art, impressive uniform and ship designs, and some involved aerial fleet battles and you had a good-looking series which only stumbles in the roughness evident in some crowd shots. The violence is largely bloodless, the language is never strong, and the series transpires with barely a hint of fan service, so this one lays at the bottom end of the TV-14 rating range.
At its best the musical score is excellent, including prominent use of gentle songs backed by airy vocals. However, it also makes some odd choices in places (especially early on) and uses more generic sounds in others, so the Music grade should be regarded as an average rather than a consistent quality level. Regular opener “Buddy” is a decent enough number but cannot hold a candle to original series opener “Cloud Age Symphony” (used for recap episode 15.5). The regular closer “Starboard” is better, although one of a handful of alternates – “Sorrows of Life” for episode 18 – top it. Several insert songs are also used.
Funimation's English dub is easily one of their best efforts of 2013. All of the cast members whose roles carry over from the first series return, with Jad Saxton and Leah Clark fitting admirably well in the lead roles of Fam and Giselle and other new roles likewise chosen wisely. Carrie Savage and Jamie Marchi do respectable jobs of giving the Turan princesses vaguely British accents, but the real challenge was that a significant number of lines in the middle and later parts of the series spoken by several different characters use Russian (the language used in the original Japanese dub as the Glacies language). Like for the Japanese dub, the English dub used a special language coach, one who also takes over voicing Dyan in one episode which requires extensive use of Russian and voices lesser Glacies roles the rest of the time. As a result, the Russian parts sound about as good as can reasonably be expected and generally a little better than their Japanese counterparts. How many liberties the script takes is hard to tell since one does not have the option to have the subtitles on while the English dub is playing.
The three DVDs and two Blu-Rays for each half of the series come in separate cases with reversible covers, with both included in a sturdy artbox. An artbook with several bonus illustrations by character designer Range Nurata is also included. On-disk Extras include clean openers and closers, promo videos, English cast/ADR commentaries for four of the episodes (one per Blu-Ray disk), and 13 episodes of the “Friday Night/Saturday Morning” omake, which are roughly 30 second long crudely CG-animated comical shorts featuring assorted cast members. Also present are two Japanese staff interview clips from Anime Expo 2011, where the series had its world premiere, and a two minute long “Fam Event Opening Movie,” which is essentially an extended preview clip. No flaws were noticeable in a good sound mix and picture transfer.
Despite its problems, Fam, The Silver Wing is by no means a disaster, and it still usually looks very sharp even when its story is not flowing along smoothly. It can also be quite involving and entertaining and a good cast makes up for a lot. There was definitely a better and more cohesive series to be had here, however, and both in that sense and as a narrative follow-up to the excellent original series this one comes off as a bit of a disappointment.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Aerial fleet battles, appealing cast, has some ambitious ideas, good English dub.
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