Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 13th 2012
Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing
Episodes 13-21 Streaming
Luscinia has set his sights on the isolationist northland of Glacies, hitting it full force. The battle is so terrible that instead of consolidating Ades' grip on the world it tears everything apart. Sickened by Luscinia's relentless bloodshed, the Federation's leadership fragments and child empress Sārā becomes the focal point of a internecine power struggle. As the war escalates still further, Fam, Giselle and Millia are drawn into the bloodshed, but a chance meeting with Sārā opens an unexpected door to peace. But can Fam's dream of peace really survive the ingrained hatred of Earth's long war? Or will it be Luscinia's apocalyptic vision of peace by the sword that triumphs?
The second half of Fam is big—full of epic battles and equally epic twists of fate—but also compressed. Like someone took an entire series' worth of world-shaking events and crammed them into ten episodes (nine if you discount the recap episode). It's undeniably exciting—equal parts eye-popping spectacle and painful wartime drama. There's always the sense, though, that it would hit just a little harder if it was given the time to properly throw its punches.
If Gonzo was looking to show off its post-downsize capabilities, it certainly succeeds here. The sheer spectacle on display is breathtaking. The Ades Federation's assault on Glacies kicks the second half off with a localized apocalypse, leaving nothing but fire and destruction in its wake as missiles give way to artillery and artillery gives way to carpet bombing and carpet bombing gives way to...something we don't yet have words for. A clash of titans? And it's just the first such battle. Gonzo has always had a knack for blowing things up and it takes every opportunity here to show it off. Battleships are consumed by flames, crushed by metallic tentacles, riddled by missiles, crashed into walls, or simply blown apart by enemy fire. Artillery emplacements vanish in bursts of CGI flame. Fleets of fighters explode into 3D clouds of smoke and debris. The series ends with a planetoid-sized spacecraft shedding its component parts until its vast skeleton plows into the earth. Spectacular is the only word for it.
It isn't just the new Gonzo's strengths that are on display though; its limitations are too. Awe-inspiring though they are, the battles feel flatter and less visceral than those in the more modest first half. Instead of following Fam as she zips in and out and through the unfolding chaos, the camera generally places us outside looking down as fleets move on fleets. Movement becomes less important than art: fantastical rock formations; ragged, demonic fortress-cities; a port perched atop mist-shrouded stone walkways; landscapes cratered and ravaged by unspeakable violence. Which is fine, but also reduces the vigor of the action and indicates as surely as anything that the series' budget is in decline. On a smaller scale, the constricting budget can also be felt in the mobility of Range Murata's adorable characters, who are less expressive than originally and tend to move in linear and limited ways.
To justify the epic destruction, screenwriter Kiyoko Yoshimura devises an equally epic dance of conflict and change. It's pretty messy at times, but what it lacks in clean progression it makes up for in dynamism. There's hardly an episode in these nine (again discounting the recap) where Fam's world doesn't fundamentally change. The balance of world power alters permanently with the battle in Glacies. When Fam returns to her pirate hometown, it isn't the same place. Afterwards revolution rewrites the political map yet again as allies become enemies and enemies allies. Capitals rise and fall, armies are raised and razed, peace is gained and lost, unity achieved and shattered and achieved yet again. The world, and Fam and her allies' positions in it, is constantly in flux, right to the end.
It's almost too much: too many huge events, too many turnarounds, too many seismic political and military shifts. They come one on the heels of the other and suffer from a certain pulled-from-the-rear randomness because of it. The motivations for Luscinia's final acts in particular are never satisfactorily explained. For every poorly supported twist, though, there's generally another that is cleverly planned: a mid-battle betrayal that pivots neatly on emotions established in the first couple of episodes; the wily stratagems of mild-mannered military geezer Sadri. The plot is uneven to be sure, and certainly rushed in parts, but it is vigorous and gripping as well.
And the show isn't dumb enough to rely solely on the large-scale. No matter how deafening the plot is, the characters are always within earshot. It's the bitter reaction of the surviving Glacies soldiers and the bleak survey an obviously disturbed Sorūsh and Ōrang make of the subsequent devastation that really drives home the Glacies spectacle. And it is on those emotions that the series later pivots when navigating two very different plot turns. Millia, Giselle, Dio, even old man Sadri and a few missing favorites from the first series—they all make their mark in the series' final run. Most of all Fam: Fam in her first dress dancing on Sadri's feet during a peacetime soiree. Fam thawing a pair of frosty Glacies pilots with a burst of her bright cheer. Fam reacquainting the battle-blinded Sky Pirates with their true, fun-loving nature. Fam infecting young Sārā with her happy dream of the Grand Race. You want to hug her every time she pokes her round cheeks into the picture. Which makes the struggle to keep her little flame of hope alight all the more poignant.
Unfortunately, not even the characters are immune to the series' compression. In its rush to move the plot on, the show ends up pushing Fam and Sārā's scenes way too hard. Their rapport is cute but unnatural and too brief to carry the weight that the series forces on it. Character issues that are peripheral to the plot, most notably the issue of Fam's birth, are treated even worse: pushed aside altogether or at best dealt with summarily. You can almost see the cuts where the series pared away the subplot's meat, leaving only its skeleton in place.
There are far too many such issues—and larger issues of pacing and of execution—for this half of the series to ever be as good as it once promised to be. But while Fam will never be great, at its best certain isolated moments can be. As when Fam returns to her hometown, has a fight with Millia and runs away to shanghai one of the village boys into racing her. Soaring through the skies on her chugging little machine, threading the eyes in eroded rock formations, buzzing over cheering crowds, and tearing up the sides of stone pillars, she screams out all her frustration—at her friend who is so wounded by betrayal that she would kill her own sister, at the world that prefers fire and blood to her dream of happiness and peace—into the wind. At times like that Fam is as good as anything out there. If only it was that good all of the time.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Bold plotting, epic scope; magnificent battles; nearly every character gets their chance to shine; gorgeous vocal insert songs.
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