Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing
Two years have passed since the last Exile left Prester for a world free of war. On Earth, home planet of all humanity, war is alive and well. The Ades Federation, comprised of displaced Earth natives, is waging a bloody and ruthless war on the nations of previous Exile returnees. Sky Pirate Fam Fan Fan and her navi Giselle are happily engaged in piracy and happily disengaged from the ongoing war. When Fam impulsively rescues Princess Millia of Turan from the Ades fleet, though, they suddenly find themselves very much engaged. Fam then decides that it's up to her to steal the princess a new battle fleet, but chooses the wrong one for her first target: the Sylvius, veteran flagship of the Prester exiles.
After a couple of years of financial upheaval and severely curtailed activity, it isn't surprising that Gonzo would be out to recapture its glory days. Which is why it makes sense that they'd reconvene the creative talent behind 2003's Last Exile (or at least most of it) for a second shot at the venerable property. That could easily have stunk of desperation—and the way the production strains at the outer limits of the studio's current capabilities sometimes does—but the creative team remains strong: Koichi Chigira, Makoto Kobayashi, and Range Murata deliver an aerial adventure that is epic in scope, personal in focus, and bursting with visual imagination; a spectacular series that is never so busy showing off that it forgets to entertain.
Like the first Last Exile, Fam is probably strongest in its world-building. The series trots the globe from open oceans to forests of ice, from cultured bay cities to pirate coves. Each place has its own people, it's own look, it's own culture and place in history, it's own role in the war that ravages the future Earth. There are the pirates that Fam belongs to: refugees from destroyed lands who make their living stealing and stripping airships, flying out on raids in patchwork ships from hidden cities. There are the dispossessed peoples of the Ades Federation, original inhabitants of Earth, striking out in a brutal war of (re)conquest from the scrap-metal pyramid that is their capital. There are the peaceful and doomed people of the bay nation of Turan and the rocket-piloting, militant isolationists who occupy the windswept tundra of the frozen north. There are dissolute nobles in a city of debauchery, self-interested elites who fail utterly to understand the violent fanaticism of Ades' military rulers, and, of course, the off-world crew of the Sylvius, feeling out the situation on their new home planet. It is a complicated world, as rich in fantastical aerial technology and natural beauty as it is in bloody conflict and even bloodier history.
It's a shame that the rest of the series isn't at quite the same level. Screenwriter Kiyoko Yoshimura, whose short filmography is long on terrible series, creates a plot that doesn't accelerate through plot points so much as pinball between them. Fam goes from pirating to rescuing princesses to captivity to stealing a navy to running from the Federation with neck-kinking speed. The series charges from situation to situation with no apparent goal in mind other than keeping the adventure running. There is the re-establishment of Princess Millia's nation, but the setting does such a good job of muddying the moral waters around her one-girl war on the Federation that it's a hard goal to get totally behind. Instead we're mostly reduced to just wanting her and Fam and Giselle to survive whatever crisis the series is currently throwing at them. And for now that's enough. They may be character types more than actual characters—Fam the genki girl, Giselle the shy sidekick, Millia the pampered but good-hearted rich girl—but they're damned likeable types, and better balanced than they first appear. Their adorable designs, drawn in that distinctively rounded way of Murata's, don't hurt anything. Eventually, though, their story will have to betray a purpose; otherwise it'll never be a match for the world it takes place in.
In the meantime the series will just have settle for being an expertly-executed adventure serial. Such a pity. Koichi Chigira uses the whiplash unpredictability of Yoshimura's script and the cuddly likeability of the core cast to ratchet up the tension, driving one helplessly from one episode to the next. And the next. And the next. It is never clear when Fam's life is going to go hurtling in a new direction, or if Giselle or Millia will go hurtling with her, or how she's going to cope when hurtle she does. The spaces between such right-angle turns Chigira fills with little moments of lyrical beauty, furiously inventive aerial warfare, and sweet character interludes that occasionally cross the line to cloying. The limits of Gonzo's animation are most obvious in the battle sequences, which sometimes swamp the acrobatic maneuvering of Fam's (totally adorable) vanship with atmospheric effects and feature the occasional clunker of a 3D/2D transition. Stiffness and inconsistent rendering sometimes hurt the more personal scenes, but not too badly.
Whatever the series lacks in raw animation, though, Chigira makes up for in execution. The battles are lucid and exciting, epic in scale and enlivened by imaginative CG mecha and equally imaginative strategies, usually of Fam's devising. And when he slows down to linger on the pirates' funeral rites or to mend the slow fraying of Fam and Giselle's relationship, the occasional stiff lip or off-model cheekbone, not to mention lump of syrup, is easily lost in the gentle beauty of the scene. In all of this Chigira is greatly helped by the alternately stirring and gorgeous music of Hitomi Kuroishi, who proves here that she can use a thundering orchestra almost as well as she can her own delicate voice. Perhaps Fam isn't the second coming of Gonzo (yet), but it is a well-made, well-balanced, and, well, enjoyable action series—and they could've done far worse than that.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Exciting, compulsively watchable adventure built around a likeable trio in a superbly-realized future world; return of season one favorites.
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