Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing Episode 1 – Stalled Flight
Last Exile is a famous and iconic anime series from the once venerable Gonzo Studios, which has struggled over the past half-decade to produce anything decent. But once upon a time, Gonzo was the map for cutting edge use of CG animation combined with traditional hand-drawn work, and Last Exile was the shining star of that portfolio. So when Gonzo announced they were finally doing a sequel series, set two years after the end of Last Exile, longtime anime fans immediately started salivating at the prospect.
Those fans would include yours truly: Last Exile was the first anime series I ever bought. While it probably doesn’t make my top ten list now, I still recognize it as a quality series which has stood the test of time. The only question was whether the new series could possibly live up to the standards set by the previous series. The answer, of course, is that it does not.
One way in which Fam, the Silver Wing does match up with its predecessor series in how it doesn’t really give any sort of tutorial into its world. You’re just plopped right in, with names being tossed around for countries and organizations, but no real talk about how they all fit in the world. To an extent, this is a good thing—show don’t tell and all that—but Last Exile arguably took it too far, with whole swaths of the setting only becoming clear in retrospect, aided by reference documents.
Likewise, this premiere reveals that Ades Federation and the Turan Kingdom, two political entities which didn’t exist in the last series, are on the verge of signing a peace treaty. It doesn’t reveal why the Turan kingdom regards the lake where the two sides are meeting as sacred ground, or that the Ades Federation appears to be affiliated with remnants of the Guild, the main antagonist of the previous series. Watchers of the original series might be able to figure both those things out, but those coming to the series fresh won’t. And those same newcomers won’t understand how, putting those pieces of information together, expecting the Ades Federation to hold to a truce because the ground was sacred was a really dumb idea.
Maybe this series will ultimately do a better job explaining its setting than its predecessor. That won’t be hard. The greater problem is that the show completely misses the tone of the original series, with emphasis on the tragedy of war, a palpable tension between the nobility and lower classes, and the story arc of a boy growing into an adult.
Here, everything just seems … lighter, from the character designs to the resolutions of battles to cast of characters. Fam and her copilot Gizelle are Sky Pirates, working under Fam’s father to commandeer and ransom airships. When the Federation prepares to overrun Turan, the Sky Pirates reveal their hearts of gold, and rescue (rather effortlessly) the two princesses of the Kingdom.
The end result is to put a group of teenage girls of varying stock personality tropes (airhead, shy girl, tsundere) together to, I guess, liberate Turan somehow. The real question, however, is how many different ways the show will use the setup to string along “moe” moments while it goes about its ostensible plot.
I shouldn’t make it sound like the entire series will be wrapped around having cute girls do cute things (or what otaku think are cute things, like being klutzy enough to sleepwalk off an airship). There’s also some bait thrown in for watchers of the original series in the form of fan favorite characters, like former Guild member Dio Eraclea. (Of course, I was fairly sure Dio died in the finale of Last Exile, but I guess I was mistaken.) At the moment, such appearances feel more like name dropping than something integral to the plot, but perhaps I’m being too hasty in judging it.
I don’t think I am, though. Above all, what Fam, the Silver Wing fails to capture that the original Last Exile caught immediately was a love of flying; watching the original series imparted to me, one of the most sedentary and earthbound individuals on the planet, a desire to fly in open skies. This show doesn’t catch that; the airships look pretty, but the actual flight scenes just miss that spark. It even carries into the openings: Compare this to this and tell me which looks to be about flying, and which a ho-hum adventure series with a cast overburdened with cute girls.
Fam, the Silver Wing, in short, is a show that might have a similar (if updated) visual style, and even setting, to the iconic series that inspired it. But it is missing the soul. Some of that, I’m sure, is due to the change in writers, to a newcomer with no experience whatsoever in working with or creating original material. But some of it, I’m sorry to say, likely comes from the rot within Gonzo itself, and a deliberate decision to focus on popular (and thus overused, predictable, and boring) character types and scenarios rather than on what made the original series great.
Will I give the show a few more episodes to see if it will turn itself around? Probably. I’ll give it a three episode test at least to see if some of the original spark is still there waiting to come out. But I’m not holding my breath.