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Matt Kamen returns to the Gonzo world of airships and skybikes

The original Last Exile series is an undeniable joy – gorgeously animated, wildly imaginative, and just plain fun. Its steampunk-inspired setting, filled with unlikely flying machines and technological marvels, recalled the likes of Studio Ghibli’s Laputa, Castle in the Sky. The 26-episode run followed pilot Claus Valca and navigator Lavie Head, a pair of sky couriers on the planet Prester whose cargo – the mysterious girl Alvis Hamilton – proved to be the key to ending a long-running war between the rival nations of Anatoray and Disith. Last Exile’s beautiful world and delightful character designs by famed illustrator Range Murata made the series a fan-favourite.

Eight years on, Murata has once again paired with director Koichi Chigira to bring viewers Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing, a long-awaited follow-up. Set two years after the climax of the original series, with colonists from Prester having returned to the long-abandoned Earth, this sequel introduces a new heroic duo, Fam Fan Fan and Giselle Collette. Much like their predecessors, the pair are pilots, albeit for very different purposes – working as sky pirates, they capture and sell on other aircraft for a living. The girls aren’t quite the hardened criminals their job title implies though, and in saving a smaller ship from the forces of the Ades Federation, their lives become even more exciting.

Echoing Claus and Lavie’s discovery of Alvis in the first series, Fam and Giselle find the Princesses of Turan, Liliana il Grazioso Merlo Turan and Millia Il Velch Cutrettola Turan aboard the rescued ship. While their names are confusing, their plight is not – pursued by Ades’ Empress Sara Augusta, the royal sisters’ mysterious innate powers could decide the very future of the newly-repopulated Earth.

However, series writer Kiyoko Yoshimura doesn’t simply repeat the first Last Exile beat for beat with a new cast. Instead, the concept of humanity returning to its homeworld is used to explore themes of identity and nationality. The Ades Federation is formed by those who remained on Earth when the majority left it behind and having spent generations restoring the planet, are aggrieved that those who abandoned them years before have returned and are once again draining resources and claiming territory for themselves. Conversely, Ades’ fierce rejection of the ‘immigrants’ is a transparent criticism of small-minded jingoism in the real-world. It’s a series that has far greater depth than may first appear.

While the shift in focus to an almost entirely female main cast could be seen as exploitative – and the show has more than its share of fanservice, for those who enjoy such indulgences – Yoshimura manages to subvert many of the typical anime character clichés. Although Fam, Giselle, and Millia each start out as stereotypes (clumsy tomboy, refined damsel, imperious mean girl), each develops into well-rounded and fully believable heroes during the course of 23 episodes.

Fam the Silver Wing is even more of a feast for the eyes than its parent series too, with dynamic aerial battles and fantastically realised mecha that have benefitted from the developments in CG animation in the last decade. Range Murata’s art style has also clearly evolved, now even more detailed while retaining the intrinsic delicateness of his traditional work.

High-flying action, social commentary and some of the best visuals you’ll see this year – see what makes this new crew tick in the first collection!

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

 

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