Hugh David pits Last Exile against Last Exile!
With the first part of Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing now available in the U.K., we can finally compare it with its predecessor, Gonzo’s 10th and 20th anniversary specials pitted against each other. What do they tell us about the industry then and now?
There is no question: first time around in 2003, Gonzo was at a creative and financial peak, with a run of hugely successful series behind it. Last Exile was a lavish production, made without concessions to the anime mainstream and fan demands of that period. The first-class creative team of Koichi Chigira, Maehiro Maeda and Range Murata, who worked well together on Gonzo’s original calling card Blue Submarine No.6, were reunited with an abundance of creative freedom, and it shows. The series is distinctly lacking in fan-service, while the few stereotypes utilised are there to serve the story, not the ratings.
The story itself was more mature than the usual early noughties fodder, although this led to criticisms for being too complex, elusive even. The excellent 2D and 3D animation still started arguments over how they were blended, despite being state-of-the-art. The music from Dolce Triade and Hitomi Kuroishi was probably the least controversial element, being utterly appropriate and still memorable (see Paul Browne’s article here).
Ten years on, in the 2013 sequel Fam, The Silver Wing, a first glance makes it seem to be a very different beast. Immediately there are clear concessions to the current state of play in Japanese animation; the varied cast of the earlier show replaced by a series of the young female stereotypes currently finding favour with fanboys, while there is fan service from the opening scene, carrying on through the opening sequence into the series. The basic plot appears to be laid out in the opening episode, while the dialogue seems simple, straightforward compared to the original’s elusive qualities.
Behind the scenes as well, times have changed significantly. Whereas a decade ago the CG work was mostly in-house, with a mere five companies credited with the animation work for Last Exile, now a slimmed-down Gonzo contracted out the visuals in Fam, The Silver Wing, resulting in over fifty companies credited for the animation. The cleaner, mostly CG visuals hint at the lower budgets and increased computerisation of animation of the modern era.
However, one must trust the creative team – Koichi Chigira, Maehiro Maeda, Range Murata and Hitomi Kuroishi in particular – to deliver something of the grandeur and depth of the original. By the end of the first disc of Fam, The Silver Wing, it seems they have taken a firm grip of the resources given to them, wrestled the required stereotypes into the service of their larger story, and the connections start to be made with the first series. As these deepen, we see more and more how the two shows are of a piece, and Fam, The Silver Wing starts to shine as a true sequel to the original epic. And that is the finest anniversary celebration Gonzo could ask for.
Fam, the Silver Wing is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.