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Last Exile versus Fam, the Silver Wing

Thursday 23rd January 2014

Hugh David pits Last Exile against Last Exile!

Fam, the Silver WingWith 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).

Fam, the Silver WingTen 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.

Buy Last Exile Fam The Silver Wing Part 1


Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing Part 2 (episodes 12-23)

was £24.99
Years ago, humanity abandoned the ruined Earth. Generations later, with the planet again capable of sustaining life, mankind returned. In the skies above the reborn world, rebellious young Fam and her best friend Giselle make their living as Sky Pirates. Atop sleek Vespa Vanships, the girls dart fearlessly through the clouds, capturing and selling airborne battleships for profit. It's a life of care-free swashbuckling - until the Ades Federation attacks.
The only nation to remain on Earth during humanity's exile, The Ades Federation wages war against those who returned only after the planet's darkest days had passed. When Fam and Giselle rescue a princess from the clutches of the rampaging Ades armada, they join the young royal's battle to save her Kingdom from destruction - and undertake the impossible mission of uniting humanity in peace.
Contains episodes 12-21 plus episode 15.5.



Last Exile

Hugh David goes gonzo for Mahiro Maeda’s sci-fi classic
Today’s anime fans may not place as much store by the name GONZO, given their lack of a major hit series in the last five years, but ten years ago they were the company to beat. A decade after their inception, their list of successes then reads like many an older fan’s DVD shelf: Blue Submarine No.6, Gatekeepers, Vandread, Hellsing, Final Fantasy: Unlimited, Full Metal Panic!, Kiddy Grade, Yukikaze, Kaleido Star, Peace Maker Kurogane, and Chrono Crusade. Every new series announced was hugely anticipated, every trailer released a major event, the soundtrack CDs in hot demand at convention dealer stands.

The music of Last Exile

Paul Browne on the music of Last Exile
The breathtaking visual style of anime series Last Exile was conceived by animation outfit Gonzo to celebrate the studio’s 10th Anniversary and originally screened in Japan in 2003. The design of the series was handled by noted Japanese illustrator Range Murata, who had previously worked on the earlier Gonzo series Blue Submarine No. 6 (alongside Last Exile director Koichi Chigira and production designer Mahiro Maeda). As a result, the series breathed an authentic level of detail and design that brought the thrilling world of aerial battleships, mysterious artefacts and chivalry to life.

Fam, the Silver Wing

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.

Fam, the Silver Wing 2

Andrew Osmond finds Emperor Hirohito in Japanese animation
The Sara storyline in Fam the Silver Wing seems to echo a view – many would say a myth – of Hirohito, encouraged not just by the Japanese but also by the victorious Americans when they rebuilt the country. Namely, it was the story that Hirohito was a helpless figurehead, at the mercy of his warmongering government.


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