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Great Science-Fiction is rare, and although it is a predominant style in Japanese Animes, good Sci-Fi Animes are rare too. Of course, you have the seminal Akira (1989) and later the ground breaking Battle Angel (1993) (which by the way James Cameron is currently turning into a live-action 3-D extravaganza), and the intricate movie and accompanying mini series Macross Plus (1994) or even the visionary and ultra-artistic Wings Of Honneamise (1987). You can also add to that list many Hayao Miyazaki films too such as Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) or Castle In The Sky (1986) where Sci-Fi and Fantasy are separated but by the finest of line.
All those pieces of work have one key thing in common: they were each able to create a completely alien world, with its own technology, language and design essense, yet, fill it with deeply human characters we can all relate to and intricate and engaging stories. If you love Sci-Fi, you owe it to yourself to watch those Animes and see how Japan has been a leading contributor to this genre over the years. I am always surprised how few people realize that.
Although i must admit that i haven't felt excitement over a Japanese Anime in quite some time, i was completely floored by Last Exile (2003). This is one of the most intricate, complex, visually stunning, engrossing and entertaining Anime i have ever seen. The story is very complex, and its creators took their own sweet time to expose everything. Made out of 26 episodes of about 23mn each, the series slowly exposes the various factions, characters, and reasons for this or that. In fact, it wasn't until the 10th episode or so that i started to make sense of it all. In some way, this reminded me of the structure of Dune (the book, not the film).
In some alternate world called Prester, people are split along 4 factions. Two large groups representing the vast majority of the planet's population, Anatory and Disith, are at war since the dawn of time. The entire planet however is ruled by a third faction called the Guild which controls key technologies and makes sure that Anatorians and Disithians remain at war, in a balance of power where neither can win. Then, there are the rebels of the Silvana, one of the most powerful warship in the planet that operates independently of the Guild and seeks to liberate the world from its grip. The story focuses on a handful of characters, mainly Claus Valca and his long time friend Lavie. Both a Vanship pilots, sort of air couriers, criss-crossing the skys transporting objects and messages. One day, they are given a cargo very different from what they have been used to in the past. A little girl called Alvis Hamilton is the secret key to the Exile and must reach the Silvana at all cost.
The most striking thing you'll see right away is the overall quality of designs. This alien world of Prester is presented in such details as to induce wonder over and over again. The series is a real visual treat, with a fitting soundtrack and imaginative symphonic score. Just the title song is sure to please many.
All in all, this was a real treat with impressive designs, a complex yet inviting story filled with characters you'll get attached too quickly. Make sure you give it a real try because if you expect everything to be spelled out in the first few episodes, you are in for a surprise. This is a series that takes its own sweet time and takes you on an incredible ride if you give it the time.
- Laurent Hasson