This is a show that had me both excited and nervous. Excited because I loved Last Exile (musket lines on airships? You just can’t beat that), and the prospect of more wild, beautiful Gonzo mechanical design and aerial action combined with interesting characters and plot is hard to overlook. Nervous because Last Exile had a satisfying, rather final end, and it is way too easy to screw up the sequel to a great show—there’s nowhere to go but down.
Thanks to the approximate J-simulcast on Hulu (so nice to see companies finally starting to get that the best way to avoid piracy is to just give us an easier, better alternative), we’ve been watching this one as it comes out in my weekly anime get-together. So far, it’s… well, really close.
Visually, it’s all there—gorgeous animation and art, wonderful mechanical design, generally stellar action, near-seamless 3D work integrated with topnotch cell art. But then, it’s Gonzo, and those guys know what they’re doing.
Story-wise, almost all there—we’ve got a big evil empire with a relatively believable smooth despot holding the reins for a powerless child leader (good change-up from the loony villainess in the original), several other factions, sky pirates, a displaced princess, wild adventure, some scheming on both sides, humor, backstabbing, and more. The fact that there’s a lot of show left makes it unfortunately obvious that the big plans early on are going to go horribly awry, but no big deal. Lots of characters—a number of returnees from the original cast and even more new ones, plus some work put into developing the politics in the empire as well as the people on the battlefield.
There are a few somewhat incongruent bits here and there (particularly a comedic bit of sort-of-fanservice-or-parody-thereof) that seemed a little too targeted at fanboys rather than in service of the story, but not a deal breaker at all, and pretty low key. I could have done with the not-quite-16-year-old protagonists being a little less able to take down entire battleships with just a little help (I really liked that Claus and Lavie were skilled, but wildly outclassed by the older, professional-soldier pilots), but again, big adventure, so I’ll forgive.
Music wise, confusing—the background score is great, bringing back the same blend of chipper, energetic, sort-of-jazzy-celtic tunes and winsome vocal bits. The opening, however, is hugely disappointing; it’s decent J-pop, but it’s still J-pop instead of the creative, unusual opening to the original show.
As a sequel—hmm. I absolutely love getting to see so many familiar faces, and big yay for vague-yuri ice-queen pilot Tatiana back promoted to vanguard spy-ship captain with her copilot close by. Lots of little nods here and there to things existing fans recognize, but enough its own beast that you could watch it without knowing anything about the original (though I wouldn’t recommend it—it’s very directly connected to what we find out at the end of that series). But the lack of any immediate explanation to what we saw in the last scene of Last Exile, and leaving (so far) out a lot of interim stuff, I feel like it doesn’t quite fit. (I haven’t read the fill-in manga yet, personally, and I’m just watching the anime so I shouldn’t have to.)
That could be remedied, but basically, Dio. He’s back. No surprise, I’m sure a lot of fans loved him (not my thing), and he was undeniably colorful. Except he was not only mind-wiped and driven insane, then mentally destroyed on top of it, but all-but-the-body dead in no uncertain terms. Heck, as abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying as it was, he had to die to properly close out that plotline. And here he is alive and well, if as sad as his bat-poo crazy demeanor allows.
Now, if you’re going to kill a character off just before the finale, and not in any way hint that he is not dead (apart from a postcard bonus insert in the DVD case, which does not count), you have some serious explaining to do if you’re going to resurrect him, which it hasn’t so much as hinted at. New viewers won’t care, but I do, and it’s bugging me severely.
Also a little annoyed that the main characters are all new. New blood is good, but frankly it would have been cooler to have the main characters of the previous show a few years older, rather than new 15-year-old-prodigies. Yes, I’m over 30, so I actually like the occasional story about characters old enough to get a drivers’ license in my country, and frankly the show seems targeted at a mature enough audience (and has enough adult secondary characters—most of them, in fact) that it could’ve done without. But, hey, Japan has a deeply ingrained culture of youth-worship, so oh well. One can dream (and watch Black Heaven or Spice and Wolf).
Oddity—there is an interim recap episode stuck between episodes 9 and 10. What the heck is that doing there? We’re only nine episodes in, and already you’re doing a recap? It’s not like it’s after a break between seasons to get people back up to speed, or even recapping the important hidden stuff (a la Trigun)—it’s three quarters of the way through one season, and half the stuff they’re recapping just happened. Weird.
Undecided—yuri undertones. The story centers solidly around cheerfully crazy pilot Fam, her soft-spoken navigator Giselle, and displaced, out-of-her-element princess Millia. Early small-scale emotional drama is that Fam and Giselle are close, but when Fam goes all-in on helping princess-in-need Millia, Giselle gets jealous. There was already plenty of precedent—the original show had vague-yuri piloting duo Tatiana and Alister plus all-but-the-kiss Yaoi duo Dio and Lucciola, and some very low-key romance between the two straight pilot protagonists, as well.
So it’s unavoidable to start reading a low-key yuri love triangle into the three girls’ relationship (particularly if you were just watching Strawberry Panic). The question is if it’s going to eventually play it as full-on romance (presumably low-key, since the musketeer and the captain were the only ones in the original show to really have any romance), leave it as the close friendship it in all honesty could be if you’re not an anime geek looking for more, or be all vague-yuri and let the fans decide without having to make any commitment yourself.
None of the above would be really disappointing, but I would very much like to see it at least commit, one way or the other.
Current opinion: Looking very promising, and I’m enjoying it plenty, but depending on how it eventually ties itself in to the previous show—particularly that very last shot of the folks at home in a wheat field, which by age of child should be after the events of this show—could knock itself down a couple rungs for sequel-mangling.