Last Exile ~ Ginyoku no Fam ~ Revisited
July 23, 2012 1 Comment
Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam was a series that severely disappointed me when it first aired, so much so in fact that I ended up dropping it one or two episodes after the first recap. But, after thinking about the series, I began to wonder if I might have been heavily influenced by my love for the original Last Exile, and whether this had essentially meant that I was unlikely to ever truly enjoy this sequel. In general it can be quite difficult to approach a sequel to a series that you really enjoyed without some apprehension, even more so if the original was a complete series with little room for a direct sequel at all. However, this does not mean that all sequels are bad, and frequently they can be great and occasionally better than the original through better character and plot development. Unfortunately Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam was not one of these series, and even when I watched it again, I could not shake the nagging sensation that this series just didn’t really know where it wanted to go.
The original Last Exile was an excellent series set in a fairly bleak world where the daily hardships of life as a courier were all too real. Claus and Lavie are shown to work incredibly hard for very little, with their vanship as their only means with which to make a living and therefore survive. One of the draws to this series was the fascinating, if a little ambiguous plot, where the end remains a mystery. The story itself was initially very basic, but as the series progressed it constantly expanded, with excellent story and character progression. Importantly, the ‘Last Exile’ in the title remained a mystery right until the very end, with little clues dotted throughout the series as to its power, capabilities and the reasons for its existence.
One of the major issues with Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam was that it lacked any of this, the plot itself was relatively nonexistent, it was ambiguous like the original Last Exile, but in all the wrong ways. Furthermore, the Exile was shown to us at the very beginning of the series, thus effectively showing one of the major elements straight away without any build-up or foreshadowing. The pacing of Ginyoku no Fam felt entirely wrong, with too much happening in the first three episodes, followed be a substantial lull in the action, which wasn’t helped by the kinds of characters and ideas of right and wrong. In the original Last Exile, there is an ambiguity to the ongoing war and the ideas of right and wrong on either side.
It was quite clear that neither side was right, they also weren’t wrong; instead it was a curious case of mutual destruction on a world that was gradually dying. Anatory and Disith were both following the path that they assumed to be right, with normal soldiers dying in the process. One of the most powerful scenes in the entire series involved riflemen on either side lining up in order to exchange volleys high up in the sky. The carnage that takes place on screen is made all the more poignant and disgusting when you realise that there is almost no need for this loss of life. Having riflemen shoot each other does not damage the ships, nor change their course of battle, which eventually ends in the two opposing sides exchange cannon fire. It is this cannon fire that ultimately does the damage, sinking multiple ships on either side, but what stays with you is the knowledge that hundreds of men have needlessly died in order to satisfy these two sides notion of valour and honour on the battlefield.
It is this ambiguity about what also looks like a senseless war that makes the overall story so fascinating, knowing full well that whatever the Exile is may change the course of the war, potentially saving thousands of lives. But, at the same time, there is another side to the conflict in the original Last Exile, the guild, a group that aren’t entirely good, but neither are they all inherently bad. Once again there is an ambiguity surrounding the guild, and even Delphine Eraclea, the only real antagonist in the entire series. While she is clearly not a nice person, using tricks and assassinations to get her way, there is also very little outright malice for the people of either Anatory or Disith. Instead there is a curiosity, with Delphine trying to get ahold of the power of Exile for herself and capturing Alex as a sort of prize.
What Ginyoku no Fam lacked was this ambiguity, instead we had a case of black and white, with Luscinia Hafez, who is almost a caricature of a bad guy. There is a twist in the series with a certain amount of ambiguity attached to his eventual goals; he spends the majority of the series being a stereotypical bad guy as if he were from a James Bond film. His eventual goal is a good one and he does change slightly, but at the same time, Luscinia lacks characterisation, and doesnt really change even during his final moments. We have the classic, and perhaps overused idea that you need to be a tyrant in order to bring peace, and while it does produce an excellent antagonist in the form of Luscinia, it never truly works. There is very little subtly to the plot of Ginyoku no Fam, and while there is a potentially very fascinating political subplot to do with rights to land and power, it never really makes a significant appearance. What little subtly we do get, comes towards the end of the series where it is wasted and does not add anything to story itself.
One of the biggest flaws with Ginyoku no Fam however was the main characters, or rather, the lack of main characters. Fam, Giselle and Millia do not count as main characters, and were more akin to the side characters that are often used to inject a bit of pace of humour into a series. In the original Last Exile, Claus, Lavie, Alvis, and once on board the Silvana, Tatiana, are all fascinating and engaging characters. They all have their problems and pasts, with their individual reasons for coming on board the Silvana and helping Alex Row. The character development is exceptional with all the main characters growing, changing and maturing as the series progresses, while also creating some fascinating and enjoyable relationships. More importantly, they are all well balanced characters that help to move the story along, while also being charismatic and enjoyable to watch. Fam, Giselle and Millia are none of these things, they are generally quite dull, and there is little if no depth to their characterisations.
Fam in particular was a terrible choice as a main character, seemingly incapable of reading the mood and always in some annoyingly cheerful mood despite being in the middle of a battle. Her character was two-dimensional, and while there was some character development, it happened towards the very end of the series, a classic case of too little, too late. The problem when you are trying to follow on from a series as good as Last Exile is that there will always be high expectations from those who watched the original and really enjoyed it. Ginyoku no Fam appears to have attempted a complete change in feel from the original. The original Last Exile had a grey, industrial feel to it, with a lot of deep, dark clouds, ironwork, and a gritty, quite realistic feel. Ginyoku no Fam on the other hand was incredibly colourful, with loads of landscape shots and multicoloured clouds, smoke and lights at every opportunity. While the animation itself was spectacular with absolutely exquisite backgrounds, it just felt out of place from what the story appears to be attempting.
It can be very tricky to tell a story that appears to be about one man attempting to make the world a better place for everyone else, when the main characters seem to think they are at a theme park. It is even harder when the tone of the series in terms of animation of music does not match the mood of the script. It is this disconnect between these two important aspects of the series that further hurts Ginyoku no Fam turning it into a series that never entirely felt like it knew where it was going. Furthermore, when the series did get serious, it often felt out of place and perhaps wasted. A good example of this happens during the final episode when Fam finally becomes a serious character with well chosen lines; by this point however, it does not matter, and the character progression is wasted on someone who has essentially been incapable of doing anything remotely serious throughout the entire series. The serious moments felt too short, as if they were put in as an afterthought, with the plot quickly reverting to Fam and her overabundance of energy flying around and attempt to complete another quest.
Now, I have spent a lot of time comparing the original Last Exile with the sequel Ginyoku no Fam, and I find it impossible not too. The original, while not perfect was an exceptional series with excellent story telling, great characters, and a plot which suggested that there were no truly bad sides on this world, rather it was more shades of grey with all sides being equally as guilty of treachery and bloodshed. Ginyoku no Fam on the other hand lacked all of this, and while it was not entirely terrible, with some absolutely stunning animation and brilliantly frenetic battle sequences, it didn’t make up for a story that was all over the place, and characters that were incapable of carrying it.
As a series I feel that it may have done better without the weight of expectations that the Last Exile name brought, however that does not entirely its failure. Even if it were to be called Ginyoku no Fam, the series would have still had the fatal flaws that made it such a chore to watch at times, chief among them was the titular character, Fam. She lacked the charisma, and ability to carry such a series, with little regard for the seriousness of the situations that she found herself in, always acting in a bright manner that became sickeningly repetitive as the series progressed. More than that however, was the complete lack of any sense of urgency or fear in this series.
Whereas the original suggested that without work Claus and Lavie would starve, and when they were on board the Silvana, it was quite clear that in order to survive they had to fight, none of that was present in Ginyoku no Fam. The series gave the impression that regardless of what happened, Fam and Giselle would probably return to their home and live a comfortable, happy life. Overall, while I enjoyed watching the series to the end, particularly enjoying the big set piece battles, this series never drew me in, I could easily walk away to make a cup of tea and return to find that I hadn’t really missed anything important. So, it certainly was hurt by the reputation attached to the name ‘Last Exile’, but at the same time it was incapable of standing on its own merit.