Last Exile (ラストエグザイル, Rasuto Eguzairu) is a Japanese animated television series created by Gonzo. It featured a production team led by director Koichi Chigira, character designer Range Murata, and production designer Mahiro Maeda. The three had previously worked together in Blue Submarine No. 6, one of the first CG anime series. Last Exile premiered on TV Tokyo on April 7, 2003 and ran for twenty-six episodes until its conclusion on September 29, 2003.
The story is set on the fictional world of Prester, where its inhabitants use aerial vehicles known as vanships as a means of transportation. On this world which is divided in eternal conflict between the nations of Anatoray and Disith, sky couriers Claus Valca and Lavie Head must deliver a girl who holds the key to uniting the two factions. Although Prester itself is not a representation of Earth, it features technology reminiscent of nineteenth century Europe at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Many of its designs were also inspired by Germany's technological advances during the interwar period.
Prester's two nations of Anatoray and Disith are separated by a turbulent region of the sky known as the Grand Stream and are engaged in eternal conflict according to the code of chivalric warfare. A superior faction known as the Guild enforces these rules. It also provides the two nations with technology but, unknown to them, has dishonorable intentions, to preserve the status quo and enforce its dominance of both sides. Although the story is set in the future, the technology employed differs from that in a typical space opera. Instead, the show's retro-futuristic setting resembles nineteenth century Europe at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Inhabitants of Prester operate aerial vehicles known as vanships in the world's Golden Age of Aviation.
Various scenes in the series also show existing tension between the upper and lower classes. Anatoray's nobility and military officers generally believe that commoners do not understand their codes of chivalry. On the other hand, the lower class also despise the aristocracy for their monopoly on resources. This tension extends to the accessibility of clean water, which varies in price according to purity grades. In the larger story, the advanced Guild society is portrayed as degenerate and lazy, while the people of Anatoray and Disith are creative and industrious.
The series introduces viewers to a wide range of naval and military vocabulary. More primitive navigational methods such as dead reckoning and instruments such as the sextant are also used in the series.
Concept and Creation
- "Relocating to Tokyo allowed Murata to become more involved with the production of Last Exile, which was inspired by Roland Emmerich's American Revolutionary War epic The Patriot. Then-president of Gonzo and series planner Showji Murahama was particularly taken by the movie's battle scenes, during which the blue- and red-coated soldiers lined up to shoot each other down, row by row. 'He wanted to know if we could do that in an anime,' Murata recalls. 'At that time the story was going to be about troops fighting in space.' Although the setting changed considerably during development, The Patriot's military motif carried through. 'That's basically where the designs for those anachronistically beautiful outfits [worn by the Anatoray and Disith troops] came from.'"
- ―Newtype USA, September 2004
Conceptual designs were created by Range Murata, who was given complete freedom to create the setting. He began drawing detailed sketches of machines and everyday objects from a daily newspaper. His research was given no constraints with the exception of production deadlines. Gonzo initially intended for Last Exile to be shown in a space setting, but producers did not want the characters to wear sterile space suits.
His character conceptualization included a great amount of time spent on costume design. Wanting to portray each character's personality more fully, he "tried to draw in the kind of material that would have been used in creating their clothes and try to represent the stitches connecting the fabric." In contrast to crewmembers of the battleship Silvana who wear modern and utilitarian uniforms, other characters wear traditionally aristocratic attire. High amount of attention was given to character animation. Animators especially experienced difficulties with Alex Row's hair and flowing cape.
Production of Last Exile relied heavily on 3D computer animation. Of the 350 shots used in the first episode, more than 200 included computer-generated animation. In comparison, Gonzo's previous work Vandread used an average of 40 to 50 computer-generated shots per episode.
Real-world historical designs were also adapted for the fictional world. Flying battleships of the Anatoray and Disith nations included components of Japanese dreadnoughts in commission at the turn of the twentieth century. Uniform designs for Anatoray's musketeers were based on Napoleon Bonaparte's army and American Civil War soldiers. On the other hand, Soviet Red Army fur coats provided the basis for Disith uniforms. Another inspiration for creators came from a silent film of the airship Hindenburg, which depicted the aircraft's UFO-like silver-plated design in contrast to the traditional buildings below. This imagery was reproduced in the series.