Last Exile -Ginyoku no Fam- – 09
「Connected passed pawn」
With episode 9 of “Fam”, it’s another case of taking the good with the bad. That’s pretty much become the norm with the series, so it doesn’t come as a surprise so much as a bit of a letdown.
I’ve been pulling my punches for a while, and really trying to see if the aspects of this series that seem sub-par to me were just a case of growing pains. But I see the same thing now that I’ve seen with many episodes so far – the writing for “Fam” simply isn’t very good. The concept is fine – you’ve got the spine of a story that hold together well. But in the details – the dialogue, the character interaction, pretty much anything having to do with the human side of the equation – it’s frankly a pretty amateurish endeavor so far. And that’s really too bad, because there’s a lot of potential here that I fear is going to be unrealized due to poor execution.
Case in point for me is the whole situation with Giselle, who is certainly the more interesting character in the nominal main pairing. To begin with, while last week’s ep was a pretty good one on the whole, the aspect that dealt with her breakdown and split with Fam never made much sense. It was never given proper build-up and never really explained – it sort of got tossed at the audience like a pie in the face. To compound the mistake, the resolution this week was even worse. It was clumsy and awkward, and still didn’t really make much sense. Rather than explore the problem, time and time again the writing falls back on creative crutches – flashbacks (which are way, way overused in this show), pan-outs to everyone grinning, birthdays – and when the characters actually do talk about it, it’s an avalanche of clichés and platitudes. Worst of all, for me, is that Gisey seems to really get the shaft in all this. Just why everyone is falling all over themselves worrying about Fam being upset when she was the one being insensitive to her partner’s needs isn’t quite clear to me, but the message here seems to be that Giselle was pretty much making a big deal out of nothing and it was poor Fam who suffered. That’s not how I saw it, but at least everything gets a big reset button because of a pickup hockey game.
All this points up what for me is an essential dilemma with “Fam”. I noted a few weeks ago that the show needed to slow down and spend more time exploring the characters and their relationships and putting the conflicts of the show in context, because it burst out of the gate with huge action sequences and global politics like nobody’s business. But it’s becoming clear that the series just doesn’t do character very well. “Fam” seems strong at the staff level in most areas, and it’s able to execute those big battles and take a long view of a fascinating global puzzle quite well. But the writing is the weak link, and every time the show tries to dig deeper or inject humor it comes across as clumsy and stiff. At least for me – YMMV, of course, and I’m sure in many cases it will. But for me, of all the faults a show can have, poor writing is one of the hardest to overcome. And right now that writing is an anchor weighing this show down and limiting my expectations of where it can go from here.
In terms of good, I’ll admit it’s not that easy for me to find much of it this week. But there is one big bright spot, and that’s the return of Vincent Alzey (Gouda Hozumi). Vincent is quite unlike any of the other central characters in the “Fam” cast (and I don’t mean just in the obvious way). I’m hoping he’ll bring a much-needed urbane and brooding quality to the show, something it desperately needs. Vincent is a lover of life (especially coffee), that’s for sure, but he’s got an appealing darkness to him that too few of the characters in “Fam” seem to possess. He announces himself at Fam’s birthday party as “Supreme Commander of the United Kingdom of Anatoray-Disith’s Vanguard” – and there’s certainly plenty to chew on in that introduction – not least of which that it lends great credence to the notion that this is a brewing battle between “natives” and off-worlders. It’s been strongly hinted that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” would be a political staple of this series, and Vincent’s intro seems to confirm that. Vincent is returning from a diplomatic mission to Glacies, so it’ll be very interesting to see what light he sheds on that mysterious land of strange (but to us, familiar-looking) technology and bishoujo pilots.
No preview again this week, so once again the question is begged – is Gonzo hiding something they don’t want us to see? Alvis is the other shoe we all know is going to drop sooner or later, but I still suspect there are even bigger surprises in store – but probably not for a while yet. We’ll see.