The fourth episode of Last Exile: Fam tries awfully hard to please. I think it would be well served to try a little less hard as it develops.
As certain of my concerns are being addressed, one by one, my anxiety about where this series is going is decreasing, but not as much as I’d hoped. I appreciate that the pacing has become much more reasonable. I appreciate even more that the focus of the last two eps has largely shifted from “what” to “why”. Knowing what these characters are thinking and why they do what they do is certainly essential if I’m going to enjoy watching them do it. But the sale isn’t closed, at least for me. I’m still finding the tone somewhat off and the characters a little plastic. And to be honest, there’s still a little bit too much pandering for my tastes.
Basically, the episode can be broken down into two parts – a slice-of-life sequence with lots of cute and some discernible shoujo-ai hints before the break, and Fam getting thoroughly pwned by The Silvius after the break (with some discernible shoujo-ai hints). The scenes at home with Giselle’s family are charming, but they would be more charming if they didn’t seem so determined to show how charming they are. The smiles are constant (even Dio is infected), the warmth and comfort pervasive, and even the food is shown to be delicious. We get many more shots of Fam and Millia in their undies, and long, lingering shots of Fam and Millia sharing a bed. It’s pleasant, but does is it inform us in any meaningful way about the characters?
If it does, it’s in telling us something about Gisey – namely, that in addition to her navigational skills she’s an aviation geek of the highest order. When Dio (hmmm…) offers her a murky photo of the reaper ship, Silvius, she’s able to do a pretty good job of deconstructing it for form and function (as Fam and the younger siblings are drawing a ludicrous picture of some sort of cross between a garbage disposal and a staple remover, the funniest moment of the sequence). No one thinks to ask why Dio has this picture, interestingly (“He showed up six months ago and he’s been living here ever since!”) but it certainly comes in useful for Fam’s ludicrous but well-intentioned plan to steal the reaper ship for Princess Millia and the Turan cause.
It’s in the second part that the real LE fanservice comes in. Not only are we treated to some pretty cool flying by Dio and the pilot of the red vanship and a Lusciola mention, we get some sexy interior shots of The Silvius and some very familiar faces. It’ll come as a shock, I know, but the three key figures on board The Silvius are all women. Setting that radical departure aside, we have Tatiana Wisla (Kitamura Eri) – once Alex Row’s wing commander and now Captain. And where Tatiana goes you’re sure to have Alister Agrew (Kuwatani Natsuko), the Lavie to her Claus, the Gisey to her Fam. The third corner of the triangle is the Listening Officer – a vital position on a ship like The Silvius – Cecily (Nakajima Megumi). She’s a newcomer rather than a holdover, and we don’t know much about her yet apart from the fact that she’s cheerful and kawaii and that Alister seems quite, er, protective of her.
I was pleased to see that there were no hard-to-swallow miracles here, and that Tatiana and The Silvius – a fully amphibious vessel, BTW – saw Fam and the kiddie corps as nothing more than a pesky fly. Fam’s pretty good, but none of the sky pirates’ usual tricks were a match for the reaper ship, and Tatiana even saddled up and took her classic vanship out to give the cheeky girls a few lessons in how it’s done. Tatiana, you’ll remember, was as close to being Claus’ equal as anyone on Prester when it came to piloting a vanship. Fam even tried the “Star Wars” trick that worked on the Ades’ flagship, but The Silvius was more than prepared and trapped she and Gisey (literally) like a drowned rat. With those two captured and Dio, Millia and Teddy showing up on their own, a deal is offered to Fam – capture fifteen Ades warships, one for each year you’ve been alive, and we’ll let you fly again. Otherwise, they’ve seen too much to ever leave…
About The Silvius and its crew we have far more questions than answers. What’s their game, first of all, and why do they need ships? Are they fighting for anyone else’s benefit, or acting as a free agent? I also think it’s more than valid to ask why Tatiana seemed so unsurprised to see Dio show up, first in his vanship and then on her bridge. They came to Earth together, and I don’t think it’s unlikely that they’re covertly working together or at least have some common cause. And what of Alvis and, by extension, Claus and Lavie? Now that Tatiana has been introduced, those questions can only be put off for so long. Alvis is an Exile key, after all, and as such a terribly important and valuable little girl – someone a person like Tatiana would want to keep close tabs on.
I wish I could say I love all this, but so far Fam is more of a mild affection that a romance for me. It’s still looking great, and it’s undeniably good to see old friends from The Silvana again. It seems as if that’s where the real potential for the series lies. But the scenes involving Fam, Gisey, Millia, Teddy and their entourage just feel too light and fluffy for Last Exile. What’s missing for me is gravity, and I don’t mean in the physics sense. Gravitas, the Romans called it – “weight, dignity and importance” – I’m not feeling it most of the time, and the reason I felt the third episode was easily the best was because it was the only one of the four that did make me feel it. That disappoints me especially because gravitas was absolutely vital to what made Last Exile stand out so proudly and admirably from the crowd. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to feel differently, and I certainly don’t think it’s impossible that this series will grow into the one I hope it will. But I can’t be anything but honest in my impressions, and I’m not going to sugarcoat them to make either of us feel better. If you love Fam, I’m glad – and I hope it makes me love it just as much before it’s done.