Imagine a world divided into two warring nations, full of airborne warships, political tangles, and a strange little girl that everyone is trying to get.
"Last Exile Volume 1 - First Move" is a pretty promising opener to this sci-fi/steampunk series, presenting a rather familiar-yet-very-different world where floating battleships filled with Napoleonic-dressed soldiers duke it out in the skies. The gorgeous CGI and solid writing form a pretty good basis for the series, and we get at least one enticing mystery introduced.
Claus Valca and his buddy Lavie Head are messenger couriers -- and in the interest of making enough money to soup up their vanship, they take a message to the Mad Thane commander. Who is in the middle of a battle. Of course, things turn nasty quickly -- Claus and Lavie get in trouble with the Mad Thane's officers, while the Guild just sits by and does nothing.
Later they start dead last in a vanship race, but Claus' superior piloting skills quickly put them in the lead. Then they see a Guild star-ship chasing a dying vanship pilot, who gives them a little blond girl named Alvis to take care of. And though Alvis seems to be an ordinary little girl (whom Claus and Lavie quickly become fond of), she has ties to the most infamous battleship of them all -- the Silvana.
"Last Exile" is one of those series that blurs the lines of genre and style -- it feels like a more ethereal brand of steampunk, complete with 18th/19th-century trappings and advanced airships. It's full of glowing light, vast expanses of cloads and flowing cities, and beautiful mountainous landscapes and clouds that could have come straight from a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Not to mention some brilliant airborne battles between swooping vanships, art-deco star-ships and vast floating warships.
And this is only the first few episodes.
Admittedly, plotwise these episodes don't have much substance yet. They're basically about introducing the primary characters, the elaborate world they live in, and setting up some conflicts for the future. The rather sinister Guild, the mysterious Silvana and the little girl Alvis all hint at future storylines without revealing much as yet, and there are some amazing action sequences (Claus' casual daredeviltry during the race) woven into the plot.
Claus and Lavie make a likable pair of protagonists -- Johnny Yong Bosch plays Claus as mellow, sweet and rather laid-back, while Kari Walgren's Lavie is fiery and easily upset ("I can see your nose hair, Sunny Boy!"), so they end up playing well off each other even at the worst of times. Most of the other characters are as yet unrevealed, but Crispin Freeman's brooding, dark-coated Alex Rowe makes a striking initial impression in the first couple minutes of the series.
"Last Exile Volume 1 - First Move" is a solid intro to this series, and the solid plot is bolstered by a pair of likable heroes and stunning animation. Definitely one to check out.