Saturday, October 15, 2005

Anime (Science Fiction): Last Exile [SPOILERS]

Some spoiler comments on character fates in Last Exile. See comment #1.

1 comment:

James said...

When I discussed Last Exile, I mentioned the way characters fates are much less predictable in anime than they are in US cartoon series.

Part of this is because of the other distinction I talked about: that anime often uses story arcs which run for whole seasons, while US cartoons are generally made up of independent episodes: in order to have each episode be independent, you have to have all the characters available at the start of each one. (The same is true of most live-action series, as well -- which is why it's always the anonymous red-shirt who gets eaten by the monster in Star Trek.)

Sometimes, in anime, it feels like the creators are going out of their way to mess with the viewers, and Last Exile has a prime example of that. There are three major character "deaths" towards the end of the series: Mullin, Alex, and Dio.

Mullin Shetland is a relatively minor character, an Anatoray infantryman who gets caught up in story. During the Anatoray/Disith rebellion against the Guild, the rebels must seize control of the engines of their own ships, which are not only owned by the Guild, but are manned by them and can be recalled at any time -- which results in the airship crashing to the ground.

Mullin falls in love with Dunya, a Disith infantrywoman who trains for the engine raids with him, setting up for a not unexpected development when he apparently gets killed in the engine raids after preventing the engine detachment.

This is a pretty standard story element in North American adventure movies as well as anime -- a noble hero who sacrifices himself so that others may complete their mission. Given that our introduction to Muran involves him praying, "May the Disith bullets pass by the body of Moran Shetland", it was pretty much to be expected that he was the one to be sacrificed.

Only, after the revelations of Exile's nature, suddenly he's in the final montage! Apparently he did surive, married Dunya, and had a child. It's a little jarring as there is no footage of Mullin or Dunya between Dunya's dispair over his death during the engine raids and the last five minutes of the last episode.

Alex Rowe is the captain of the "resistance" ship Sylvana, which has been fighting against the Guild, and leads the eventual Anatoray/Disith alliance. In the last quarter of the series he's captured by Queen Delphine, the Guild leader, and held in her ship, bound to a cross frame by rose-covered vines. During the final attack on the Guild by the allied Anatoray and Disith forces, while Delphine seems to be establishing control over Exile, Alex manages to free one hand at the last minute and break Delphine's neck, preventing her from retaliating while the Sylvana attacks
Delphine's flagship -- killing Alex in the process. The crew of the Sylvana know Alex is aboard Delphine's ship, but also know that they will have no other chance for victory over the guild.

This is rather different from what would happen in a straight-forward US action adventure -- you wouldn't have the noble, rugged captain killed by friendly fire! However, it might happen in a more serious action drama.

The third death (which actually happens before Alex's, but I wanted to save it for last) is that of Dio Eraclea, Delphine's younger brother.

Dio is an easy favourite character in the series. He's introduced as an anime staple, the androgynous villain, but quickly turns into something more interesting. He's erratic and infuriating when he's seen as just an intruder from the Guild, but as it becomes apparent that he's terrified of what his fate within the Guild will be (and that he's not always as flighty as he seems), he quickly grows on many viewers.

Unfortunately, his fears turn out to be well-founded. Delphine recaptures him and puts him through a brutal Guild initiation which seems to destroy his personality. Claus manages to rescue him with help from Lucciola, Dio's manservant and (until getting involved in Claus's adventure) only friend. Delphine destroys Lucciola (though no-one else knows this), and Dio disappears from hospital shortly after the rescue, stealing a vanship.

Dio finally shows up again in the second-last episode, chasing Claus and Lavie's vanship through the Grand Stream (a great storm that separates Disith from Anatoray) as they race to help the fleet. Dio thinks they're back in an earlier episode, a race they both participated in, giving orders to Lucciola -- who, of course, isn't there. In the original race, Dio ordered Lucciola to jump from the vanship to lighten the load, and he repeats the command here. When he finishes the "race", thinking he'd won this time (Claus one the real one), he turns to Lucciola's empty seat and thinks Lucciola really did jump on his command.

The last we see of Dio is him on his vanship in the Grand Stream, convinced that Lucciola had actually jumped on his command. A gust of wind hits the vanship, overturning it and spilling Dio out offscreen, presumably to his death.

This is the sort of character death that you really don't expect if you're used to North American storytelling. There's no noble sacrifice as in Mullin's case; there's no achievement of revenge as in Alex's case. It doesn't affect any of the later story -- no-one even knows what happened to Dio after he pulled away from Claus and Lavie's vanship in the Grand Stream. I've seen one website poster speculate that it's meant to be a final example of the evil that Delphine had perpetrated on Prestor (the artifical world the story takes place in), but even so it's definitely a depressing end to a popular character.

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