Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam Ep. 2: CGI… CGI everywhere

The turning point in the episode came when Fam decided to help Millia rescue her sister from the evil Ades Federation. Once this happened, the story got a billion times more interesting. But before we get to what I liked, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Up until that point, the episode was actually pretty dull as the two sides in the conflict maneuvered their way into position for battle. There’s some really perfunctory stuff like Liliana giving out orders for a suicidal all-out attack on the enemy’s flagship. We all knew it wouldn’t work, so as a result, I’m not sure why the anime bothered.

Likewise, Liliana convinced Millia to leave her side at the start of the episode only for Millia to jump right back into the thick of things by the end. Why did she even leave in the first place? In order for her to share a moment with her father? I’m not sure that scene was all that crucial. Hell, I think the show could’ve condensed the first two episodes into a single episode without losing much. Plus, the narrative would have been tighter, the pace would’ve improved, etc. Of course, this is never a popular suggestion when I bring it up. No one ever seems to agree with me that cutting out extraneous material is worthwhile.

As the title of the post suggests, Last Exile relies an incredible amount on CGI for its animation. We’ve got CGI ships, CGI guns, CGI bullets — the whole gamut. The result is a mixed bag. When Fam barreled her way through the Impetus’s interior, I’ll admit that was some nice Star Wars-inspired action. No, no, I’m not being sarcastic; that was fun to watch. More importantly, the scene is probably too difficult for Gonzo’s animators to do by hand without a huge drop in quality. I’ll agree that CGI can be useful in these instances.

The CGI in the rest of the episode, however, was lazily applied. Like the first episode, there wasn’t really any sense of meaningful space unless Fam and co. were involved. The movement of the larger ships didn’t really seem to matter. I know that Gonzo isn’t going to chart out and animate extensive battle plans for both sides, but it’s hard to discern what was really going other than ships shooting lasers randomly and hoping there isn’t any friendly fire. Speaking of the lasers, I thought it was actually quite funny how they were used. When the Turan Kingdom and the Ades Federation finally clashed, it was a mess of greyish-brown ships versus black, angular ships. Now take that image and bathe everything in pew-pew lasers. Okay, keep adding lasers. A little more. A little more. Just when you think there’s too much shit to look at, keep going. I’m not exaggerating; there were pretty much lasers everywhere:

A large problem with these scenes is that there is literally action everywhere. As a result, the scene composition really doesn’t even try to focus the audience’s attention on any particular subject onscreen. This is a problem that plagues many Hollywood films, especially the Michael Bay productions. Filmmakers think that littering the entire screen with special effects and mayhem makes for a thrilling experience, but the result is actually quite the opposite. Without any semblance of order in the manufactured chaos, the action becomes random noise, which just isn’t very interesting to look at. So yes, Last Exile does itself a disservice by trying to flex its CGI muscles.

Okay, so what about the good parts? I actually thought the episode’s events were quite reminiscent of A New Hope. Is Gonzo being inspired by a classic movie or I’m just making yet another trite comparison to Star Wars? Seriously, a ragtag team has to escort a very important person to Alderaan another kingdom when they get sidetracked. The princess is being held within the Death Star Impetus and we’ve got to save her!

I made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. I’m fast enough for you, princess.

I’m just being facetious; this is pretty much where the similarities end. I mean, yeah, the failed rescue mission was actually kind of exciting to watch if only because we finally see the show’s premise being utilized. If you’re making a show about sky pirates, I want to see some death-defying stunts in the air. Again, I have to bring up Fam’s flight through the Impetus — that was a good use of space and choreography.

As for the giant structure crash landing on Turan, seems like solid plot material to work with for future episodes. There’s just not much to say about it at this point other than “Well, that was interesting.” I just have a few minor quibbles regarding the plot.

That’s no moon! That’s a spaceship an Exile ship!

First, Millia’s request to Fam (“They’re going to kill my sister! Please save her!”) didn’t make much sense. If they wanted to kill her, they could have just done so. Why kidnap her back to the Impetus? Second, what did Millia expect a pair of sky pirates to do anyway? Case in point, the three of them crashed into the ship’s command center only to have the entire room full of soldiers aim guns at them. They, uh, weren’t going to leave that place alive unless something extraordinary happened which the trio couldn’t have possibly accounted for. Finally, the blood in the water at the end of the episode makes for an interesting visual, but I thought the king said most of the civilians had evacuated. Oh well.

In any case, the second episode is a vast improvement on the first. If the show can keep this up, we might avoid “cute girls in the sky” after all.


9 Replies to “Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam Ep. 2: CGI… CGI everywhere”

  1. I find it interesting that this episode kinda builds up on the first season.

    What Lusicinia said in the episode is quite revealing:

    “Do you know of Exile? The abominable ship Exile.

    It was during ancient times. In the distant age of calamity, that people fled from this planet (Earth) to the ends of the galaxy upon her (allusion to Prester, the setting of the first season.); the immigrant ship.

    Whence the age of calamity had ended they carelessly returned to this planet without a passing thought. (again an allusion to what happened during the last episode of the first season)”

    It is implied in this episode that the season’s setting is Planet Earth itself.

    The Exile that felt from the sky in this episode is most probably the same ship that was seen in the last season.

    1. They trolled us by telling everyone that Fam was going to be an alternate universe disconnected from the original Last Exile. The way it’s gone so far, it seems like it’s a direct sequel to the first show.

  2. Your review convinced me to take another look at this and you’re right, it seems it’s made it back within the range of “worth giving a shot for fun”. If it’s like the original it’ll be a fun adventure story but one without much of subtext or depth to it, kinda a long-form summer blockbuster. As of 2 episodes in my hunch is the overarching plot will be the evil guild from the first series making a covert plot to grab power over “old earth”, but that’s just a hunch.

    I also agree that there’s maybe 25-30 minutes, tops, of nontrivial content to be had between episodes 1 and 2, and this could all have been done in one episode.

    Aerial dogfight choreography is something I actually know something about. Not much, but something. It’s pretty much impossible to do at all realistically and get a good viewing experience out of; in recent memory only that Battlestar Galactica reboot even made an attempt. The main problem is that if you crunch the #s on relative velocities and relative scales the only way to get anything resembling an extended side-by-side or extended fly-by is to sneak up from behind; anything else and your plucky little ship whizzes past your lumbering big ship in a few seconds or less. So you have to cheat on speeds and/or scale and or sequence to make something that looks good, but it also has to make sense together when your brain tries to map out what it just saw, and that’s hard to pull off.

    For the concept in these two episodes to have a shot at making sense it would’ve been much better if they’d broken up the bad guy fleet into two waves: a small decoy fleet with the enemy flagship up front, traveling slow, and then the enormous bombing fleet coming in fast from behind (timed to meet up only a short distance before the target). That could’ve been made to work both from a choreography standpoint and a story-telling standpoint, but instead CGI tends to make directors mentally lazy when it comes to this kind of thing.

    Oh well. That’s about the last I’ll say on this angle unless the quality level makes a further change later on. Mechanics like that are honestly a bit boring and take more time to type up than the contents are generally worth. The real take-away here is that for a series that depends so heavily on its action and visual feel — and thus its use of CGI — it comes across as doing a dangerously sloppy job with such an important part of the show.

    1. Oh, I didn’t need the anime to have realistic aerial combat. I always feel that entertainment should take a precedence over realism unless we’re watching something historical. I do agree that it’s rather perplexing how the anime hasn’t employed smaller vehicles like the one Fam pilots. The contrast between the lumbering behemoths and the speedy and agile “gnats” is pretty much a standard in almost anything that features dogfighting. This is especially true in space dogfighting when the background is almost always a generic expanse of stars. It’s necessary to imbue everything with a sense of relative movement and space and I feel Last Exile drops the ball here.

      Storywise, I still don’t think the anime is being very daring, I guess that can take a backburner as long as the anime avoids slowing itself down with meaningless chatter. On a slightly related note, I have an inkling Millia’s personality will grate on me.

      1. In this case I’d wager they haven’t deployed gnats b/c they already decided on this huge capital ship fleet with all the pew-pews firing to fill up the screen, and if you’ve committed to that then plotting flightpaths for all the gnats they’d need is just not going to happen, especially once you tack on the 2nd-order considerations (gnats needing to avoid collision with the pew-pews, pew-pews needing to track gnats, etc.). More than that is out of scope, more shop-talk than anything.

        The real dropped ball here is with the good-guy fleet: there’s a wing that drops in from on high as a distraction, then there’s the leader ship sneaking in from below, and then unless I missed it the wing from on top is never seen again, so at least subconsciously the whole sequences comes across as “off”. If this was an ordinary continuity error heads would be rolling but b/c it’s CGI no one cares.

        Otherwise yeah, seems like a largely cookie-cutter plot with some annoying characters, but still might prove to be a competently executed long-form summer blockbuster, which’d be fun if not great art. Hopefully it doesn’t fall too flat.

        1. if you’ve committed to that then plotting flightpaths for all the gnats they’d need is just not going to happen, especially once you tack on the 2nd-order considerations (gnats needing to avoid collision with the pew-pews, pew-pews needing to track gnats, etc.). More than that is out of scope, more shop-talk than anything.

          In this case, less would be more. Create an illusion that there are a lot of ships and then just do close-ups of a few gnats and one behemoth. Not only would the tighter focus reduce the difficulty of planning out such a scene, the close-up could render more exciting action than keep the camera at a distance like they did for most of the episode. Again, I don’t think this would’ve been out of Gonzo’s ability. It just seemed to me as though they took the path of least resistance in getting the anime out.

        2. Agreed less would’ve been more, and without actually unpacking it that’s why I suggested splitting the bad-guy fleet into two waves (it works narratively, but lets the action choreography start out with something smaller-scale — which’d permit some hulk-and-gnats scenes if desired — while finishing with the “giant fleet of doom” aesthetic).

          The approach you’re suggesting is fine but it’d risk bumping into the limitations imposed by relative speed and relative scale. Not unsolvable, and I’m sure they’ll do scenes like that later, at which point we’ll see how they do at it. Takeaway is just that right now they have decent technical chops but an apparently weak level of direction / choreography in such an important part of the show.

          1. Takeaway is just that right now they have decent technical chops but an apparently weak level of direction / choreography in such an important part of the show.

            Gonzo gonna be Gonzo.

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