36 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Fam is a Giant Gormless Genki Wart on an otherwise great Last Exile

When a sequel to Last Exile was announced, it had a real air of desperation to it. It felt like Gonzo were desperately rummaging through their back catalogue to find an IP with recognisable quality that they could rehash for some extra dough. The original Last Exile was great, but it was also complete, and ended in a way that solved all the characters issues and wrapped everything up in a perfect package. It by no stretch needed a sequel. But they did so anyway, setting it with new characters and on a completely different planet, with only very loose connections to what happened in the original. That all said, Gonzo put an extraordinary amount of effort into this, pumping out something that I would say could stand proud alongside the original. That is, if it wasn’t for Fam.

Let’s talk about the good first though. Last Exile was a standard-bearer for how to integrate CGI into hand-drawn animation well, keeping only the machinery CGI. Last Exile Fam is that except bigger, better and with more intricate detail. The scale of the CGI models for the battleships is phenomenal. They really give the sense of these giant clunky machines that were built by real people, with insignias and rivets and everything. Asides from simply looking impressive, this also helps flesh out the world by designing everything so well. The variations between the bad guys factory produced fancy ships and the pirates less conventional looking weapons to the Russian women’s pointy fighter jets. There’s a real sense of different cultures conveyed through the designs. It feels like a proper world. There’s a great sense of epic scale to these battles too, because you can feel how immense these ships are. Compared to something like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, where the space battles may as well have been some kid on his playroom floor going “pew pew pew”, when a ship explodes in Last Exile Fam, it really gives the sense that a monster has been taken down. The pitched battle sequences here are probably the best in any anime I’ve ever seen.

The way the different cultures are portrayed ties into the other big area I feel Last Exile Fam excels at: The politics. Each nation has a reason for fighting and reasons for wanting peace, but what it does really well is how it is portrayed. It’s not done through some boring narration over a shot of people fighting. When you just throw names of nations and political ideals at you, it just goes in one ear and out the other. You have no reason to care. Last Exile Fam does this well by having the politics centre around a small group of characters that are central to the conflict and it’s their ideals and personalities that shape the direction. On one side we have the two Princesses of Turan and on the other we have the military one-eyed general and his teeny tiny Augusta. It all works because it explains why these people are fighting through character development, which is how politics in a story should be conveyed. OK, it’s a little too keen on making the military general start massacring people, but his reasoning are logical and human. You understand why he’s doing it.

The problem starts when the person they use to watch this conflict through the eyes of is a complete brainless twat. As far as I’m concerned, Princess Millia is the main character in this story, or at least she should be. She’s the character with flaws and the one with the real human investment in this conflict, both for political and personal reasons. She is the one who is developing slowly through her encounters with different nations and people. However the person she chose to ride around with is Fam. Fucking. Fam. The most brainless moronic single-minded simpleton to ever grace the skies. A character who mindlessly blunders her way through anything and everything, not having the mental capacity to doubt herself or justify her actions beyond her witless adherence to the genki philosophy. This character archetype has slowly but surely become one of my most hated, up there alongside the Yuji Everylead the Bland. The problem here is that genki juvenile idiotic energy is treated like A Good Thing. Her justification to just jump into things because it feels right should not be something that constantly rewards her. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a stupid character. Yuki in Future Diary is an idiot, but he gets punished for his idiocy, and is therefore incredibly entertaining to watch. People just conform to Fam’s way of thinking, degrading the intelligence of the conversation around her.

Possibly my favourite episode of the series so far was the flashback one to the Grand Race where Fam is only 6 years old, part of the reason being because her idealistic energy flying in the face of actual facts fitted someone who was only 6 years old. Every single other character from the flashback had since developed. But not Fam. Oh no. She remains exactly the fucking same. The next episode had a scene where Fam said she wanted to return to the times like the one where the Grand Race took place, only for the Russian chick to point out that there was an assassination there that highlighted that there was unrest beneath this seemingly happy scene and it was merely a mask for the problems in the world. But such a complex issue couldn’t fit into Fam’s tiny brain, so she just blunders on saying she wants to recreate that day anyway. What’s worse is the other characters agree with her. They get sucked in by her stupidity, their own brains abandoning their skulls in the face of this black hole of intelligent writing.

I like this new rendition of Last Exile. I love the scale and intensity of the battles, the development of characters such as Millia and the military commander, and how well realised the world is. But Fam is a giant gormless genki wart on this otherwise great series, degrading everything she comes into contact with. Fuck you Fam, you suck.

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35 Comments

  1. Moomba
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I didn’t start really disliking Fam until recently – specifically her Birthday episode. I wasn’t a big fan of her before that, but it was the turning point that lead into having strong feelings on the subject.

    Fam is clearly a self centered brat. She completely disregards the feelings of those around her – Giselle wanted to go home, Fam was callously replacing her with Millia and so she had to settle for going alone. Yet somehow the episode managed to turn it all around and make it Giselle’s fault and not Fam’s? Giselle was the one who had to apologise for her behaviour?

    Does this mean Fam’s idiocy continues to such an extent that the characters around her realise she cannot be held responsible for her actions and so they have to adapt and find fault in themselves for expecting more of her?

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:35 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that birthday episode was infuriating.

      The fact that the writers actually bent over backwards to make Fam look like the victim is so bewildering that I almost wondered if it was some elaborate, incredibly subtle troll on the audience.

      Either that or the writers don’t actually know how human beings interact.

  2. Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    You hit the nail right on the head. I really enjoyed everything about the series, except for Fam. So despite my affinity for the original and for the story and art of this one, I dropped it by the stupid hockey episode. Particularly since she’s the main character of a high profile, anticipated series, Fam stands out as among the worst protagonists in anime.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      I think when it comes to worse characters, Kirino from Ore no Imouto is still up there, alongside Aldo Naris from Guin Saga and Mashiro from Bakuman. But she may make the top 5

  3. Posted January 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Well said. Fam is why I dropped this series weeks ago.

    Another blogger pointed out the tension between Fam as the heroine and Milla as the protagonist and I thought that was actually an indictment of the show than anything else.

  4. fathomlessblue
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Yup, can’t really disagree on this.

    As much as I was dreading the idea of a new, moe-infused Last Exile, the new series really surprised me. Still, Fam is a constant thorn in its side. It’s not like I even really have any problems with genki characters; hell, I’d prefer them to the wimps which are often perversely glorified in anime (*cough* Guilty Crown’s harem aspect). Still, you can’t stick a black and white character into a show that deals with greys, and then try to portray them in a positive light. There are deep political machinations and mature themes like genocide, why then is the plot and cast warping to accommodate a character whose simple ideals are impossible to both support and accomplish? Having a caricature protagonist in a series which strives for a certain measure of realism is an insult to the effort put into other areas.

    This is why I ragequit Rinne no Lagrange, not because of the uninspired story or cast, but because they created a show about an interstellar war, then let the main lead win because gramps peanut farm was damaged. So stupid! Stick these vapid Ohana types in the placid slice-of-life dramas they belong in, or have them face the consequences for their attitudes.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Ohana is a perfect counter example to Fam. She still has the same genki attitude as Fam and people still warm up to that attitude, but things don’t go her way. She realises at times that there has to be compromises. The goddam inn has to shut down at the end, and Ohana realises there has to be that compromise. I mean, I wouldn’t call Hanasaku Iroha great at doing the story it has or anything, and Ohana did get on my nerves at times, but she’s handled faaaar better than Fam

      • fathomlessblue
        Posted January 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        I can’t argue with that. Still, I think only half of what I hate about Fam is down to her character alone. The rest is because of the series she’s in. This is exactly why I think those types of characters suit slice-of-life/drama shows. Sure, Ohana pissed me off no end, but there wasn’t really anything big at stake in the show. Most of the issues she had were misunderstandings or typical teenage melodrama, and the big issue concerning the Inn wasn’t directly about her. Still, even if they had made Ohana perfect and had the entire story bend to her will, like Ore no Imouto did, it still wouldn’t have been as offensive as putting her in what is primarily a war story and having pluckiness be the winning factor.

        Fam in a fluff series is a bad character. Fam in a show like Last Exile is a travesty!

  5. lmm
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I like Fam. She’s the voice of childish innocence and the sheer joy and beauty of flying, which is what I’m watching this show for, far more than the politics.

  6. leokiko
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    This was a fun read. I agree with absolutely everything you said there.

    I didn’t drop the series since the battles are still amazing to behold. But if the second half of the series will be focused only on Fam, then I will drop it without a thought.

  7. Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    What Last Exile needs, and badly, is to lampshade Fam’s actions for what they really are. Her personality wouldn’t be nearly so grating if other characters reacted appropriately to her un-logic and pointed out the cognitive dissonance that comes with her typical justifications for things like putting the Grand Race up on a pedestal when it ended in terrorism and regicide.

    Fam actually says “There are no fights or wars on the day of the Grand Race. Everyone in the world is smiling.”, when just last week we were shown extremists gunning people down without remorse on the same day. I sincerely doubt the armed terrorists were there innocently enjoying the spectacle and “smiling with everyone”, nor the people they shot to death. She’s allowed to be this stupid, certainly, but the fact that nobody else calls her out on it, particularly when everyone present was there and saw this happen, is where things fall apart.

    Likewise, you get scenes like the one where Dian points out that Fam’s ship has no weapons, and her only response is “You don’t need weapons to fly.”, met with no worthwhile counter-argument.

    Fam’s ridiculous ideals wouldn’t hold up given even ten seconds’ exposure to reality, and yet this never happens. She never has to compromise or revise her thinking or grow as a character, she never has to temper her naive philosophy with her new experiences to find a belief that doesn’t fly in the face of reality.

    Basically, Fam gets a free pass on everything that could actually make her a worthwhile character. She’s the quintessential Mary Sue. Where her ideals begin, reality bends and contorts to accommodate them.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Yup, pretty much that. Her belief that nothing bad happens on Grand Race day, when something bad quite clearly did happen, yet she refuses to respond when someone calls her out on it, was the tipping point for me. Before then I disliked her. Now she’s a fucking wart on this series

  8. Thrashy
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Take this Calvin and Hobbes strip and do the following:

    1) Replace Hobbes with Scamp.
    2) Replace “smock” with “gormless.”

    :P

  9. Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    This has been hashed out in a few other forums, but one of the more interesting comments on just why Fam remains this idealistic and naive idiot (to put it lightly) is that she’s supposed to serve as a contrast to the grinding despair, violence, and cynicism that everyone else in the world is experiencing. It’s why many of the characters in-series are charmed by her, as she really is a single bright spot in a dark and depressing sea of reality.

    Not that this is commendable, given the world setting, mind, but when even Fam’s spirits are crushed (which depending on the outcome of the next episode on Kartoffel) then hope really is lost.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      But they were crushed, that’s the thing. Her dream of the Grand Race was destroyed when there was a terrorist attack. But the show refuses to acknowlege that change. Somehow I doubt even Russia getting destroyed will change her mind on that

  10. Random
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    This ‘ideal vs reality’ conflict is exactly why Urobuchi is so successful.
    Nearly every work of Urobuchi presented its main characters this problem. Take Madoka for example, if Sayaka wasn’t punished for her dreams of justice and love, there wouldn’t be the unprecedented discussions on Asian discussion boards. When Kyoko retrieved her faith in humanity, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of a impact if Urobuchi didn’t show the price for her doing so.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      True, although this is hardly limited to Urabochi. As I said earlier, even Hanasaku Iroha did it much better than this.

  11. Posted January 27, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I love that this post came out on the same day that I posted the latest Bakacast, where we spend most of the Last Exile discussion ranting about the exact same problem using almost the exact same arguments as you do.

    I was hoping that Fam would actually develop a little upon meeting the Russian chick. Unfortunately, Fam seemed to completely ignore anything the she said, preferring to keep the worldview she’s had since she was 6 years old perfectly intact.

    Which brings me to another problem with Fam. Not only is she dimwitted, but she doesn’t seem to know how to interact with other people like a normal human being. Whenever someone expresses their feelings or opinions to Fam, she always finds a way to either shut down any discussion with one of her trite platitudes or force the topic of the conversation to be about her. She’s virtually incapable of empathy and is a borderline narcissist.

    But since she’s a moe girl this is perfectly fine, or so the writers would like you to believe.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Just listened to it. Glad I got this out just before then so it didn’t look like I was just copying you guys

  12. Fulluphigh
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I finally read what had been translated of the manga, in the week before the flashback episode. Then we had the flashback episode, which filled in a lot of the plot, and explained so many motivations. It got me pumped again. That and the manga, I wanted more Last Exile.

    And then I got more. And I remembered that this season is terrible. I agree with you almost completely, but where my views diverge is that bit about Fam dragging the other characters with her. I personally think they’re all bad characters for being dragged with her! I can’t bring myself to praise the show at all, when it’s obvious I enjoy it somehow, as it hasn’t been dropped, when all I can do is rage about Fam.

    I guess the feel is like, how can the writers who create a character like this possibly make anything worth while? Hence, I have trouble recognizing the other parts of it I like.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      When they’re not getting dragged along with Fam though, they’re pretty great. The Russian girls world view and ideals were fascinating. Millia’s desperation to restore her country and conflicting thoughts about her sister siding against her are fascinating. Dio is Dio, although that’s probably cheating because he’s from the original.

  13. Embok
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    “This char­ac­ter arche­type has slowly but surely become one of my most hated, up there along­side the Yuji Everylead the Bland.”

    Oh are we talking about the first Last Exile’s protagonist now? Who everyone blindly loved just as much as everyone now loves Fam?

    Swap your pair of nostalgia goggles for some yuri ones and you’ll have a lot more fun.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Klaus started as an idealist. Became uncertain and insecure when faced with the larger realities on the Sylvania and the war, and finally manned up for the final segment. He’s far from a great protag or anything, particularly the weird desire to build a harem for him, but compared to Fam he’s about as good as Okarin

  14. Joeanimated
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    *slowclap*

    Well done.

  15. Erif
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Your description of the airship battles makes me want to go watch this, even though I haven’t seen the original series yet. But this seems like something I’d be able to watch this first and still be able to fully enjoy its predecessor.

    • leokiko
      Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      I seriously recommend you watch the original first. You will understand the story much more and will be much more enjoyable. Except for, well, Fam.

      Claus is much better.

    • lmm
      Posted January 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Watch this and don’t bother with the first series, seriously. As with any old series that stood out for excellent animation at the time, you’ll wonder what the fuss was about; it has bigger characterization problems than Fam (hello, Mullholland Shetland), and its plot is fundamentally a mess.

  16. Someone Else
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    I like Giselle, too bad she’s stuck with Fam too :/ And I really hoped on my previous post that Fam gets a character development, looks like they disappointed me.

  17. Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The failure of the first Grand Race symbolizes a failure of peace. If you deny that a Grand Race is possible without something bad happening, it’s essentially positing that a lasting peace is impossible too.

    If you were to successfully host a Grand Race, it’d strongly show that lasting peace IS possible.

    I mean, it’s plainly obvious that the failure of the original Grand Race is based in the method that Augusta achieved the “peace”, which coincidentally seems to be the same as Lukia’s: coercive politics, end justifies means, military-based, with annexation as a major feature. That malcontents did ultimately show up shouldn’t really be that surprising, considering everything’s done by force (annex Chaos and force integration in hopes tensions eventually subside, the time spent developing the idea that she has commited “sins”, that she alone monopolizes any semblance of force in the entire event: all security is Ades and only she has a security detail).

    So, is the Grand Race (peace) itself flawed or is it simply a failure generated from Augusta trying to force it (benevolent military domination)?

    One can already guess where the show is heading, with Luscinia and Lilliana following in the past Augusta’s footsteps (trying to achieve a new result by the same means) while all the other political bodies more or less just playing it by ear, with no real sense that peace is possible at all.

    So, how it’ll end is pretty clear. Last Exile might enjoy dealing in greys and have some grittiness, but like the first show, it’s not going to stray from a conclusion that’s going to be mostly happy. One where peace is probably possible for a few generations at least?

    My patience is a lot longer than most people’s though, so I can understand the frustrations. I think how Kartoffel turns out is going to be key. I can sort of overlook the birthday thing (half of the problems Gisey created anyways, and though that’s a bit character-assassination-y, considering she comes out of it the bigger person, it’d be wrong to call it that).

    Even though I know the event’s not really going to do much other than make Fam grit her teeth and renew her determination to see Ades stopped (but really, how else do you expect Japanese to react to surprise bombing/shelling of civilians? lol), but how nuanced their approach in handling the entire development will probably be what decides whether Fam’s totally irreconcilable with the setting or if the pacing of her development was just clumsy due to her being the sole foil to pessimism in the entire show.

    It won’t make the show any less painful to watch as a serial, but could at least redeem it for being passable or even acceptable as a title to watch in a batch.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      I get that idea. The Grand Race can be a symbol of peace. But it doesn’t seem like Fam gets that at all, which is the crux of the argument. It’s the difference between the Grand Race can be a symbol of peace vs the Grand Race is a symbol of peace.

      Although now that you mention it, I wonder what happened in the 10 years after the assassination. They seemed sorta close to full control at that stage. Did they lose a load of nations after the regicide or something?

      • Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        I’d assume that, aside from the set of annexations from earlier (it was mentioned Chaos had been annexed for a long time now, and I’d assume much of the provincial fleets that were wiped out are in a similar position), most of the peace built up from that point was done more at gunpoint than after having already shot the person. Though considering Ades already had super haxxor ninja assassins, it’s tough to say.

        What I can say is, successfully assassinating Augusta was probably an enormous morale boost for the resistance/rebel movements against Ades and, combined with the sudden loss of a very capable head of state in exchange for a child, who would need a regent (a lot of those nobles seemed like a pretty incompetent lot, as usualy w), probably significantly undermined Ades’s domestic security severely, so much that it probably could not do much in the way of foreign policy.

        With so many officers who were young soldiers at that point, now major figures in all of the fleets of Ades, I can only assume that the Ades military had a very long, hard fought struggle to suppress all the dissent. All of these prominent fleet commanders we see no doubt rose up in the ranks in the ensuing crackdown, to not even mention Luscinia.

        We even see probably the last major act of ensuring internal stability for Ades, which was Luscinia’s purge of the self-serving aristocracy (a classic barrier between the state and its ability to draw on the full resources and man power of its population).

      • Scamp
        Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        I really liked that part of the show too. That LOGH-esque attention to detail with politics. Military commander takes control on nation by purging the corrupt and lazy aristocracy. Reinhard didn’t have Albino Jedi Ninjas though

      • Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        God, they were so much easier to take seriously in the first Last Exile when they used solid weapons rather than lightsabers hahaha

  18. Posted January 29, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    I agree.

  19. Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I find Fam tolerable as a character, it’s just the way she warps events around her that irritates me.

    The first 8 or so episodes really abused my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Fam’s naive. That’s ok. That the characters seem to be going nowhere is a bit bleh for me, but there’s been enough shades of personalities worked in that the series has gained some of my belief back that these aren’t fully 1-dimensional characters.

    But the thing that irks me is how Fam has a habit of doing totally stupid and reckless things that always work out that damages my credulity. And that the other characters seem to expect it to work out.

    It’s not a character developing into something mythic and amazing, it’s the character always effortlessly doing amazing things that takes out the tension, making it not, “Oh wow! They pulled it off!” but “Gee, of course…” I want some sense of danger, instead of expecting everything to work out.

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