You thought we were done with the soundtracks, perhaps? Oh no. One more time, folks.
What is it?
Last Exile O.S.T. is the first of two soundtracks for studio Gonzo’s Last Exile anime series from 2003. It consists mostly of instrumental material by the trio called Dolce Triade, plus the voiced opening and closing theme songs (among others).
How does it sound?
The answer is a cloud age sampler mix:
Why this pick?
The anime, Last Exile, didn’t make the cut for last year’s project. The entire point of this weekly writing thing is to hold forth upon things that might be enjoyable and while parts of the show are a delight, other parts are a slog and having watched it twice I still have to consult the Internet to remember how it ends.
But wow, it sounded good! So here we are.
Which songs are the highlights?
There are some delightful pieces in here, and one’s enjoyment of them aren’t reliant upon association with a particular scene or character in the show. Songs like “A Morning In Norkia” and “Flyin’ To Fly” don’t require context at all, for instance.
Some of the instrumental content is of an almost Ren-faire quality, pennywhistles and tambourines and such. Other pieces are martial themes done in full orchestral style. It’s a mixed bag, but of the good kind.
One nice thing about the instrumental selections (luckily the bulk of the content on the record) is the composer managed to avoid motif abuse, which is to say that no one thematic or character motif element gets overused. (I’m looking at you, soundtrack to Pacific Rim…) And only one track, “Silverna,” feels made up of multiple discrete pieces.
At any rate, as with all soundtracks, your mileage track-by-track will always vary.
Which songs don’t work so well?
It being a soundtrack, some bits are only useful in context. But where this particular record falls down is on the songs with vocals.
I don’t like the full version of the opening theme, “Cloud Age Symphony.” I wish there was a half-length edit available on the record, maybe relegating the full-length rendition to the tail end of the track listing or something. Bits of it are nice but the full six minutes of it, with all the weirder elements included, is just too much too-much-ness. When you’re watching the show and get the minute-or-so opening credits version you might think, “This is interesting and I want to hear more.” No, you almost certainly really don’t.
“Prayer For Love” is another voiced piece, and it doesn’t do anything for me either. It tries for “pretty” and achieves “pretty boring.” In fact, all of the voiced tracks are skippable. Take for example “Skywriting,” which is trying desperately to tap into a Beach Boys vibe of some sort. Yikes.
Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?
I considered the other Gonzo show soundtrack in the library, that of the earlier series, Vandread, but it wasn’t much of a contest between the two. The other show may be more fun overall but in terms of pure musical value, Last Exile wins by a landslide.
Any final thoughts?
Should you watch Last Exile? I didn’t recommend it last year, and I have a hard time recommending it now. I won’t insult the show by describing it as a triumph of style over substance. There’s plenty of substance, it’s just somewhat impenetrable and occasionally baffling. Sure is pretty, though. As an early exercise in melding computer-generated with hand-drawn animation in a big-budget-weekly-show kind of way, it’s occasionally dazzling to watch. (Vandread used a lot of CG as well but usually in separate shots from the hand-drawn stuff. Last Exile worked to blend them together.) There’s a reason it’s considered one of Gonzo’s masterworks.
If you have the time, I’d say, go for it. But if it doesn’t grab your attention in the first few episodes, don’t feel bad about dropping it.