I started Last Exile Fam pleased with its titular main character, Fam Fan Fan. Fam’s can-do attitude was far more entertaining than Claus’s blandness and later symptoms of haremitis (Seriously, Sophia?). I also liked how her relationship with Gisey hit off with a parallel to recurring characters Tatiana and Alister, who performed as mentors in their own little way.
Sadly, this only lasted until halfway.
The problem with Fam was that she did everything with a single-minded approach that only works in the most juvenile of anime, which Last Exile isn’t. While she was a character who was very good at what she did (i.e. flying), the show put her into many situations that didn’t utilize her strengths and instead magnified her glaring weaknesses.
The key scenes I could remember from the top of my head are Fam being unable to bring herself to shoot an enemy Vanship down, and her interruption in a political council that forced an abrupt truce, which turned out to have far more devastating results than imagined. The first is a classic case of the writers of the show chickening out, wanting to preserve Fam’s purity by not allowing her to take a life (why was she even put on fighter duty in the first place?), when such a development would have been far more interesting. Even Claus’s pacifism wasn’t this bad.
The second is an act of even more lousy writing: the enmity between Luscinia and Vasant could have reached into greater heights if they had treated it maturely. The conflict regarding the child sovereign Sara was reasonably complex and had no easy answers, yet Fam had to bring her bullheadedness to the table and come up with an external non-solution to the problem. One could ask why is she even in the council in the first place. The politics in Last Exile Fam were easily the most compelling part of the show for me, and the main character herself ruins it.
Fam was never really given a challenge that required her to rise up against. Her partner Gisey took most of these problems on her own, problems that were trivially solved with a hockey match, and then her issues were shelved for the remainder of the show. Fam herself continued to blaze through her own problems with her blind optimism: somehow she stops Luscinia from committing further genocide by merely extolling her own childish optimism. Fam herself never had to bear the brunt of anything, so she didn’t really grow at all. Rarely have I found myself actually despising a character more as the show went on.
In contrast, Millia went through hell and emerged a better person. It was Millia who shouldered the big burdens, losing her father, her sister, and her very own kingdom. She was the one forced to flee an entire Federation and live in a foreign airship, in order to continue bringing hope to her shattered nation. While Millia started as this sniveling, bratty princess, she managed to grow a spine and acquire leadership virtues on her own.
The plot called her for situations that she was most prepared to take on. They called for her royal pride, statesmanship, and upbringing in surmounting her challenges. These allowed her to cultivate her own personal fortitude, which led to believable growth. Millia didn’t exactly turn into an imperious ruler, but by the end she had become a capable commander in her own right.
In hindsight, it really was Millia’s story all along. Fam was our viewpoint character, but her flying antics were nowhere near interesting as Millia’s problems, and her bungling provided a continuous sense of annoyance which kept Last Exile Fam from becoming a truly great show. But Millia did all right, and I’m thankful for her in salvaging what could have otherwise been a real trainwreck.
That, and it was nice to have seen some old faces on a regular basis.