"What lies beyond the furthest reaches of the sky?"
A 2003 anime series from Gonzo.Claus and Lavie are "vanship" pilots who work as air mail couriers using the vanship that their respective parents left to them. It's a hard, dangerous living, and they must risk their lives to earn enough to soup up their vanship enough to be a contender in the air races. One day, however, just as they're finally about to win a race, a crippled vanship crashes right in front of them. When they go to its aid, the dying pilot begs them to take over his delivery job: safely deliver a mysterious young girl to the legendary pirate ship Silvana.Naturally, the same forces that were pursuing the girl now turn their sights on Claus and Lavie, who find themselves at the center of a conflict that threatens to tear their world apart.A sequel series titled Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing aired in the Fall 2011 Anime Season.A manga on the series was also recently serialized in Newtype Ace. Entitled Sunadokei no Tabibito (literally Travelers from the Hourglass), it serves as a bridge between Last Exile and its sequel, explaining what happened to the original cast and how they figure in the conflict engulfing the world in the new series.
Ace Custom: the Silvana. Equipped with the heaviest and strongest armor around, loaded for bear with highly destructive artillery, and with a spacious belly full of combat Vanships —a novel concept in aerial warfare— and at the same time, smaller and more maneuverable than standard airships . And, unlike the Urbanus class, there is only one Silvana around, and it's under Alex Rowe's control.
Super Prototype: The Silvana is so powerful because it is essentially a testbed for a variety of experimental systems, several of which would later be integrated into the new Urbanus class vessels.
Achilles in His Tent: Lavie. She's an ace vanship navigator, racer, and courier, but becomes a mechanic after she realizes she's just not cut out for combat. She steps back into the fray when the heroes need a pair of ace couriers to save the day.
Airstrike Impossible: Basically, what any Vanship assault on a battlecruiser boils down to, but especially notable in the endgame battles.
All There in the Manual: Dio survives the final episode, as implied by his voice echoing through the Silvana's engine room, and by a lone page out of the Last Exile artbook that shows him reuniting with Claus, Lavie and Alvis on Earth. This is confirmed by the sequel series, Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing.
Almighty Janitor: Sophia. She's already the heir to the Anatoray throne while serving as the Silvana's executive officer. After her father dies and she becomes the Empress, she remains aboard the Silvana as its XO, and expects the crew to treat her only as their superior officer, not their sovereign. (As far a the rest of the fleet is concerned, however, she's still their sovereign and the Silvana is her flagship)
Ancient Conspiracy: The Guild. It was originally an organization entrusted to oversee both the Exile program and an ambitious geo-engineering plan to undo the disastrous aftermath of climate change, which also sent some of its members to oversee the colonists. Over the centuries however, they've turned into a secretive order more interested in maintaining their power and manipulating the rest of mankind than fulfilling their original objective. In some cases, they seemed to have forgotten why they even came to be in the first place.
Arc Words The questions and answers which are key to opening Exile.
Aristocrats Are Evil: There are aversions, but is mostly played straight, especially with The Guild. On the heroic side, only those aristocrats directly associated with the heroes subvert it.
Awesome, but Impractical: The Disith warships, looking very futuristic next to the Anatoray armada (and vaguely reminiscent of Exile's cocoon form, with batteries of revolving cannons on their bellies. Which means they can't target anything that isn't directly beneath them without tilting the whole ship on its side.
This is justified in the supplemental materials, which explained that the invading Disith expected to engage in combat primarily while descending from the Grand Stream, so their ships are designed with the expectation that their enemies will usually be at a lower altitude. For the same reason, Anatoray battleships are designed with the majority of their weapons on the topside of the ship with expectation of fighting Disith who would be descending from above.
There's also the little matter of making the middle of each ship thin with all that exposed framework. Word of God is that it's supposed to mimic a woman's body. A woman's body that is instantly torn apart by a single well-placed shot, while their enemies take a huge pounding to put down...
Musketeers on both sides are armed with cool-looking, but heinously impractical steam muskets as well as fancy uniforms wholly pointless given the use of Musketeers (uniforms traditionally are brightly colored to distinguish faction, something unneeded when everyone is volleying from ship to ship with no intention of boarding). Then again, everything about Musketeers is just cool-looking, cruel fluff dictated by the guild.
The method of giving out vanship pilot jobs in the first episode. Taping them to the side of a cliff and having pilots fly by and read them and signal which one they want looks awesome, but... with all the effort it would take to set that all up each morning, wouldn't it be much more efficient to just have them, you know, stop by an office and grab the assignment?
Bilingual Bonus: Sort of. All the text in the series is English written in the Greek alphabet. The real Greek alphabet mind you, none of that mucking about using capital sigmas for E's and the such.
It's not a proper transcription but uses the standard keyboard transliteration into the Greek alphabet, meaning that letters such as h, w and y (with no easy equivalent in Greek) get transcribed into η, ω and ψ which are the letters for Ú, ˇ and ps.
Then there's δικαίος, ᾱ, ον all over the side of a ship, as if it was all a word — it's not, it's the dictionary entry. (To make this into a name in Greek, it would also be written with an article, as in `ο δικαίος, "the fair one".)
Bizarre World Shapes Prester is shaped like an hourglass, which also happens to be the Guild's emblem. It appears that it's also a hollow world and the events take place inside it - presumably "gravity" is produced by the hourglass spinning rapidly.
Bling of War: Mullin's medals in specific, but every fleet has its own more or less elaborate uniform, with even gaudier uniforms for the officers.
Chess Motifs: Alex talking about taking his enemy's queen to win the game in a chess match. And most if not all of the episodes are named after chess moves or gambits, e.g. "Castling Lucciola" and "Sicilian Defense".
Cliff Hanger: Episode 12, "Discovered Attack" The Silvana is sinking, Claus and Tatiana have been shot down, Lavie lies unconscious on the hangar deck... is this the end? (Of course not, it's episode 12)
Demoted to Extra: After being a major character for the first third of the series, Lavie starts to play an increasingly minor role compared to Claus after she withdraws from combat to become a mechanic. She starts to make it back up the ladder towards the end.
Establishing Character Moment: Alex saving Claus, Lavie, and Alvis from a Guild drone with a single, well-placed shot from his gun-cane. Especially since the entire maintenance crew could barely dent a drone's armor with theirBFG.
Exact Time to Failure: When the Guild first attacks the Silvana, it's stated they can operate for 20 minutes at full power. After exactly twenty minutes, they all break off and leave (including Dio and Luciola, who entered the battle later on).
Foreshadowing Lavie's mid-battle "Screw Chivalry" rant in which she screams that chivalry only matters to nobles who have never gone hungry presages the reason the Dissith have abandoned the traditional rules of engagement: they're desperate because their lands are rapidly becoming uninhabitable.
For the Evulz: Seems to be Delphine's motivation for most of her actions, such as not intervening when Dissith ships disregard the rules of engagement in the first fight, and sometimes she seems to enjoy watching people suffer and/or die. It's even implied that she deliberately allowed the climate to become unbalanced in order to pit Dissith and Anatore against each other.
Freudian Excuse: Dio comes off as a thoroughly unsympathetic creep until we meet his sister.
Her Boyfriend's Jacket: After Claus and Tatiana crash land in the desert, at one point he offers her some spare coveralls as a change of clothes. When they get back to the Silvana, Claus' old friend Lavie sees Tatiana wearing his clothes and she begins to fear this is happening.
Heroic BSOD: Tatiana experiences a brief one after she watches the Silvana go down in battle, primarily because she's convinced she just lost her best friend Alister, with whom she'd been fighting.
Heroic Sacrifice: Lucciola does this to give Claus, Al, and Dio time to escape. Delphine "rewards" him with a ring that disintegrates him even as she repeatedly asks her to free Dio from his mental state.
Potentially Alex as well, as he's busy choking Delphine to death so that she can't give any commands, and allowing the Silvana time to fire on her ship, while he's still aboard it.
Claus and Lavie's fathers' attempt to cross the Grand Stream turned out to have been a heroic sacrifice as well.
Honor Before Reason: Mad-Thane's subordinate officer would rather fight to the death for honor rather than retreat sensibly. Mad-Thane himself appears to agree with him until he hears Lavie's "Screw Chivalry!" rant
Idiot Ball: A few, but when Mullin starts getting wistful for his "glory days" as a cannon-fodder rifleman, every viewer is required by law to perform a Face Palm and quietly tell him to take his Darwin Award and get out of here...
Redeemed, somewhat, by The Alliance's plan to convert their musketeers from Cannon Fodder to an elite assault force in order to capture their Claudia units from the guild.
Jabba Table Manners: The guild, enough to make Jabba himself look like a gentleman. Guild connoisseurs take pride at how a tiny morsel of succulent meat took the lives of dozens of men to acquire and how a slice of fish is washed with enough water to slake a family's thirst. After all, so they reason, the sacrifice makes the food all the more tasty.
Lost Colony: Prester is not a natural planet at all, but rather is an artificial colony overseen by the Guild.Travelers from the Hourglass and Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing later reveal that it's just one of at least seven others.
Lost Technology: Exile and Prester itself, where the latter is an artificial planet with an inhabitable interior surface, much like an hourglass, with the Grand Stream barring the way across the connection. Everything inside the closed system (weather, projections of the sun and moon) is monitored by Exile and the Guild.
Magnetic Hero: Claus displays that uncanny ability to win people over to respect him with his sincerity and vanship skills, though falls a bit short on the all-loving personality that would push him over the line to be The Messiah.
Neck Snap: Apparently, Alex considers this too good for Delphine at the end as he forgoes a simple neck snap in favor of strangling her to death as he stares into her eyes.
Never Got to Say Goodbye: Tatiana almost gives up after she's convinced her best friend Alister, with whom she'd been fighting, went down with the Silvana. Claus' never-say-die attitude pulls her out of it.
Not so Above It All: Tatiana, who annoys everyone with her hardass attitude until she freezes in the face of losing the one person she cares about most and realizes that everyone has their limits.
Oh, Crap: Dio has that look when his sister shows up at Sophia's crowning ceremony.
Delphine when Alex suddenly springs back to life and grabs her neck in the last episode.
Our Elves Are Better: The Guild, albeit much more like The Fair Folk than standard DnD elves. Aloof, fair-featured and pointy-eared, agile and graceful, with otherworldly technology, with an outlook of the entire world being their playthings? Definitely elf.
Parental Abandonment: Played straight, although we get to see what happened to Claus and Lavie's parents and why they aren't around when the story starts.
The Remnant: The Earth Guild, as of Travelers from the Hourglass, is dying, and they know this. This seems to be the main motivating factor for them to kidnap Alvis, so they can gain new genetic material to keep on existing.
The Guild are also shown to be pretty much all that's left of pre-Exile Earth.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Sophia. She refuses to abandon her position as the Silvana's first officer to assume her father's throne ... So she's crowned Empress anyway and is back on the bridge issuing order within five minutes.
Ruins for Ruins' Sake: There's a vast and elaborate abandoned city deep beneath Claus and Lavie's hometown of Norkia, with vaults and arches large enough for Vanships to fly through. Even though Norkia is built on levels, the ruins make very little sense since Prester is an artificial world and abandoning such a large volume of its habitable space seems awfully wasteful.
Say My Name: Dio casually calls Claus by name - finally, after it had always been "Immelmann" - when they are searching a seemingly abandoned Silvana together - just before he is taken away by the Guild.
The Sky Is an Ocean: To the point that shooting down a ship is referred to as "sinking" it, and getting a downed ship airborne again is referred to as "surfacing."
Spell My Name with an "S": The two countries in conflict, Anatoray and Disith in the dub, are named for the Greek "AnatolÚ" "Rising (Sun)" and "Dysis" "Setting (Sun)".
Also: Claus Valca/Balca/Valka/Barka; Lavi/Ravey/Lavie; Dio Eraclea/Elaclair/Elacrea; Lucciola/Luciola; Mullin/Moran Shetland.
But for the record, Word of God says it's Claus Valca, Lavie Head, Dio Eraclea, Lucciola, and Mullin Shetland.
It doesn't help that Lucciola's name is technically said incorrectly, going by the Word of God spelling. Lucciola is an Italian word meaning firefly; double C followed by i and o is said like "cho" (listen to  for an example of this sound). This was shifted to "shi" in the Japanese version, presumably because they were judging sound from spelling, making him "Rushiora." This change takes on the (Engrish) pronunciation of Lucciola's root word: luciola, which is Latin.
The mid-episode 'splash' panels (before and after the commercial break) in some of the early episodes clearly spell the name of the 'Silvana' as "Silverna". Given the snakes painted all over its hull, the Urbanas may more be correctly called the Uroboros.
Spider Tank: Or are they aircraft that walk on spider legs?
Spoiler Title: Some of the chess metaphors used, such as in "Castling" Lucciola, are dead giveaways.
Stealth Pun: Vanships and airships use a fuel source named Claudia to go into the clouds.
Steam Punk: With steam-powered muskets. Unusually, it's not portrayed as remotely practical.
Straight Gay: Gale, one of the mechanics. He eyes Claus appreciatively once or twice, to the amusement of his fellow crew-members, but if not for that you wouldn't realize he swings that way.
Super Strength: While the series showcased how members of the Guild are much more graceful and faster than the normal baseline human, Travelers from the Hourglass's Earth Guild reveals how a Guildsman is supernaturally strong as well, after one picks up Lavie with one arm and throws her bodily several feet from where she was seated in Claus' vanship .
Supporting Leader: Vincent plays this, at separate times, to both his friend and colleague Alex and his Empress Sophia.
On this world warfare has strict rules and regulations, and is supposed to be refereed by the Guild. (Fleets can only out number each other by a certain percentage, no surprise attacks, after the musket duel an enemy is allowed to withdraw with their honor intact, etc.) It could have been that the original idea was that if the conflict could not be resolved peacefully, then you would have a duel in the sky, and after the musket men duel the opposing fleet is allowed to withdraw to reduce further loss of life and equipment. Since the Guild is run by a corrupt hedonist who wants to see the little people fight each other in senseless wars for her own entertainment...
Truth in Television as warfare, particularly up to the 18th century or so, sometimes invoked this. Battles were somewhat methodical in their planning between sides before commencing. Since the generals and nobles were often hiding toward the back during such skirmishes, this left common conscripts facing one another head to head and causing both sides to lose large numbers as fodder.
Played straight in the second half of the series once the Dissith and Anatore form The Alliance in order to take out the Guild.