Thanks to the wonders of cable TV (albeit “extended” cable TV), I found myself watching Last Exile again. Looking back on it, the show was pretty good, but it had it’s problems (better storytelling and maybe cutting out how our main sleepyhead somehow becoming a pimp in the middle might have made it awesome. The world may never know). What had the greatest impact for me, though Range Murata’s character designs (<3) were a plus, was the music. Save for the OP and insert songs by Shuntaro Okino (except “Head in the Clouds”, I really could care less about his stuff), the work of the trio (Yuki Yamamoto, Maki Fujiwara and Hitomi Kuroishi) known as Dolce Triade blew me away, making the Last Exile OST one of my favorite anime soundtracks ever. It seems like a one-shot thing though, since nothing has been heard from the group afterwards; I really wonder what magic would be woven if those three could come together again. :3
Applying it in the context of the show, the music never seemed out of place in the world of Prester. Every piece worked with the situation, be it Alvis exploring Claus and Lavie’s vanship, to Alex Row reminiscing about the good and not so good days of his life, to just the battles between the Silvana and the Guild. I felt that the continuous mixing of song with situation helped draw me into the world presented, and it seemed to always fit the mood, making situations much more impactful to me. For example, hearing “Silvana” accompany the namesake battleship in episode 4-ish as Alex stepped out to save the day made the ship that much more imposing/epic, and made the captain cooler than he actually turned out to be.
In my opinion, the breadth and depth of the music hasn’t been matched by many series I’ve seen. For about 2.5 total hours of music over two CDs, the majority of songs are pleasing to listen to, and I don’t mind listening to either CD repeatedly. Many style of music abound: examples go from a Celtic, Northwestern European feel with songs like “A Morning in Norkia” and “To the Race”, to a Jazzy-Latinish feel for “Cover Stories”, to arias such as “Requiem in the Air”. And pieces such as “Road to the Light” and “Cover Stories” evoke many feelings that work together (changes in tempo and energy help with that): triumphant, expectant, nostalgic, proactive, and so on. That kind of thing seems very hard to do in music, and I feel that Dolce Triade was great at layering feelings while never sounding overbearing. I never felt that the instrumental pieces used too many instruments or tried to be too forceful in their execution.
The vocal pieces done by Hitomi were also pleasant to listen to. I can’t say whether or not she has a great voice, but her vocals had an almost ethereal quality to them which worked well with the music she sang. When her voice was layered in songs like “Requiem in the Air” and the ED “Over The Sky”, it worked so well with the accompanying music. And the beginning Akiramenaide (Don’t give up) in “Rays of hope” followed by the start of that pieces 3/4 beat (I’m a sucker for that time signature) and the vocalizing in the second verse before it’s chorus gave me goosebumps. Her wiki article states that she’s sung in other anime as well, and given that I liked what she did by herself for Last Exile, it’s a bonus to find that she’s helped out in shows like Planetes and Code Geass.
Frankly, I think you could not have Last Exile without the music, yet the opposite would definitely work. Every piece seems self-contained and standalone in their expression, and where most soundtracks don’t seem to work when listening to them by themselves, this one would have little trouble in doing so. I’d definitely recommend these two albums to people who are music fans in general, and I wish that Dolce Triade would continue making beautiful music together.