Intermediate Form

Stratopunk

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Last Exile Screenshot
A screenshot from Last Exile.

I was having a conversation with my friend Tony today about a new anime called Last Exile, which features teenage pilots rescuing a young girl from an evil menace that, in the four episodes I've seen, has yet to be fully fleshed out. The teenage pilots fly a small plane called a vanship (seen in the foreground in the still above), while governments have large aerial battleships, with many banks of large cannons.

This isn't the first series we've seen to feature this mix of small planes and aerial battleships, but I haven't seen this genre named before. Tony came up with the name Stratopunk, after Cyberpunk and Steampunk. I think the name fits as well as any, I've never heard it used before, and the only results in a google search seem to be guitar-related , so I decided to write a blog entry about what I think Stratopunk is, based on our short conversation.

(I do realize that small planes tend not to reach the stratosphere, but tropopunk doesn't have the same ring as stratopunk, so stratopunk it is. The "punk" component doesn't have any more meaning to it than it does in steampunk.)

I'd say Stratopunk is a sort of fictionalized golden age of aviation, in which small, open-cockpit planes are mixed with large air fortresses. The general feel is a sort of fictionalized period between the two world wars, but with more advanced aircraft than we had in the real world, and wildly differing political situations. Aircraft are powered by props and not jets, and it's perfectly okay to be exposed to the elements, given a scarf, hat, and goggles (which may not even need to be worn, see above.) A small business airplane is something that is normally built in one's garage. Air travel is not the domain of the common man, but is instead reserved for the rich and powerful, the military, and greasy pilot/mechanic entrepreneurs.

Last Exile isn't the only work in this genre, nor the only anime. Studio Ghibli produced two movies in this field: Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso. Disney's cartoon TaleSpin also would seem to mostly fall into this genre. I'd say the the Crimson Skies board and computer games could also be called stratopunk. Live-action stratopunk is harder to find... perhaps the movie The Rocketeer, but I think that this would be a good place to make a movie in.

I've given some things that I think are stratopunk, but I don't by any means think this is a comprehensive list. If you can suggest other titles, leave a comment.

- Tom | permalink | changelog | Last updated: 2004-01-11 12:16

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Comments

Posted on Monday, December 06, 2004 by God:

I would like, if I may, to give a somewhat more detailed and accurate read into the world of Last Exile.

Most of the world of Last Exile is ruled by one of two gigantic nations: Anatoray or Dissuis. Though they rule at the front, and do most of the actual lawmaking and law enforcement, they are in turn controlled by a technologically advanced group known as the Guild.

The war between Anatoray and Dissuis has been going on for generations. This war has been mediated and even organized by the Guild, and each battle is only started with the authorization of a Guild arbiter.

The battles are conducted in two phases: The first is infantry combat, where squads of musketeers on the decks of each side's vessels fire in volleys at one another, attempting to cause as many casualties as possible. If a ship loses too many of its musketeers, then it must retreat from the battle. The second phase, the one where the actual tactics are implemented, is artiliary combat. This is where the big guns reign suppreme, and this is where ships get sunk.

Now for a note on the technology: The aircraft of Last Exile do not use propellers. They use a special type of engine that cycles pressurized claudia fluid (solid claudia dissolved in water) to make a levitating force. The farther the fluid is cycled, the more energy is generated. While the nations of Anatoray and Dissuis both possess the technology to make vanship claudia units (the engines that cycle the claudia), only the Guild has the technology for the warship-scale units. That is why every battleship in either side's fleet is registered with the Guild. Should another ship sink it, its claudia unit will detatch and return to the Guild arbiter presiding over that battle. This can be seen in the battle of Minagis.

It is the common status of battleship claudia units that makes the Silvana--the battleship seen in every episode but the third, the one seen at the very start of the first one--so special. It has an unregistered claudia unit, and is thus free of Guild controll. Though its capitain, Alex Rowe, swears allegance to the king of Anatoray, his real motive remains unknown.

And by the way--vanships are not built in garages. The vanship that Claus and Lavi fly was owned by their fathers. They maintain it in their garage, repairing it on the funds they can scrape together in races and as curriors.

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