Legend of the Galactic Heroes is everything its name claims it to be, and no legend about heroes is complete without the tragic hero. Even before Shakespeare stories about Hercules and Oedipus Rex showed the fascination people have with great men falling from great heights. It is only fitting that the final season of LOGH is about the lengths great men will fall to.
At the beginning it is hard to see where the show will go next. Yang Wen-li is dead and his republican remnants are exiled to the fringe of the galaxy. But as the old axiom goes it’s harder to maintain power than to obtain it, and Reinhard’s empire is beset by terrorists and schemers at every turn. While it is easy to portray men like Lang, Truniht, and De Villiers as villains, the greatest threat is not them but instead the most loyal of admirals, Reuental. Through an intricate series of character attacks, suspicions, and threats Reuental all the sudden finds himself pegged as a traitor aiming for Reinhard’s head.
Now, it would be easy for Reuental to reveal the truth and clear up everything, but he can’t. His pride won’t let him. In a sense his whole life has been a tragedy of identity. Hated by his mother and denied ambition by Reinhard, he is a man who in another age could of been king but has to be content with living in Reinhard’s shadow. And when the time comes for him to be a traitor he does not hesitate to embrace that role. If Reinhard, the warrior-king who wants to be more a warrior than a king, needs an enemy then Reuental will be it, even if it means fighting his best friend Mittermeyer, because it is the only role Reuental sees as having any worth in his life. If he can’t be famous than he will be infamous.
Reunetal’s rebellion is a tragedy because its conclusion was decided before it began. While Reuental has the genius he does not have the material resources, and the war is for such nebulous aims that no one knows why exactly they’re fighting. Like many characters in the show Reuental is denied his heroic death in battle, and instead must linger on for days as he bleeds out from a fatal wound. In that time friends and enemies alike come before him to settle accounts. Finally killing Truniht was probably the best thing Reuental ever did, but his quiet moments with the woman who wants to kill him and the son he never wanted have to be some of the most poignant in the show.
The other tragic hero is the man who no one would dare to call a hero, the ever manipulative Paul von Oberstein. Throughout the whole show Oberstein has always been portrayed as the wolf in Reinhard’s pack. The man that did what no one else wanted to acknowledge even needed to be done, and who no one could speak against because they knew in their minds that he was right. Thus it is only fitting that in the final episode Oberstein not only uses the dying Reinhard as bait for the rest of the terrarists, but that he himself dies in the attack. The show itself is reluctant to say what exactly Oberstein was, extreme patriot or manipulative bastard, but I take the more patriotic interpretation. He’s man who put the good of the empire ahead of everything else, even beyond the life of the Emperor himself. The needs of the many always outweighed the needs of the few and he carried out this philosophy to its most ruthless ends.
Finally there is Reinhard himself, who may not be tragic but is definitely the greatest hero of them all. The only tragic element of his death would be the fact that, like Yang Wen-li and Reuental, he is denied the death in battle he always wanted. Instead he is killed by a disease no one has ever heard of. While I thought Reinhard’s illness was a bit too melodramatic, a quick stunt to clean the room as it were, the show does handle it with class. Reinhard’s request for Reuental’s son to be friends with his son is both bitterly ironic and beautiful, reminiscent of that promise between Reinhard and Siegfried Kircheis from so long ago. Truly a part of Reinhard died with Kircheis and the rest of his conquest has merely been an attempt to fill in that hole.
The final scenes of LOGH are probably different from what many would expect from the title. Instead of an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, they instead focus on friends and foes alike coming together both to mourn a passing age and to look forward to the next. New relationships are cemented and the hope of the generation is passed onto the children. The final scene is Mittermeyer with his wife and child, the child vainly grasping for the stars, highlighting LOGH’s main theme that history will repeat itself, but that hopefully humanity will one day learn from its own follies. Julian’s final speech sums this up beautifully by stating that if people had just cared enough to change society instead of handing everything over to the Goldenbaum dynasty, then hundreds of years of war and death could of been averted. Julian says my favorite line of the show here: “Politics always takes vengeance on those that belittle it.”
And after talking about these Empire guys so much I also want to say something about the Alliance guys. Schenkopp’s death fits the nature of the show, where great men are often defeated by the insignificant, but it’s still a terrible death to be done in by an ax to the back. At least he takes out like a hundred men while bleeding to death. Schenkopp is probably one of the most manly characters in anime ever, and Dusty Attenborough’s remark after his death sums up Schenkopp perfectly: “I didn’t think the guy could actually die.” Julian also gets props for developing the most throughout the show from a literal housemaid to an incredibly competent leader. That’s character development done right. Yang Wen-li and his merry men’s slogan “FOPPERY AND WHIM!” is probably the best slogan to come out of any anime. They may not have been as interesting as the Empire all of the time, but they knew when to have fun.
There’s literally a thousand more things I could say about LOGH. No other anime I’ve seen has approached its breadth and depth. Its characters are human, its span colossal, and its themes universal. It is about history, power, and what happens when they intersect with politics. It is fitting that the shows ends with the line “Die Sage ist Voruber, Die Historie beginnt” for truly the show chronicles an age of heroes. But it also shows that heroes by their very nature only show up once in a lifetime, and history is truly made by the tasks of millions of men and women over time. Perhaps it is true that the show will reward only a certain kind of viewer, one who can watch and wait and ponder. It is not flashy, nor is it meant to be enjoyed and discarded in a second. It is truly a thinking man’s anime, and it’s a shame that there aren’t a lot more like it. (Hence why my posting this month has been terrible. Chock it up to a general disgust with anime at the moment and mountains of schoolwork.)
I’ll be starting on the Gaiden stories soon, but I wonder if their affect will be diminished since I know what happens. Though they’re probably meant to be nostalgia fuel anyway. I’ve been with these characters for too long not to want to see more.