The Legend Ends, History Begins

Posted by Demian @ 2:48 pm, September 27th, 2008

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.

Thoughts on Legend of the Galactic Heroes 57-84

Posted by Demian @ 12:41 pm, August 31st, 2008

More of my random thoughts as I watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Beware even more galactic-sized spoilers ahead.

While Norio Wakamoto is best known today for his roles as the booming voice of God (The Emperor in Code Geass and the narrator in Hayate no Gokou) he actually has a staring role in LOGH as the brooding genius Reuental. The guy is pretty messed up to put it lightly. His mother tried to kill him as soon as he was born, because he was an illegitimate child, which has left him with a misogynist attitude towards women ever since. Reuental evolves a lot through this section as he gains more power, while also hinting that if the situation warrants it he may try to sieze the throne himself. I also think you can hear Norio Wakamoto evolve through his performance with Reuental, as he goes from rather subdued in the beginning to a more familiar voice of arrogant authority right now.

Ep.61 is the culmination of a series of events that saw Yang kidnapped by his own government as a scape goat. Of course Yang can’t be done in yet so his loyal followers have to come in and rescue him. Frederica is awesome here as she arrives in the nick of time to shoot Yang’s would-be executioner. Despite being a soldier I never really thought she could kill someone, but it really shows how much she loves Yang. The Rosenritter are also once again badass here, as they basically take on an entire army and win.

LOGH has a weird sense of humor. Pirate Attenborough is an example of that. I guess he’s dressed like that cause he has to steal a few ships, but it’s never even mentioned again. But it does really fit Attenborough’s personality.

When it comes to hand to hand fighting LOGH doesn’t pull any punches in showing the pure brutality of battle. The worse fighting in the show yet comes in ep.63 as the Empire raids the Terraist Cult’s compound. It’s insane as the cult members jump armored men with knives, blow up halls to crush everyone, trap people in rooms with themselves and release poison gas, and eventually blow the whole place up. Even the hardened soldiers remark on how absolutely insane all of this is. It’s another one of those oddly prescient moments in LOGH that makes you think it was hinting at the future even though it’s all based on events in the past, but the theme of LOGH is that history repeats itself.

I like how LOGH doesn’t leave plot threads hanging. If it says a certain element is going to come back you know it’s going to come back, even if it takes thirty episodes for it to happen. When Yang last abandoned Iserlohn he left a special surprise for the Empire, along with an actual surprise of timed bombs that he knew they would discover anyways. Well, when the battle to retake Iserlohn again comes around it turns out that the real surprise was a changed password that lets Yang’s fleet take control of Iserlohn from the outside. I’m glad to see a show with such foresight.

I love old men characters. They’re usually such honorable guys, and if they’re better than the protagonist you can count on them being old badasses too. LOGH also loves old men and one of the best is Alliance Admiral Bucock, who serves his country, despite its failures, to the very end. He goes into battle with Reinhard’s fleet knowing he will lose, but it’s enough to allow Yang some time to win. His final toast is epic as he says that Yang could be Reinhard’s friend but not his subordinate, and that democracy is making good friends on equal terms, not good subordinate relationships. I think that really strikes Reinhard, cause he has been without a friend since Kicheis’s death and you can see how that loneliness sometimes drives him to extreme decisions. Dying while drinking on an exploding ship is also one of the best ways to go in my opinion.

The epic three-part Battle of the Corridor really shows Yang at his best, as his vastly inferior fleet basically owns Reinhard. My only problem with it is Fischer’s death, another old badass. Fischer isn’t as smart as Yang but is acknowledged as the best at fleet maneuvers, and his death is a strong blow to Yang’s morale. But his death isn’t even shown, just mentioned after some harsh fighting. The guy wasn’t that important, but I liked him enough to want to see how he went out. And I had to laugh at the end of the battle, as everyone basically manages to only walk a few step into Iserlohn before collapsing. It’s funny to see all these great soldiers just laying in the middle of hallways fast asleep.

LOGH has the worst previews ever. Don’t watch them as they seriously spoil everything. The preview for ep.82 tells you straight out that Yang dies. I had read some things about ep.82 being really sad and had a vague idea that they might kill Yang off, but it seemed insane for a show defined by the antagonism between two characters to kill one of them off, but they do it. Yang is killed by more of those vile Terraist bastards. Blumehart is pretty badass trying to protect Yang, though, as I think he kills over fifty guys with just a handgun.

Julian also gets a chance to go berseker over everyone’s asses, so that helps somewhat. I have no idea how the show is going to maintain its tension without Yang to act as Reinhard’s foil, but this far in I’m not going to doubt that LOGH has more surprises to pull. Only 25 episodes left to go.

Thoughts on Legend of the Galactic Heroes 29-56

Posted by Demian @ 4:52 pm, August 14th, 2008

The Legend continues. Like my last post this is more a collection of thoughts and conjectures on the story thus far. Ton of spoilers too.

The big focus of the second season is how Phezzan manages to manipulate both sides into war and eventually gets the Empire to outright conquer the alliance. However, with all the realism this series possesses I find it hard to believe that a single planet state could control both sides so well. I think the arc would of benefited from an episode or two highlighting the economics of the future and better showing how Phezzan is a threat rather than just throwing them out there. Then again, it’s hard to say how successful Phezzan is since in the end Reinhard basically says “screw you” and conquers them anyway.

LOGH is understandably vague when it comes to technology. Yes, there’s FTL travel in the future but it doesn’t really say to what extant. Hell, the first time we even really see warp travel in the show is in ep.30 when the Empire moves Geiersburg fortress with warp engines. No matter how unexplainable the technology is, moving a giant fortress by warp to battle another fortress is always cool.

God I love the Rosenritter. It’s always great to see the Empire’s soldier shit their pants whenever they realize the Rosenritter have come out to slaughter. Especially Schenkopp, since that guy can take out an entire batallion by himself, and even almost takes over an entire ship singlehandedly later on.

LOGH has some really weird moments sometimes. This bizarre image from ep.36 is one of them. It’s basically about Reinhard pining over Kircheis, again. There’s definitely a strong mancrush going on here. This is also the first time the young Kaiser shows up, and of course he has to be a spoiled brat. It’s funny to see the guys kidnapping trying to act nice at first and then decide just to knock him out and take him.

Everyone underestimates Reinhard in the show, calling him the blonde brat and saying he’s too young to be a genius. Interestingly enough, Yang is also chronically underestimated throughout the show by the Alliance. They don’t underestimate his strength, but instead his morality. The powers that be constantly think that Yang will seize power at any moment and keep Yang down accordingly, even if it means it will hurt the rest of the Alliance. But anyone who even listens to Yang talk understands that he has no aspirations of leadership at all. To him even the worst democracy is better than the best autocracy. Of course any normal person would destroy the Alliance government in a heartbeat, especially with Truniht in control, but that’s what makes Yang special. Reinhard may be a genius but Yang is much more mature than him in understanding his own ideology and reasons. Reinhard selfishly seeks power for his own ego and it’s merely a by product of his own strength that the society is made better, but Yang doesn’t serve his own interests but others. As much as Yang despises the idea, he really is the true military man.

ep.40 is the first documentary episode, which literally shows Julian watching a documentary about the history of the Empire. I really had to laugh that he was watching the thing off of a floppy. LOGH really hasn’t aged technologically that well. It’s a fascinating episode for fleshing out the world, though there are some really disturbing moments. Like illustrating the corruption before the Empire by showing fat naked women dancing on tables. I understand the necessity for showing sexual promiscuity, but why do they have to be FAT naked women? There’s also some chilling images of mass executions and body pits, making the parallels between Rudolf and Hitler all the more obvious. It’s also interesting that Rudolf, the man who champions genetic purity, has a retarded son himself. The episode does a great job of highlighting the real main theme of LOGH, that history is circular and that tragedies and progress exist in all times.

Ep.50 features a great ridiculous strategy from Yang that I just love. He basically positions his fleet right in front of a black hole so that the enemy can’t get around him, and then manages not only to get around the enemy fleet but then push IT into the radius of the black hole! God, death by black hole must suck. Actually, death in just space itself sucks. A later episode shows, very graphically, how much blood and guts are lost when a battleship explodes. Not pretty at all.

I also know that female space pilots are just plain hawt.

The second season ends with a ton of changes to the LOGH world. Reinhard actually conquers the Alliance, Yang goes into retirement and gets married (I loved the Yang X Frederica storyline. Such a cute couple.), Julian is setting off on his own to Eath, and Reinhard finally crowns himself Kaiser. Emphasis on the crowning himself. It reminds of that story about how Napolean seized the crown from the Pope’s hands to put it on himself. I really wonder how the show is going to go on from here with the war basically over, but there is still the threat of the Terraism Cult on the horizon. How’s that for a pun? I’ll be disappointed if LOGH comes down to fighting a bunch of masked cult members, but I’m sure it has plenty more surprises in store for me.

Thoughts on Legend of the Galactic Heroes 1-28

Posted by Demian @ 11:27 am, August 2nd, 2008

I’ve finished the first batch of Legend of the Galactic Heroes episodes and I just have to say…wow. This show just blows me away. The characters, the story, the music, the pacing - everything is just perfect. This is one of the few anime that I would really call artistic as the themes and arguments it brings up are still relevant to this day, and indeed are relevant for all time. Several episodes got me thinking about various things, so I’m just going to go through and point at the stuff that interested me:

In ep.3 you got this great “with us or against us” speech by Truniht, the secretary of defense for the Free Planets Alliance. After his speech he’s immediately set upon by Jessica Edwards, a widow who had lost her husband in the previous battle. She asks Truniht where he was during the fighting and where was his family, or the families of any other politicians. For this action she is later attacked by the PKC, an illegal yet tolerated ultranationalist paramilitary group, but fortunately she is rescued by the quick actions of Yang Wenli. Living in America it’s easy for me to draw parallels between these events and the Iraq War, especially in the early years of the war. However, in truth these events could be related to any war, which is really what makes LOGH so fascinating.

In ep.4 it’s a very minor thing that caught my attention. There’s a brief ceremony where Reinhard is honored for his bravery in front of the Kaiser and other military officials. It is essentially a closed affair for the elite. Contrast this with the Alliance ceremony in the previous episode, which is a huge spectacle used by Truniht for political gain. It starkly contrasts the two societies governments and the way the leaders interact with the citizens.

In ep.5 (I promise I’m not going to go through every episode; the early ones were just awesome) we see Kircheis put down down a noble rebellion on Kastrop. The funny thing is that the noble runs the place like ancient Rome! Everyone wears togas and laurel wreaths and there’s pillars every where. When Kircheis does put down the rebellion the nobles followers, dismayed by his increasingly erratic behavior, stab him all at once just like Julius Caesar. The whole thing is just an ironic shout out to Caesar! It’s also a clever critique of dictatorship in an already autocratic society. Whether this is a foreshadowing for later events I don’t know, though a few minor nobles later on also get killed in a similar manner but replace daggers with lasers.

Ep.11 has another fun historical reference in the character of Marquis Benemunde, a noble who was once favorite of the Kaiser but is now forgotten as Reinhard’s sister Annerose takes her place. She concocts an elaborate planned, helped along by nobles who also despise Reinhard, to kidnap Annerose and poison her. To poison her Benemunde uses poison from her ring, a reference to Lucrezia Borgia from the Italian Renaissance. I only actually know this from Gankutsuou. After her plan is foiled she is allowed the “honor” of killing herself instead of being executed and is force fed her own poison. It’s all very medieval and brutal but also fascinating to watch. I also found it funny that in the Empire common thugs wear capes and masquerade masks. Are we really in the future?

Ep.18 features another ironical historical moment as the nobles rebel against Reinhard and fight for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Actually they’re just protecting their own skins, but the whole thing sure does look like the Tennis Court Oath that officially started the French Revolution.

LOGH has a lot of little characters that show up to provide a different view of things and put a human face on the often ugly facade of war. Ep.22 features the two most human guys that show up for thirty seconds in anime ever. The noble Littenheim is losing the battle and chooses to run away, but his escape path is blocked by his own supply ships. Instead of just going through them, since space is big and all, he instead opens fire on them. Right before this we get a scene with two guys, one of them showing a picture of his wife and newborn twins to the other, commenting on how he wants to go home and hold them soon. Both of them are then killed in the attack by their own forces. Now that’s just brutal right there.

Ep.23 features the greatest character conflict so far. Reinhard has to decide whether to prevent or not a noble nuclear attack on a planet. If he allows it then the nobles are basically finished as no good soldier will fight for them. But he’ll also be sentencing two million people to death. Like my favorite Star Trek episode “In the Pale Moonlight” everything is done perfectly here, with Reinhard’s reluctance, Oberstein’s machinations, and Reinhard’s acceptance that he’ll just have to ignore Kicheis’s opinion. A brilliant episode all around.

Ep.24 has the greatest weapon ever: chunks of ice shot at near light speed. Yang Wenli’s idea to get around an expensive automatic defense satellite is to just shoot ice really fast at it. It’s such a simple idea but the way the episode uses it is awesome. A real Crowning Moment of Awesome for Yang Wenli and ice. Also, more Antonin Dvorak used here.

Big spoilers here, but ep.26 is really the most surprising episode so far for me, as it basically kills of Kircheis, Reinhard’s best friend and heterosexual life partner. I’ve really tried to avoid spoilers for LOGH so I had no idea this was coming and I just assumed that Kircheis would survive seeing as how integral he was to Reinhard’s character. The effect this has on Reinhard is just devastating, as he immediately goes into a deep depression and by the time he comes out of it he’s definitely a different person. His eyes are drawn much colder and I really have to give credit to the animators for making me feel unsettle in his presence. This is now a guy who will either use you or kill you.

These are just a few highlights that I jotted down while watching, but really everything has been perfect so far. It’s just impossible to say everything that is so great about this series, from its very human relevance to all the historical shout outs for history buffs like me. I’m a quarter of the way on my journey and I’m definitely looking forward to more.

And for those who think LOGH might be boring, just look at all the gratuitous violence you’re missing. Real men in space fight with axes, after all.

I’m Embarking on the Greatest Journey a Man Can Take

Posted by Demian @ 10:47 pm, July 16th, 2008

Watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Two episodes in and I love it. There’s no more dynamic an opening than a giant space battle. I find it rather funny that the opening narration of the very first episode of a show about war basically says how war is meaningless and will ultimately be forgotten. Even Yang Wenli and Reinhard seem to know that, Yang probably more so, but the battle at the moment is more pressing.

LOGH immediately sets itself with two very different sides at war. In one corner it’s the Space Prussians - is there a better kind of prussian? - better known as theGalactic Empire. They have snazzy uniforms, cool german names (cause german is the most badass language ever), and everything from their ships to their houses possesses a unique 18th century austerity.

In the other corner there’s Democracy InAction, or the Free Planets Alliance. They wear french caps (yay revolution), have garish mechanical design (boo capitalism), name their ships after ancient greeks (yay oligarchy), and use fighters called spartanians. Probably trying to evoke the image of Sparta defender of Athenian democracy from the Persians, rather than the Sparta that fought meaningless wars for a century that led to Greece being conquered.

LOGH is one of the fews anime I’ve seen that actually feels like a proper space opera, partly because classical music is the soundtrack. But there’s also the distances involved, the grand movements of people, and the death star-like Iserlohn, covered in a sea of molten metal with its own patented planet smasher, Thor’s Hammer (yay norse mythology). Of course, LOGH is still a 110-episode OVA with multiple movies and side-stories, so this may be quite a long journey.