Legend of the Galactic Heroes - season 2
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Year:
1991-1992
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Studio:
Kitty Films
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Episodes 27-54
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Review date:
12 June 2017
I don't really like it, to be honest. I don't think I get on with Yoshiki Tanaka. However I can see that it's a huge, ambitious epic of future history, where the plot is like reading a history textbook about the entire human race in the late 36th century. It's got empires, democracies and nasty little two-faced schemers caught between them. It's got war and conquest. I can see why the show's famous, as indeed are Yoshiki Tanaka's original novels.
My problem with it, I think, is the same one I had with Arslan Senki. (Same author.) It's the kind of thing you get in bad historical fiction. It's all about the big story. Nation-states! Battles! Thoughtful analysis of political systems! All this is being taken deadly seriously, with a plodding pace and lots and lots of detail. Characters... um, yeah, well. There are dozens of them, but almost none of them matter. This is the story of the Galactic Empire (based on 19th century Prussia, with significant drift in the direction of Nazi Germany) and the democratic Free Planets Alliance (based on some very sour opinions of the problems with democracy). This is not a story where someone like you or I could make the slightest difference. A bad or boring episode of this series (of which there are many) will have sincere, earnest people having conversations that have absolutely no impact on anything and could all be cut. Everything that's happening that matters is interplanetary-level and will be slooooowly grinding its gears in the background.
The important characters are:
1. YANG WENLI, greatest military genius of the Alliance. He's also frivolous, lazy, dislikes the military and has no time for patriotism. He doesn't love his country. He thinks the politicians are useless, although he approves of the fact of their existence. He loves the ordinary people who always get crushed underfoot at times like this and he always has a thoughtful, compassionate reason for his actions. He's really a historian, not a soldier.
Yang Wenli's the one and only character in this show who could be called fun. He doesn't take things seriously and he's got a sense of humour about himself.
2. REINHARD VON LOHENGRAMM, greatest military genius of the Empire. He's a would-be dictator who's taken a vow to conquer the known universe and has the brains to back that up. You wouldn't call him nice, but he's certainly a better leader than the Alliance have managed to choose. He has no patience with the old, inefficient ways of doing things (e.g. self-serving aristocracy) and he's aware that it's unhelpful to let your troops commit atrocities. If he conquers a planet, for instance, he'll have his own troops shot at dawn if they start killing or raping the locals.
3. military assistants, subordinates, students, etc. who give advice and in some cases are interesting people, but they're still not the ones who actually make a difference to anything. Their involvement is liable to be just palace intrigue, or the equivalent.
Tomoko's read some of Tanaka's books, but she dropped them because he was getting political. I can see that. There's a lot of politics here. Theoretically it's even-handed. Tanaka's savvy enough to avoid straw man arguments. His characters will explore both sides of the issues, making good points thoughtfully and clearly. You can't disagree with what they're saying.
It's also hard to disagree with the specific points being made by the show itself. Yes, democracy is prone to the failings he describes. Yes, elections are capable of filtering the wrong way and picking on the biggest self-publicising douchebag on the planet. So what if they've got a vigilante fascist army who go around hospitalising people? What's important is that they look good on TV! All of this is perfectly reasonable bashing and it's undeniable that there have been frighteningly many people elected in real life who are just as bad as this, or worse. However it still looks a little odd held up alongside the show's positive depiction of dictatorship. Even when Yang Wenli's pointing out the flip side of the arguments, I couldn't help but notice, for instance, that the show never examines the unexplored potential in the Alliance's unpleasant-but-toothless mass media. A free press should be an integral part of what makes democracy work, whereas this lot are just pointless. (Japan's journalistic tradition is of course deferential to an unhealthy degree.) A stronger argument should have been making specific points like that, I think, instead of just giving the impression that it sees liberal democracy as degenerate.
It's quite refreshing to see this argument being made, though, and furthermore quite well. It's a very right-wing argument. Pointing that out isn't a counter-argument, though, and the person who points out its flaws the most efficiently is Yang Wenli.
This is the kind of show that you sort of admire. I can see its virtues. I'm probably going to watch all 110 episodes of this famous anime adaptation, not counting the 52 side-story episodes and more, but I'm pretty sure I'm also going to be bored and a bit bad-tempered about it. This kind of thing rubs me up the wrong way. Entire episodes can go past while I'm waiting for a scene where the characters are anything other than grains of sand in the grinding wheels of history. I'll wake up when Yang's on-screen, or to a lesser extent Reinhard. There are some lesser characters I sort of like too. Broadly speaking, though, I think this show is at best a dull sort of okay that only redeems itself through the sheer scale of the story it's telling. Personally I'd have no interest in writing something like this, but I can't deny its ambition.
Besides, it can surprise you. It can move achingly slowly sometimes, but this is a show where big things can happen. It's serious, intense and high-minded. Admittedly that's an eccentric kind of high-mindedness, but nonetheless sincere.
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