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Can you see those stars, Felix? Or are you just drunk with blood-colored dreams?

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During the very last scene of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, baby Felix gazes up at the night sky and grasps at the stars. “That might be an action that’s been repeated endlessly in any era, in any world,” the narrator poetically explains, adding that “Humans always pursue things that they can’t reach”, yet the knowing expression on Mittermeyer’s face is almost heart-breaking, “Felix, you too…?” This is, perhaps, the most emotional moment of the entire series, expressing everything that there is to love about Legend of the Galactic Heroes in a matter of seconds.
Alas, that isn’t enough. There is still so much more to say, so much more to explore. Hoping that more people may discover this fine series, and, perhaps, to dip myself into this story for one last time, I have carefully composed this (chronological) list of highlights from the series, but be warned, it contains massive spoilers.

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1. Fall of Marquise Benemunde
As the Goldenbaum imperial court looks on with heartless disdain, the screaming Marquise Benemunde is restrained by the Emperor’s guard and forced to drink from a glass of deadly poison. Her bitter end was the result of her desperation to reclaim the love of the Emperor, which she had lost forever to the beautiful (and much younger) Annerose, Reinhard’s beloved older sister.
The sheer indignity of this scene, combined with the casual formality of the court’s impeccably dressed on-lookers, is so pointlessly cruel and chillingly orchestrated that one is left in little doubt as to the morality lurking within the aging Goldenbaum ranks.

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2. Westerland nuke
Due to a small rebel uprising, Prince Braunschweig launches a massive nuclear strike at planet Westerland, intending to incinerate millions of innocent people. Reinhard’s immediate response is to intercept it, but his war-time adviser, Oberstein, suggests that he should just let it happen, as the public’s reaction to such an atrocity will swing the empire’s popular support in Reinhard’s favor, exposing the Prince and his allies as irredeemable villains. Reluctantly, Reinhard agrees and Westerland is decimated. Millions die as a means to an end.
This is the kind of political versus moral quandary that has no right answer. If Reinhard had stopped the strike, he could be dragged into a war of attrition which could claim millions of soldiers over a period of months (and even years, perhaps), but by allowing it, his rise to power is swift, albeit, forever tainted with the blood of Westerland. Neither is an easy choice to make, and for exactly that reason, we have a thrilling tête à tête between leaders, who, very literally, can forsake or save the lives of millions with one word.

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3. Kircheis’ death
One of most shocking moments in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the sudden death of Siegfried Kircheis, Reinhard’s dearest (and perhaps, only) friend. Up until this moment, he was one of the main characters, an uncommonly benevolent military commander who had spent his childhood with Reinhard. They dreamt of a better future together and were devoted to toppling the corrupt Goldenbaum dynasty, so his demise is tragic and ill-timed.
He is killed by Prince Braunschweig’s chief retainer, Ansbach, who pulls a giant weapon from within the Prince’s dead body but misses his main target, Reinhard. Kircheis tries to restrain Ansbach and is mortally wounded by the assassin’s then-concealed laser ring. Within minutes, he has bled to death. A stunned Reinhard is unable to accept what has just happened, and it scars him for life, as well as delivering a massive blow to his sister, Annerose, who had been secretly in-love with Kircheis this whole time. It’s a moment that Reinhard regrets for the rest of his life and drastically alters the complexion of the story.

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4. Geiersburg fortress vs Iserlohn fortress
There is something innately thrilling within the sheer spectacle of seeing two planet-sized, Death Star-esque fortresses, Geiersburg and Iserlohn, do battle. Credit is due for the audacious imagination required to even consider moving Geiersburg within seeing-distance of Iserlohn, while the battle itself is gob-smacking. Between the tomahawk-wielding Rosen-Ritter skiing across Iserlohn’s liquid surface, ripping apart Imperial soldiers as they do, and tactician Yang Wen-li’s brilliant trump card, leading to the destruction of Geiersburg via Iserlohn’s lightning strike, a.k.a Thor hammer, one can only conclude that this is epic anime, and it is awesome. Just think, this is what Star Wars could have been.

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5. The Battle of Vermillion
The defining moment between Reinhard’s Imperial rise and Yang Wen-li’s democratic Alliance is in the Battle of Vermillion.
Having blasted his way though line after line of Imperial defenses, Yang’s fleet has finally trapped Reinhard’s ship, the Brunhilde, but at this most critical of moments, Yang receives an order from his superiors (millions of miles away on his home planet of Heinessen) to surrender and, to the horror of many, he calmly acquiesces.
Thus, despite everything that he (and his Alliance) stands to gain from killing Reinhard, he won’t allow his command to override his government’s order. Walter Von Schenkopp urges him to fire and think later, to consider the history of the universe, Yang could even pretend to not have received the message in time, but he steadfastly refuses because to create such a precedent in history would forever undermine the strength of democracy in the future. Hence, many more lives are lost because Reinhard survives, but Yang’s loyalty to his political system is admirable. He isn’t at fault; it’s just bad luck that his government happens to be incompetent.

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6. The Battle of Marr-Adetta: Bucock’s end
At the Battle of Marr-Adetta, Old Admiral Bucock meets his maker. Battle-weary, yet too old to do anything but fight, he evacuates his remaining soldiers before rejecting Reinhard’s offer of mercy, instead choosing to go down with his ship. His final speech to Reinhard blazes with the kind-of respect and pride one can only feel for a man who has seen it all. He closes with a toast to democracy, composed as he tastes the last wine of his life, completely and utterly unshakable in his belief. It is a brave man’s end.

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7. Miracle Yang became Bloody Yang
For such an influential person, the irony of Miracle Yang’s death is that it’s not glamorous in the slightest. His luck merely runs out, as, having been shot through the leg by an unnamed terrorist, he bleeds to death in some dark corridor, alone. This is such a tragic and lonely way to die, but even still, his last words are an apology; all this time he has carried guilt for every life lost under his command.
His departure affects friends and enemies alike. Reinhard loses his last reason to fight and decides to retreat from battle, while Julian Minci, Yang’s dearest student, flies into a bloody rage before eventually helping to establish the Iserlohn Republic Government, leading their military in The Magician’s shadow.
Yang Wen-li’s presence constituted one half this story, his life, his love and his brilliance is documented through out the first three seasons and, like Kircheis’ sudden death, his shocking exit monumentally shifts the tone and direction of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

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8. Reuental’s rebellion
In the words of his best friend, Wolfgang Mittermeyer, Oskar von Reuenthal was “drunk with blood-colored dreams”. Somewhat carelessly, he rebels against Reinhard as if it was always his destiny, the very purpose of his life, but he loses the battle and dies.
Reuenthal was born with a rare eye condition called heterochromia iridum (both eyes are a different colour), which was used as proof that his mother was an adulterer. She committed suicide, but not before attempting to violently gauge out one of her son’s eyes! His father started drinking and blamed the young boy for everything that had transpired. Reuenthal never escaped this past and developed a taste for self-loathing; particularly strange was his relationship with Elfriede von Kohlrausch, who superficially hated him, despite carrying his child. His rebellion, and ultimately, his death, were all linked to this sad story. Reuenthal always wanted to be loathed, to be the villain.

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9. One final battle
Many great characters die in this final battle, Merkatz and Schenkopp amongst them. They sacrifice everything to create such a tiny opportunity for Julian to meet with Kaiser Reinhard face to face. Overwhelmingly, this feels like a battle of despair and hopelessness, with an almost suicidal agenda, every passing minute heaping on yet more death and grief, but finally, his moment arrives. Julian staggers forth into Reinhard’s quarters, barely able to stand from fatigue, covered with the blood of dear friends and hated enemies alike. And then they talk. This is a scene of quiet wonder.

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10. Reinhard’s death; a sword has no reason to exist but as a sword?
Reinhard von Lohengramm is the Edmond Dantes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a peerless avenger and prideful leader of men. He dies from a terminal illness, just two years into his reign as Kaiser, aged 25, said to have burnt away his life to fight. The end of his life marks the end of this great story.
Joined at his death bed by his beloved sister Annerose, she whispers “You haven’t had your fill of dreams, Reinhard?” “No,” he replies, “I had plenty that no one had ever seen before.” One can’t help but wonder, what could they possibly contain?
Reinhard’s greatness lies in the guilt he feels over Westerland, the regret that marks his every move after the death of his dearest friend, Kircheis, and the loneliness and vulnerability that eventually sweeps him into the arms of Hilda Mariendorf, with all the delightful romantic naivety that follows. He is a great character and, more importantly, a likable person.

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Editorials

A timely message

I can't believe I found such a relevant image.

There’s no specific point to this post, but for a few days now, I’ve wanted to write something for my blog, and thus, here we are, dear reader. It’s just that time of the year, I guess; a blank page and hours to spare. Themes or no, after nearly three years of doing this, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heart to say at least something before this year’s end. So, here we go.
Perhaps the logical thing for me to do would be to write a year-in-review list or some other vague spin on that lovable tradition of anime blogging? But I don’t feel like doing that this time around, I’m more concentrated on what I’m watching right now, like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s perfectly apt that the last anime I’ll finish in 2008 will be the one I’ve been locked in battle with since March. I’ll probably be relieved once it’s finally over, but probably a tad nostalgic too, because it’s always with such a bitter-sweet feeling that I let go of a story after such a long journey.
Another of those bitter-sweet journeys was Toward the Terra, which, I’m excited to note, I’ll (hopefully) be revisiting over Christmas via the original three-volume manga series, To Terra. I’m finding that my fascination with this story is an odd thing, really. It’s not easy for me to pin down either, but considering my feelings for a while, it may have something to do with the flow of time within the story.
Like in Gurren Lagann, where the characters seem to visibly age, grow into better people or terrible villains, but always changing. The same can be said of the thousands of years that pass between the stars in Gunbuster, or in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Such a clear and inevitable sense of flowing time, the characters’ lives, their dreams and ambitions, as brilliant as they may be, are so immensely small and ephemeral when set against the sheer magnitude of space and time. In such obscurity, it would be easy to give up, but these characters never do, they keep on going.
For me, that’s such a comforting sentiment, especially at the close of another year, where the subject of time progressing is literally the reason to party. So, if you celebrate it, I hope you have a great Christmas and, of course, a happy new year too. Ah, go on then, what did you get for Christmas? I hope you gave some awesome gifts, too?

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Lohengramm's advantage; contrasting dictatorship and democracy

A statue of Rudolph Von Goldenbaum, Emperor of the Galactic Empire

Though Legend of the Galactic Heroes might seem like a Death Note style dual of fates fought between two talented leaders (Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance respectively) it is what they represent, as much as who they are and what they believe, which is just as riveting; a contrast of dictatorship and democracy and the ways in which both political systems are essentially imperfect and doomed to a rapid degeneration.
Political and military dictators are demonised in the modern world, but Legend of the Galactic Heroes dares to suggest that its own peerless commander, Reinhard, is not as much an ignorant, soulless monster as a power-hungry genius riddled with insecurity. Though his methods can be callous (allowing a massive nuclear strike against his own people to swing public support in a civil war wasn’t his finest moment) he has displayed fundamentally good intentions, galvinised his people under a united cause and rebuilt his corrupt government into an aggressive and forward thinking force. But for all his strengths, the dictator’s worst enemy isn’t the present day, but the future, as decadence, complacency and arrogance takes hold.
By its very nature, the quality of a dictatorship is transient, being as it is limited to the strength of one man and his subordinates. Because there is no freedom to vote for a new leader, that power to control millions passes to the privileged few; nobles, friends and family not necessarily ingrained with the quality to lead a nation. As the ideals of that original generation dilute through time, the dictatorship becomes a dynasty. Rather than earn it, people are born into power and become arrogant. They no longer represent, or even understand, the man on the street, they fight for their own petty and corrupt reasons; power for the sake of power. Eventually, the common majority will grow wary of being ruled by those with no understanding of them and, put simply, a revolution is inevitable. This is exactly what happens during the first season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, as the impotent Goldenbaum dynasty, having grown weak and arrogant through generations of inbreeding, is completely shattered by Reinhard von Lohengramm‘s tactical nous. They have no answer to his genius because none in their privileged ranks can match his desire or intelligence to succeed. In such a situation, the death of a dictatorship is inevitable, but it remains a long and drawn out affair.

Ale Heinnesen, hero and saviour of the Free Planets Alliance

In these regards, democracy is the antithesis of the dictatorship’s long-term weaknesses. Most importantly, the populace has the right to remove the leaders they deem incompetent. Ethically, it’s a better system, but at times of war, democracy faces a distinct disadvantage against the likes of Lohengramm. While the Galactic Empire moves with the poise and clarity of its talented protector, the Free Planets Alliance is bogged down with bureaucracy; days, even weeks, can be wasted in discussions and votes searching for agreement.
While a dictatorship can condition (propaganda) its people into believing anything, a democratic government is tasked with offering an unbiased education system and, vitally, freedom of choice and speech. The Galactic Empire can conscript soldiers, but the Free Planets Alliance cannot; capitalism takes hold as the public, quite rightly, chase their own desires and become reluctant to fight a war that, for them, means little. Politically, the government is mired in corruption; money-grubbing politicians content to delay vital processes for the sake of their own gain. In Lohengramm‘s Empire, such hesitancy would be warmly greeted with execution, but in the Alliance, long inquiries, investigations and proof are required.
Where do I stand on all this? Though I believe a dictatorship like Lohengramm‘s can work, it still relies on the fundamental good nature and whims of one man. If the Empire triumphs, will Reinhard (with shades of Gurren Lagann) step aside and offer the people a chance to elect their own leader, or will the Empire have to live with another gradually failing dynasty? Democracy is a better system and offers a safer future for the human race. However, without the luck of discovering Yang Wen-li, I expect the Free Planets Alliance would have long ago fallen into Lohengramm‘s hands. Obviously, democracy is ill-suited in times of war, and though it has survived in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I wonder if that’s merely an illusion conjured by Yang Wen-li’s talent? And if one man is so important, isn’t that an (albeit ambiguous) form of dictatorship any way?

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The light of dawn always comes right after the deepest darkness

Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire

Writing an anime blog is frustrating. Either through lack of time or energy, I just haven’t felt the inclination to set aside an afternoon to write about something. I guess that’s more a reflection on my recent viewing habits than anything else, because since finishing with February’s Ookiku Furikabutte, I’ve not been able to immerse myself in a series to the point where I could contribute any kind of worthwhile, extended writing. Indeed, I was hoping to uncover some inspiration after catching up with two long time favourites, Naruto and One Piece, but to be honest, neither are firing on all cylinders at the moment. So, I’m sorry, dear reader, if things have seemed on the short side of late, but that I’m here now is as sure a sign as any that I’ve found something new to light the night; it’s an old flame I’ve been sheltering for too long, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Reinhard von Lohengramm enters the Royal Chamber

There’s no easy way to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It is, in many ways, the crowning achievement for an entire generation of anime creators, a nigh-on ten year production that ran from 1988 to 1997 and stretches across 110 episodes. Quite remarkably, it contains the largest voice cast for any known animated production. All these artists, directors and actors, they lived through (and even worked on) such influential space operas as Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross and Space Battleship Yamato, and before retiring, they created this as a tribute to, or culmination of, their beloved star-fairing era. Essentially, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that generation’s parting sentiment, their last, glorious hurrah, its opulent texture and poetic scope sweeping through distant stars to study man’s political, historical, romantic lust for power.

Reinhard's best friend, Kircheis, and his sister, Annerose

We have two protagonists at the heart of this story; ambitious aryan Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire (based on 19th century Prussia, hence the German names) and reluctant tactician Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance. By the time both men, notably younger than their peers, come into power, their sides have been fighting a war of attrition for over 100 years. Lohengramm’s lofty ambitions were set in stone when his beautiful older sister, Annerose, was bought (as in, with money) by the Kaiser to be his concubine. Reinhard rises through the ranks of the Empire’s military, gaining more and more power with each success, striving for the ostensible goal of winning back her freedom, though, with every passing victory; one wonders if he’s not planning to control the galaxy itself. Yang Wen-li is the exact opposite, in the sense that he isn’t driven by any lofty ambition, he doesn’t want to fight, and only does so out of loyalty to his comrades and for the sake of forging a peaceful future. Right from the start, there’s no real enemy to speak of, simply these two men on opposite sides of the fence, arch-rivals, geniuses, as fate would have it, striving for a better tomorrow.

Iserlohn about to fire the Thor Hammer

Their characterisation sets in motion this massive struggle for power engulfing man’s last frontier. So far, I’ve only seen up to episode 10, but during the first two episodes alone, over one million lives are sacrificed in battle. Much like Word War I, people are lost in their thousands, like pawns on a chess board at the hands of incompetent, pig-headed commanders too proud to quit. Also, there is a big Star Wars vibe, not least of all from the Empire’s gigantic fortress Iserlohn and it’s likeliness to the Death Star; the structure’s super-weapon, aptly named the “Thor Hammer”, can scythe through surrounding space-fleets with lightning force.

Yang Wen-li

I don’t want to write much more for fear of never ending; ultimately, this is a mere introduction to a series that’s all about social and political commentary, it’s so thought provoking that only a detailed, blow-by-blow study would suffice. Maybe that sounds intense? You’d be quite right; Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a concentrated, hard science fiction story heavy on philosophical dialogue (though not exactly at the level of Mamoru Oshii), military tactics and political manoeuvring. It has a wonderful, emotional score; rousing, soul-searching theatrical orchestra, utterly befitting for a story set within the Sea of Stars, where the whims of a select few carry the ideals and hopes of an entire generation.
You get the feeling that this is it, this is why I watch anime.

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Reviews

First look at: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

In a universe far, far away from Earth, an intergalactic war between two political systems has enveloped its peoples for centuries. The Free Planets Alliance (democratic) and the Galactic Empire (imperial) regularly clash in battles that claim millions of victims.
Leading the Galactic Empire ever onwards is Reinhard von Lohengramm, a relatively young admiral (20 years old) who has the brilliance and charisma of an experience war veteran. His only equal is the Free Planets Alliance’s Yang Wen-li, a talented tactician who is building a fearsome reputation as an unstoppable leader of men. On their young shoulders will rest the hopes and dreams of mankind.
Having been at a loss as to what to blog lately, I decided to dive into the murky depths of the AnimeSuki fansub archive. There is so much airing these days that it’s easy to overlook the older anime and 1988’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exactly that; numbering 110 episodes (it ended in 1997), this is an underrated space opera reminiscent of the earlier Mobile Suit Gundam TV series (minus the mecha).
As you would expect from a series called Legend of the Galactic Heroes, this is an impossibly epic story that covers mind boggling space and time. The two lead characters are admirable and involving, especially Reinhard von Lohengramm, who embodies such a classical ambition for power. The battles and overriding war theme will satisfy hardened military fans who enjoy an attention to detail and tactics- the first two episodes are almost entirely devoted to one gigantic battle; both a shocking melee of space combat and a tense tactical clash between Reinhard and Yang Wen-li. Just like MS Gundam, both sides have their own unique uniforms and power structures.
The animation despite beginning in 1988 isn’t bad at all. I really love the slender Victorian-esque character designs; there is a poetic rhythm to their cat-like movement and graceful expression.
Based on the first four episodes, I’m already hooked in by Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While it’s strong emphasis on political and military manoeuvring won’t be for everyone, this is a good old fashioned space opera set against the compelling lives of two star gazing, ambitious heroes.