Majestic Prince

Every season has its dark horses and this one is no different. I’ve been excited about Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet since the offset, but I ignored Majestic Prince, which I figured would be as cliché as it looked. I don’t know if it’s just Hisashi Hirai’s dated character designs or the general vibe of nostalgia that permeates its whole production, but Majestic Prince feels old. For example, I’ll always remember Hirai’s drawing style for his work on 1999’s Infinite Ryvius (and later, 2002’s Gundam SEED,) but there’s other points of reference, too, like how it has an ending theme by Chiaki Ishikawa of Bokurano’s great Uninstall OP. It all just feeds into that datedness that has seen many dismiss it with barely a second glance. Like I did, sadly. It has a score of 6.77 (from 3001 users) on MyAnimeList, which is notably low for what’s fast becoming a very decent series, but is also revealing in how far out of sync it seems to be with the fans of today.
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The scent of flames: Armored Trooper Votoms

Welcome to Sunsa

To be honest, I doubt there is much I can say that will convince you to take a look at Armored Trooper Votoms. It’s an old series, with a heavy emphasis on war. Chirico is no Kamina. The characters are gritty and unrefined. When it can be hard to sit through just the 1 episode, 52 feels impossible, so I couldn’t blame anyone for not seeing in this series what I do, because it is most definitely an acquired taste; it’s just that I have acquired it.
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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.

Another step Toward the Terra, circa 1980; old or not, it's still great

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Although I like to recommend older anime, sometimes even I can find it hard to sit through something that was created in decades past. My problem isn’t necessarily anything to do with the old fashioned animation or digging the vintage aesthetic, rather I have issues with the story telling; while modern anime flows and climaxes with a clearly calculated (and looking at the “moe” genre, I should say cynical) vision, much from the “classic” era of anime (running from the 1970s until the mid/late 1980s) seems prone to eccentric (almost goofy) characterisation and a choppy sense of direction (I’ve been burnt by watching too much Yoshiyuki Tomino anime). Basically, old anime clearly feels different, foreign and slower, and compared with the break-neck pace of today’s offerings, it can be hard to acclimatise, but, and I want to make this clear, it’s worth making all the effort you can muster to watch the 1980 movie version of Toward the Terra (a.k.a Terra e), especially if you loved the 2007 TV series; indeed, it’s just as good.
If you can remember my original review of Toward the Terra, I lamented it’s somewhat cliche opening few episodes. Our hero Jomy discovers that he’s a part of the psychic Mu tribe and retreats into obligatory phases of angst and denial. This was probably the most boring and over-wrought section of the TV series, but the movie really captures the chilling reality of living within such a strict society; a place where daring to question the rules is met with only one answer, execution. When Jomy is forced to leave his mother behind, knowing full well all his beloved memories are to be erased, it feels genuinely wrong, unnatural and ultimately, painful. His liberation is a relief.

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The other major difference between the TV series and the movie is a delicate romance between Jomy and Karina, which ultimately conceives the precocious nipper Tony; the first natural-born human for decades. This thread includes the particularly lovable scene of a nervous Jomy strutting back and forth in a hospital waiting-room while Karina is in labour. For some reason, and no doubt, to the delight of the shonen-ai fans, they never hooked up in the TV series, but Tony ended up regarding Jomy as his “grand-father” anyway.

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Of course, since the movie runs a little less than 2hrs, which is a paltry sum compared to the nigh-on 10hrs worth of TV episodes, there are a number of secondary characters who either lose a lot of their importance or simply don’t appear at all. Soldier Blue, Matsuka and especially Shiroei show up for little more than confusing cameo roles before being cast aside, while Swena is no where to be found at all. Thankfully, Keith was as interesting as I remembered him; a callous monster willing to commit mass-genocide while his lonely soul gradually discovers empathy in the Mu’s struggle for peace.

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The end of both versions is very similar, though if just for clarity’s sake, I prefer the epilogue of the film which better explains the purpose of the Mu. They are created and allowed to live, despite ostensibly being hunted, because potentially, they represent the next stage in man’s evolution. Butchering the Mu at birth could be seen as akin to forsaking humanity’s future and condemning the next generation to weakness; forever mollycoddled by the all-powerful computer system that’s simply maintaining the status quo. That the Mu survives given a slim chance, and begins to thrive in the face of such odds suggests, as Darwin’s Law would have it, that they are the future.

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There is so much more to say about the story, but I’ll leave it at that until I get around to reading Keiko Takemiya’s award-winning original manga too. Along with several others, she pioneered shojo manga and it amazes me to think she started writing this in 1977 (and finished in 1980); it’s so old and yet, I love it; completely and utterly. Be it 1980 or 2008, To Terra…. is just a wonderful story, a timeless one, even, that I can always watch or read and be completely lost in imagination.

Please embrace the brilliance of Toward the Terra

1949q.jpgA lot of great anime premiered in the 2007 spring season. In fact, there is too much to mention, and for that reason, I suppose many people overlooked Toward the Terra. I struggled through the first four or five episodes and was feeling pretty apathetic about it myself.
The truth is that it begins with a very cliche first five episodes — basically, our hero Jomy, the blonde pretty boy with psychic powers, inadvertently uncovers this gigantic government conspiracy and after barely escaping with his life, joins the rebel forces in escaping the genocidal forces of mankind. It’s fairly standard science fiction stuff, especially in this post-Matrix era, and it seems worse because it’s directed in such a melodramatic fashion.
Everything changes when we meet Keith Anyan, an artificial human groomed by "mother" (the all controlling computer system) to be the perfect soldier. Keith is the primary villain of the show, but when we first meet him, he is but a promising young man training for an "elite" career in the military. There is little or no hint of the demon that as of episode 17, willingly unleashes the "flames of hell" by firing the Megido, a gigantic, planet destroying weapon worthy of Gunbuster.
I’m writing all this because I’m falling for Toward the Terra. It makes exciting use of a fascinating narrative structure that, over the last 17 installments, has made several decade-long time leaps; we’ve seen confused teenagers growing into charismatic leaders as an entire race of people (the Mu — Jomy’s race of psychic humans) immigrate across space and settle on an uninhabited planet, only to be blasted off when the humans hunt them down. There are no fillers or "padding" episodes, every scene is dense with plot, moving the narrative ever onwards. As it turns out, Towards the Terra has a lot to say.
This is a series that doesn’t much care for human nature and our fear of the unknown. Understandably, the Mu just want to live in peace, but typically, us humans aren’t having it. This is underpinned with a healthy mistrust of technology — as pointed out above, modern man is controlled for his own good by "mother"; an evil computer system apparently inflicted with the same fears, discrimination and concerns as ourselves.
Jomy and Keith are two sides of the same coin; Jomy’s an ardent pacifist with his heart set on peace, only using his immense powers to protect, while Keith is the perfect soldier; he follows every order, no matter how morally redundant; he is programmed to hate – he is a monster. On an individual basis, the Mu is so much stronger than the average human, yet they are good-willed people, and therefore, pushovers. However, that’s all about to change as in one of the most interesting developments yet, the latest generation of Mu children born on the destroyed planet of Nasca have inherited that "will of the flame" and like their human enemies, are strong-willed, aggressive and powerful. The message? Hate begets hate. Basically, the bully is about to get pay-back; sucks to be human!
untitled-1.jpgIt’s an interesting twist of ideologies. Jomy will have to try and reign in on the growing aggression within the Mu and teach them that an eye for an eye will do nothing but perpetuate the violence, while Keith, sooner or later, will be forced to question his orders and recognise the value of every life, human or otherwise.
With all this in mind, I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the small number of people watching Toward the Terra. No doubt, many will be turned off by the straight laced, conservative characterisation; there is little to no humour, crude fan-service or eccentricities; it’s very serious. Similarly, the retro-1980s aesthetic is rarely popular these days. All of this, coupled with the generic opening episodes, appear to have resulted in a relatively small audience and honestly, it’s a great shame – the thought provoking and fascinating Toward the Terra deserves better.

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.