After a pair of mostly-flashback episodes focused on everyone’s favorite battle bros, it’s time for Legend of the Galactic Heroes to get back to what it’s more known for: Politicking! Four weeks might seem like a while to take to show the effects of the societal upheavals brought about by the resolution of the previous major arc, but this is LOGH, it takes its time. That said, these episodes give off the impression that the team handling these movies knew they had to put some more…traditionally exciting material like spaceship battles and classist intrigue up-front, since what actually advances the story here can hardly be considered white -knuckle popcorn entertainment material.
A lot of that’s just the nature of the beast. When Yoshiki Tanaka Isn’t portraying the unfolding of excitingly clever military strategies, he’s waxing about political philosophy through the lens of historical context. So it goes that much of the 28th episode of DNT is dedicated to showing us what the Empire under the rule of Reinhard actually looks like. At first it appears they might be taking a brisk, structurally-clever tack at communicating that to us, as we actually hear about Reinhard’s reforms and how well-received they are via the Alliance, getting an earful from their new prisoners regarding how awesome Reinhard is. It’s a unique way of utilizing the two sides of the narrative, and allows us to have Yang on hand to explain what Reinhard’s nascent brand of ‘Liberal Imperialism’ might actually mean for such rule in the long-term.
Of course, the subject of imperialism, dictatorships (benevolent and not), and how that works with populistic will is a subject that’s only going to encompass LOGH‘s thematic storytelling more and more as it goes on. For the time being though, we have the benefit of Yang’s own historical context for all this happening to set the stage, as it’s made extremely clear that the benefits the people are experiencing in the moment are tied exclusively to that moment and the whims of their new leader. And don’t worry if you didn’t catch that, because the show will be happy to repeat it again later in the same.
Otherwise, it’s an episode that tries to show off the effects of the reforms from all angles, possibly attempting to provoke a reaction from a receptive audience. It’s easy to sympathize with Reinhard’s particular brand of consolidated leadership when it also results in redistributing wealth from those wealthy nobles LOGH loves roasting so much, or relieving penalties for speaking out against the government itself. But shows of changes in the atmosphere of the Empire only goes so far when the anime’s storytelling is still basically in Civics Textbook mode, repeatedly panning over scenes of these societal effects with some narrative explanation, only loosely connected with the somewhat clunky visual device of a stray dog that will eventually be adopted by Oberstein. See, everyone else tried to feed the dog with the spoils of their reformed government, but it wouldn’t accept them, and only Oberstein knew what it actually wanted and needed to sate its hunger, get it?
I need to stress that I already love the ideas LOGH is playing with as this part of the story gets underway. It’s a strong prompt for the audience, the question of if such a benevolent dictatorship is only preferable in comparison to the repression of the previous administration. We know from his past that Reinhard personally believes in the principles behind these reforms, but that’s complicated by the fact that he’s clearly also implementing them as a conscious power-play for uses he knows he’ll need later. It’s conceptually fascinating and stimulating – and it really is the sort of thing that works better in written form rather than trying to watch it play out as an episode of television. All the attractive background art in the world can’t punch up the debate-club arguments that are, for the moment, only tangentially important to the progressing plot at hand. In that respect, LOGH DNT is lucky it does look nice and its ideas are actually salient, as so many other shows have been doomed by their lesser efforts attempting this similar staid structure.
That said, such a problem is possibly more pronounced in the 29th episode. Whereas the previous one was a demonstration of the effects of external politicking, this one turns its focus on internal politicking. Huge amounts of its exposition are focused on the reasoning for characters being put in particular command positions for what the actual narrative focus of this part of the story is: The and warping of Geiersberg Fortress to retake Iserlohn. I think there is something to appreciate in part of the setup here necessitating a recap of some of the events and status quo from earlier in the series (it has been a while, with several gaps, and LOGH isn’t known for not having a lot going on). But that bleeds into the storytelling for the whole episode itself, as so much of it, similarly to that last one, consists of explanations of things that are happening, backed by characters explaining why it is happening. Again, some of the framing of the production looks nice, but compared to that dramatic Mittermeyer and Reuenthal plot, or the premiere Julian episode, this is definitely more the dry, over-explanatory LOGH preceded by its reputation.
It doesn’t all have to be this way. Some of the framing material for this one goes the appreciable route of focusing on the families of characters. There’s a check-in with Kempff, who will be commanding the Iserlohn-recapturing mission, and his wife and kids, with some reflection on his previous preference for participating in direct combat, and how his relative safety in a commanding position is appreciated in comparison to that. Then, at the end of the episode, we shift over to Yang and Julian visiting with Caselne and his family, prompting discussion of Yang’s own seeming flippance towards his safety within and without the Alliance organization. It’s strong stuff that both articulates a concept and characterizes the people in this story, but even these parts feel like 50% story recap and theoretical sociological discussions. The apex of this issue is the episode’s attempts to focus on Reinhard; As the narration drones on about all the impact the preceding plots have had on his personality, complete with flowery metaphors, we simply watch him stone-facedly going about his business. It nearly comes off like an audio-book of the material at times, which is decidedly not the vibe you want a fancy theatrical animated adaptation to have.
So much of this is seeding for all those forthcoming plot lines, so it’s necessary one way or the other. But LOGH can and has done better, in this incarnation and others. This comes off too much like the dry, impersonal handling of the material I know DNT has struggled with on and off through its history, exacerbated by the base story material still being strong, alongside flashes of more intimate personal potential. It reaches a ‘hope for the best’ apex, that the series’ more effective dramatic elements from the episodes before these ones can intersect with the way the story has otherwise picked up, and deliver on the impact we know it’s supposed to have it once gets going. Our thought experiments based on its political-theory debate prompts can’t keep doing all the heavy lifting.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These – Collision is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.