Stargazing, Part 2 – Legend of the Galactic Heroes

I really liked how my last Legend of the Galactic Heroes blog came out, so I feel I should do more of them. I don’t have much experience with reviewing anime, but I hope my rambling has been entertaining so far.

This post should be a bit shorter, mostly because there’s less preamble to explaining the context of the series and this blog.

#Episode NameOriginal Air DateFocusWiki LinkWatched Version
S01E02“The Battle of Astarte”1988/12Mini-climax, context[LINK]Central Anime

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This episode continues on with the story of the Battle of Astarte, but it also introduces some key players and their role within the greater conflict. I’ve come to be interested in the Fezzan Dominion, mostly because they seem to be playing both sides of the war and hoping to come out ahead. They’re introduced here, watching the conflict from afar and waiting.

Reinhard opens the conflict against Yang Wen-Li (FPA)’s 2nd fleet, and we get a focused segment of the Reinhard Fleet mobilizing. This is probably the first time I’ve been chiefly aware of the use of classical music, and I feel it fits the “future, but with elements of the past” aesthetic. It lends itself to the feeling of fantasy; it feels whimsical and flighty, but also contributes to the regal nature of the Empire.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 Yang Foresight

We’re given more examples of Yang’s foresight when the flagship is attacked, and his commanding officer is incapacitated. We instantly see disorganization, and how much of the fleet depends on one person’s orders: turrets, engine rooms and other areas all radio in, unsure of what to do.

Unlike Lapp in the previous episode, Yang has the opportunity to seize his own survival as he takes control of the fleet. He asks for a medic, orders repair of the damage, and asks for return fire. This is a segment that actually stood out to me a lot because it all feels so mundane. We don’t see an exterior shot when the order is given to fire, and LOGH tells us that that is almost incidental. The battle is going on outside, but what’s truly important is happening here. “Fix the ships, and keep firing” don’t seem to have a lot of gravity when it’s coming from Yang, but that’s part of the point; I might be too used to anime fights in general needing that charisma.

Yang almost seems exasperated at the task in front of him. It feels like he should be thinking “Man, I’ve got to do this?”, which hardly seems fitting of a typical protagonist. This is partly why I began to like Yang — it’s subverting our expectations (forgive the RLM joke) but doesn’t seem like it’s coming from a cynical place. Yang is able to remain calm where others freak out, and that’s what contributes to his success; he knows what he has to do, opens a channel to the fleet, and gets that shit done. He even admits that this might be a bit presumptuous.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 Yang "Talks Big"

The second time we’re shown exterior combat footage, the shift back to the classical music seems a bit more jarring. There’s almost a ballet quality to these smaller ships fighting, and destruction doesn’t seem like it has that much in terms of stakes. It almost feels like it’s just another day at the office.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 Empire Starfighters

I can appreciate the ship design in this case, as they fly horizontally but attack perpendicularly to their path; this likely means a much safer avenue for the pilots and makes targeting easier. It also kind of feels vaguely naval, since they’re essentially making drive-by broadside attacks. I can appreciate the deviation from what we’ve come to know as normal, forward-firing X-Wings and the like.

We’re also shown FPA fighters for the first time, and much like the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, they’re much more colorful, personalized, and haphazard than the Empire’s uniformity.

I liked the animation they did for the starfighters and ships in this episode, including this sick ship melting sequence.

We’re also given a reminder of what we’re in for. We’re in Episode 2, but there’s a long way to go in the war. This continues Episode 1’s establishing of context, and deciding what the series is going to be.

Keeping with the Star Wars theme, I also like the inclusion and explanation of the Iserlohn Fortress; it’s essentially the Death Star, but if the Death Star was in one of two viable paths between the FPA and the Empire. These mini-history lessons and the use of maps give us a zoomed-out view of the universe that the conflict occupies, and also sets stakes for the inevitable conflict we’ll have at these locations. It’s definitely a Chekov’s Gun scenario, where I imagine there’s little use in showing things that aren’t important later.

Hell, it’s even got a superlaser.

Learning about the four previous Battles of Tiamat almost underscores that this battle is among many that will shape the course of history, and almost brings us back to the intro of Episode 1; the narrator literally tells us that this conflict is lost to the stars and ultimately is just one of billions of similar stories. However, we have reason to care about this: not because of the “good vs evil” stakes, but because we come to know characters that we care about and we’re interested in their narratives.

Seeing Yang read Reinhard’s strategy is again, a bit abrupt; it’s almost like a comedy scene where someone says “they’ll never see this coming” and then smash-cutting to “I totally saw this coming.” It kind of tells me that tactics don’t always need to be convoluted; you just might not get the benefit of time to think of a counter.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 Oroboros

Eventually, the stalemate that develops is kind of anticlimactic, but that’s the point. It’s showing that there’s a balance of battle that can shift, and there may not always be satisfying conclusions; sometimes you’re just looking to minimize losses. This result of the battle, with both fleets circling each other, also serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for the war itself. Both sides have the potential to destroy themselves in the pursuit of victory against their opponents.

Seeing Reinhard and Yang come to the same conclusion and predict each others’ actions puts them on the same level and allows the viewer to respect them as equals. Even if we have had the time to form our biases to one side or the other, we know that both of them are competent and this wasn’t dumb luck. Seeing them both realize that it’s in their best interests to retreat means we can tell they’re sound thinkers; I really enjoy Yang’s moment of glib humor while Reinhard is trying to be respectful, though.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 Brave Battle

As the episode runs down, I think there’s a stark reminder of the human element of the war as we head to the FPA capital of Heinessen. Seeing Jessica’s piano play break down as she grieves for the death of her fiance, Lapp, it makes it clear this will not be a series where we don’t see that suffering. People will die. Their loved ones will mourn. The war goes on.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes E02 "Our Job is War"

Pianos are probably the instrument of choice for showing sharp contrast and negative emotion. You only need to pound the keys to both imply how you’re physically reacting, and that reaction’s influence on the structured music.

Heading to Odin (the Empire Capital) we see the other side of that human element with Annerose being updated to her brother’s successes. Despite the anticlimactic end to the battle, it technically was a victory for the Empire against significant odds. We see that those victories bring status for Reinhard, and also reminds us that there’s politics to deal with in this story.

Leaping back to where we started the episode, Fezzan watches from afar and knows both the stakes, the outcome, and the players involved. They wait for their moment to strike.

We’ve got another hook.

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