Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These Second
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These Second (movie series) ?
It's a long road these Galactic Heroes have started down, and things are necessarily going to get worse before they get better. We're back with Yang and the Alliance this episode, and the start of a series of tragedies that will affect our main characters and the course of this currently quite-fractured war. It's a fascinating point of the series to think that the freshly-opened civil wars and all those complications that both sides are currently dealing with came about simply as the result of the untimely death of one person, the Emperor. That's the intent, of course, that even the finely-machinated plans of Reinhard and Yang can't stand up against the rigors of the randomness of the world.
Die Neue These still seems to be reveling in comparisons of Yang and Reinhard's leadership styles, even as they remain cordoned off from each other by episode breaks. In particular, this one seems less concerned with how Yang himself leads and more with how he's viewed by the soldiers surrounding him. The very beginning of this episode has Yang clarify how he understands that he as himself and ‘The miraculous Yang Wen-Li’ are effectively different people separated by the fame afforded to them, with Julian offering that Yang's refusal to get lost in his own self-importance is what makes him so effective as a leader. It's a cute moment between the adopted father and son, and the most levity this episode gets.
One key contrast shown between Yang and Reinhard here is how they regard the ‘traitors’ on the opposite side of their respective civil war. Being made up of the noble class he hates so much, Reinhard is quick to label the Empire's defectors as traitors and seek to slaughter to lot of them. But Yang still regards those behind the coup in the Alliance as his countrymen, many of them being fellow soldiers he fought alongside not long ago. This is mostly demonstrated during the titular battle of the Doria Starzone, as the Yang Fleet's strategy draws out their attacks on their former allies, sincerely wishing they'll surrender before they have to wipe them all out. It ends up working eventually, but as a hollow victory with the commander Legrange trying to sway Yang to his nationalistic principles with a dramatic suicide- Right in front of young Julian!
LOGH seems to be trying to nominally push the idea that these former comrades of Yang's are still on his ‘side’ in the usual sense of the series that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people on every side in a conflict. But in practice it doesn't quite work. The military coalition aren't the unilaterally unlikable batch that Reinhard's foes the nobles all are, but still mostly come off as too viciously nationalistic for their own good. Even the exceptions to that bring their own brand of antagonism instead of more nuance. This episode also includes the introduction of Baghdash, a twerp sent in an initial bid to assassinate Yang, itself another parallel to what we watched involving Reinhard last week, and a sign of the respect Yang's enemies have for his influence. Unlike the aforementioned Legrange, who is willing to kill himself in a bid to impart his principles, Baghdash is too willing to discard his principles if it ensures his own survival. However I'm not sure the contrast works as effectively as the show wants it to. Baghdash certainly comes off worse than Legrange by comparison, but Legrange's ultimate nationalism seemed mostly as unhinged as the rest of the explicitly-antagonistic coalition forces.
LOGH doesn't assist that on the subtlety front with its proselytizing this episode either. Even by this series' standards, this episode has some of the most overt political declarations we've seen yet. This is within the Alliance's story, so they're of course lots of declarations from Yang on the importance of protecting individual freedoms over loyalty to a symbolic nation, or why the seemingly-safe allure of violent fascism is no justification for taking out those you only feel threatened by (nicely demonstrated on a micro level with the singular threat of Baghdash). If you've kept up with LOGH this long, you're likely at least understanding of Yang's worldview being the sympathetically-presented one, and I certainly would neither desire nor expect Yoshiki Tanaka to offer a rebuttal of it in the form of any defense of a nationalistic military coup. But it does serve as a reminder that Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn't the 100% neutral, pure ‘horrors of war’ story some similar franchises aim to be.
That point converges interestingly in the final scene of this episode, the stadium protest at Heinessen. The conceit of this part, the military intervention in a peaceful protest and the unfortunately-inevitable outcome you can guess at as soon as the lead-in starts, is one that's gut-wrenching to watch in any time period, but also notable for how Die Neue These reworks it a bit compared to its sources. Importantly, this is the last scene of the series for Jessica Edwards, killed here and initiating a massacre that affects the coalition and their awareness of their place with the people of the Alliance. Jessica's had unfortunately less to do in this version of the story compared with her incarnation in the older OVA adaptation, meaning there's less lead-up to her stand here. Die Neue These makes the interesting choice of omitting a lot of the speech from the military aggressor, Christian, calling out the pacifism of Jessica's group, instead seeming to simply question their loyalty to her and her cause. In place of that, it's Jessica who gets to articulate that willingness to die for any cause, pacifism implicitly included, is a foolish metric to measure its worthiness by. It's an interesting spin that goes along with this show's point (especially this episode) of not affording what it sees as the antagonistic points of view the primary platforms. It also seems to exist in service of giving Jessica a little bit more to do at her eleventh hour, though it ironically is punctuated with her dying for her cause.
The presentation of the riot at the stadium and the following massacre then feels oddly neutral in comparison to all those preceding choices, though it is accurate to the source text. The story seems to present Christian and his protester-attacking bloodlust as a unique factor that led to the situation losing control. Notably, the protestors themselves are shown attacking and fighting back in the wake of Jessica's death, seeming to demonstrate that her own model leadership was the lynchpin holding their play at pacifism together. The narration also seems to deliver the (comparatively smaller) number of soldier deaths along with the civilians massacred as being equally tragic, which doesn't jibe with me in the wake of the other parts of its worldview articulated. The scene at the stadium is a tragedy, to be sure, but one instigated by the military coalition the narrative had until now been so critical of. The soldiers themselves are afforded little in the way of us seeing how much their own principles lead them into the massacre, with Die Neue These instead opting to add in a single ‘instigating’ gunshot of unknown origin. It all smacks a little too much of ‘both sides’-ism in a storyline that hadn't reached too hard for that before.
The result of all of this is an episode of LOGH that feels uneven- Heavy on the platitudes but mild on demonstrating the evils those rally against. At times it very nearly feels like it's blaming a few bad actors for problems it otherwise knows arise as a result of toxic grouped worldviews. Most of this is material that was already present and functional in the core version, so the issues come down to presentation. And while the core here still works and is riveting and compelling at times, the presentation feels too conflicted at key points.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These Second is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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