Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These ?
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is known as a story that builds slowly, and this new version has been no exception. Even the stronger episodes so far have been tempered with the need to keep dropping in information and set up later events. This one, however, gets to succeed by being a culmination of so much of that set up. Unlike the establishing opening act or all the backstory and outlining we've gotten until now, this episode is definitively the end of a major arc. It's also comprised of everything that works about Legend of the Galactic Heroes enhanced by the particular advantages Die Neue These brings to the table.
It starts in the best ways, by improving on elements from the previous episode. This episode adopts a very particular spy-movie narrative structure, flashing back to Yang's crew discussing the infiltration plan as we see the actual occurrence of it unfold. However, unlike Yang's almost-solo spiel previously, Frederica and Schönkopf get to interject in the conversation as well, making it much more interesting to follow. This increases the interest factor in what is definitely supposed to be a tense, exciting situation we're watching. Furthering that is the series' smart choice to spend a few moments dialing up tension regarding Schönkopf's possible defection. It's not overplayed, simply alluded to just enough as another pile of things that could go wrong we see on this mission, and it does the job brilliantly.
In fact, it's seeing the infiltration take place step-by-step with several moments of concern over blown covers and wrong moves that makes this episode's take on the events work so well. Looking back at the book, this was a case of the plan merely being summarized before cutting very quickly to its success. The previous LOGH OVA expanded by changing up the actual details of the plan significantly, but this one sticks to the text's relatively minimal script and just adds in several bits that help it carry more weight. The specter of Schönkopf's potential defection has already been mentioned, but the other strong points come from the character of Schönkopf himself. This show slips in the tiny new detail of him carrying a pen that was an heirloom of his formerly Imperial Noble grandfather, then uses that to springboard to some short but effective flashbacks informing his childhood and why he might feel the way he does about the Empire. It's a terrific case of LOGH:DNT utilizing its format and adaptation options to tell a version of a story well-crafted for its particular medium.
In general, this is a very different version of Schönkopf than has been presented in previous versions of this story, compared to how closely everyone else's characterizations have stuck so far. The ladies' man character tics he's picked up seem grating at times, but it gives him a distinct flavor from other characters on the same side, and underscores potentially-unlikable elements of him that sit beside his ultimate trustworthiness and reliable skill. Taking time out to properly define him and bring that in to how he acts and executes the infiltration plan here was a smart move. Just the way that pen is defined and used in this story is a multi-layered device akin to the character's own definition.
Schönkopf's use in the first part of the episode is complemented by going back to Yang for the rest of it. Yang's driving off of the Imperial Fleet sticks much closer to the formula we've seen from LOGH in earlier episodes, with cuts to doomed Admirals signing their own death warrants with their arrogance. But it's all balanced out by seeing Yang's thought process, especially now that the story's cards regarding its opinion on war and senseless sacrifice have been laid out on the table. It lets us finally see how Yang chooses to fight when he's not a scrappy underdog but has an overwhelming advantage, and the reaction of Schönkopf adds to that already-strengthened character as well. This segment also does well to keep Oberstein in frame, so if the audience hadn't already picked up that he would turn out to be important, they should have by now. His opinions and motivations are hinted at just enough to keep us interested in when he'll turn up again.
With as tight as the storytelling is in this episode, a few notable things from earlier versions of the material will be missed. The exact details of Iserlohn Fortess's workings, particularly its near-residential city-like nature, aren't mentioned (beautiful as the shots of the ships entering the fortress are). And of course many people (myself included!) will be sad to find no trace of the famous axe-fighting scenes that were added to the OVA's version of these events. And while the pacing is the most on-point the series has been pretty much ever, it does still manage some of its familiar slowdown in the second chunk.
But so little of that actually matters in the face of everything else this episode gets right. By using the spy-flick format to turn this part of the story into its own unique event, and adding characterization and detail work that the source material could have benefitted from, we end up with probably the best take on the capture of Iserlohn a version of LOGH has produced. I genuinely hope this represents this series fully finding its footing, as if it can keep up this level for its second half, Die Neue These will turn out to have been well worth it.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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