Why are the Villains in the First Season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes so Stupid?!?

rh74

I’m rewatching the show, and after 24 episodes I’ve stopped making excuses. The villains in Legend of the Galactic Heroes are shamefully incompetent. Andrew Fork and the Alliance Admirals who adopted his invasion plan; Yang Wenli’s contemporaries; Prince Braunschweig and the Imperial Nobles; the most respectable opposition outside of Merkatz were the provided by the Salvation Rebels, but Yang sure trounced them like idiots.

It’s actually quite jarring to contemplate how inferior the opponents are for our genius Galactic heroes. I was actually ready to devalue the whole show due to this disappointment when I figured things out. [SPOILERS, BE WARNED]

I DIDN'T MAKE THIS BUT I LOL'D

The first order of perspective is to remember that the narrative sets up the main rivalry between Reinhard and Wenli. They and theirs are the ones who will and should provide the satisfying war. This set up is accomplished by culling the unworthy in the early going while demonstrating the contrast of their competence against everyone else who are comically inept, and arrogantly so. Eventually, they will face off.

The second order of perspective is that LotGH is a tragic narrative. Part of this tragedy, and it is a sublimely delicious part, is how the actual head-to-head fight between the two is so rare, and so brief, and in many ways settled by external factors. It was intentionally unsatisfying; tragically unfulfilling, until you think about it and how it is precisely part of the tragedy how the best military minds in the galaxy never had a proper face-off. Yeah, Vermillion happened, and Wenli pretty much had Reinhard but shit hit the fan and he had to forfeit all that battle’s hard won advantages when Hilde Marriendorf had the admirals capture Heinessen in a “higher order checkmate.”

This is huge, because Reinhard won the war without beating Yang Wenli in battle. Then not too long after, Yang Wenli dies. This is the tragic empty cup that awaited Reinhard at the podium. This is also the kick in the nuts we get as viewers – to be denied a definitive rematch to satisfy all that anticipation as a result of 50 episodes or so of buildup.

The third order of perspective is that despite the extreme juxtapositions of quality among those aligned with Reinhard/Wenli, and those who fight against them, the storytelling is actually restrained and careful. This is also what manufactures meaningfulness. The tragedy discussed above illustrates a finite universe and a transient history. The few years Reinhard and Wenli fought their enemies and each other became the high point of military history. There will be no more great battles to fight, and great warriors to beat. This informed the tragedy of Oskar von Reuenthal, who was good enough to rival both Reinhard and Wenli, but instead had to be dispatched by his best friend Wolfgang von Mittermeyer with overwhelming odds.

image

Wolfgang would have to survive, Reinhard said, to pass along the learning of tactics during Reinhard’s campaigns – as the last great admiral who fought and witnessed how Wenli, Reinhard, and Oskar fought (along with the other notable warriors such as Merkatz, Bucock, etc.).

It is with these perspectives that I can accept the grating and annoying incompetence of the villains in the first season of LotGH, along with a new appreciation of the tragedy at how one of the greatest warriors didn’t get to fight against Wenli when it mattered; wasted against the likes of petty Imperial Nobles, and stupid Alliance Admirals. I mean, how would Vermillion turn out, if only Sigfried Kircheis were still alive?

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I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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30 Responses to Why are the Villains in the First Season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes so Stupid?!?

  1. lelangir says:

    I found the Alliance government to be Yang’s biggest ‘enemy,’ the government’s strategic politics (invading the Empire after Iserlohn to get votes, calling Yang away from battle to interrogate him, everything that Truniht and the El Facil fatsos did) seemed to fuck over Yang way more than any tactical ineptitude ever did, besides commander Douchey Paella in the very first episode. I mean, Fork was a god damn lunatic but he only got his way because his goals lined up with the Alliance council members. He was simply allowed to be crazy… and then he just got his ass pimped by the Earth cult later on. The whole governance/military philosophical relationship was one of the biggest things Yang went on and on about IMO, and it was the most aggravating thing to watch.

    • They were villains indeed, and served to be like the heads of a hydra of the thematic “badly governed” democracy Yang is tragically doomed to die fighting for. That’s really his story, isn’t it. Both he and Reinhard aren’t so much opponents but parallels of opposites. Even so, those people you mentioned are creatures of great ineptitude — to keep saying what they’re saying without so much of a knowing smirk a la Truniht. They are powerful and menacing because of the bureaucratic inertia carrying them. But as opponents they are regrettable… which feeds the tragedy theory I speak of.

  2. CPAnime says:

    I think the incompetence of the villains in the first season was meant to show the incompetence of the established order, and the need for change from those systems. Their (Yang and Reinhard) inability to showcase their skills in much of the first season was crucial in demonstrating that the Alliance government and the Empire were more concerned about bureaucracies and greed, rather than success.

    • Oh no doubt, but I still think that the idiocy and ineptitude that characterized everyone not within the circles of trust of the parallel leads was excessive… even if in reality, looking at the politicians and military personnel here in the Philippines, the show is not unrealistic.

  3. Turambar says:

    I think it has just as much to do with the need to maintain heroism as it does trumping up the reputations of Wenli and Reinhard during their earlier years. The Empire is set up as an enlightened dictatorship. But for Reinhard to come to power in such a setting, he has to defeat a corrupt dictatorship first as a means of appearing a good heroic character. And as the representatives of an evil government, the nobles must be shown as both poor rulers and poor fighters as to keep their characters from being sympathetic. The same is true for the alliance. Admirals that are representatives of a corrupt government’s ideals cannot be more competent than those whose personal thoughts are still “pure”.

    • Turambar says:

      It is worth noting that the few admirals and officers who are shown to be sympathetic and respectable characters but still start at odds against our two heroes, such as Merkatz and Fahrenheit, end switching sides so that we continue to have a clear line of who to cheer for in the early portion of the show.

    • Agreed, but the method was crude in terms of characterization. I think the word I’m looking for to describe the behavior of these villains is… cartoony. That’s what I think bugs me. I thought the story deserved better. After all, this is a show that I don’t/can’t really watch for the animation.

  4. megaroad1 says:

    The incompetence (and sheer unlikeability) of some of the antagonists in LOGH is sometimes a bit surprising considering the sheer quality of the show. But I agree with your analysis on all points.
    I’d like to add that sometimes I cannot help but wonder if Yoshiki Tanaka was unconsciously reflecting on the difficulties that talented young people faced in Japan to rise to the top, be it in business or politics, due to the deference paid to seniority, relations and existing social status? All these old Alliance and Imperial admirals with little intelligence or vision, ossified in their ways being swept away by the talented and energetic group of heroes?
    In any case, as a contrast some of the villains I think are exceptionally talented. Rubinsky and the Terraists for example manage to have both sides running around in circles the entire time, and almost kill both our heroes. That has to count for something.

    • But see here, Rubinsky doesn’t go head to head against anyone. The people I point out, are those who directly oppose the heroes. It actually takes a very long time before quality admirals face off against each other satisfyingly; and by satisfyingly I don’t mean Merkatz slipping in and rescuing Braunschweig, Yang ruining a complete and utter rout by Reinhard, etc.

  5. Vendredi says:

    I have to concur pretty much on this. A few friends and I gave the first few episodes a try finally a few weeks ago, and we were rather disappointed with the somewhat mundane treatment of space warfare; it’s pretty standard space opera stuff at the heart of it. Despite all the glowing reviews I find myself struggling to get into this show in any meaningful way… there’s very little here as a hook, at least initially. I imagine of course things probably pick up in the course of 110+ episodes, but that’s a hefty investment.

    • Turambar says:

      Just get to the part where space stations are fighting space stations.

    • All of my complaints disappear like vapor once the first real fight between talented soldiers happen, when the Empire tries to recapture the Iserlohn fortress.

      You really then start feeling you’re watching Legendary Galactic Heroes fight each other. This happens around episode 30 or so. That said, I’m not saying that there’s nothing compelling about the first season. It really is the highest standard of anime depiction of ideology, politics, statecraft, etc. The first season’s matchups were just between idiots vs. competents.

  6. MarigoldRan says:

    Oh I found the incompetence of most of the early generals to be pretty realistic. Par for the course, so to speak. I think the in-breeding among the aristocrats addled their children’s brains.

    Napoleon wasn’t so much a genius as for the fact that his early opponents were nincompoops. When he finally faced competent generals like Wellington or Kuzurov, he lost. Tolstoy’s argument in War and Peace was that Napoleon won because he got lucky and never faced a true opponent until he invaded Russia.

    And then there was Hannibal and the poor Roman generals before Scipio. And the Romans were considered to be competently lead! It was just that their generals were never properly prepared for Hannibal’s sneaky and unorthodox tactics.

    By the way, Hannibal’s tactics of beating the Romans at Cannae were just as idiotic as Wenli’s tactics against his opponents: let the larger enemy advance, then surround him from the flanks and on all sides. The Romans fell for it hook, line, and sinker. It got to the point where the Romans were so disorganized and so cramped together that they couldn’t swing their weapons, at which point they were massacred. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae

    • I suppose all this is consistent with the show’s motto “In all ages Man’s deeds remain the same.”

      As a thematic point, it works — even as it is jarring to see antiquity level idiocy in distant future settings.

    • Stentorian says:

      “Napoleon wasn’t so much a genius as for the fact that his early opponents were nincompoops. When he finally faced competent generals like Wellington or Kuzurov, he lost. Tolstoy’s argument in War and Peace was that Napoleon won because he got lucky and never faced a true opponent until he invaded Russia.”

      Maybe that’s why Clausewitz called Napoleon a ‘God of war’. Maybe that’s why Wellington called Napoleon as the greatest general of any age. Maybe that’s why every great general from that point wanted to emulate his success.

      Do you know what was the condition of French army in Italy before Napoleon took over in 1796?

      Do you know whom Napoleon crushed at Austerlitz? Your competent Kutuzov himself. And Napoleon defeated Archduke Charles many times, a general who was almost flawless, a general equal to Wellington, and one who himself wrote books on art of war. Try reading Napoleon’s 1814 campaign, where he time after time defeated superior numbers with mere young raw conscripts.

      Read the 1100-page ‘The Campaigns of Napoleon: the mind and method of history’s greatest soldier’ by David Chandler and decide whether Napoleon was a genius or not.

      Don’t bullshit me with Tolstoy, who has an anti-historical view on Napoleon.

      • Matt Wells says:

        Quick question: if Napoleon was the greatest general of his age… how come he always lost? You know, when it actually mattered? Pretty sure a key factor of being a decent general is winning a war or two, not just the battle. And let us not forget the tactical genius of invading Russia during Winter, the military textbook definition of suicide.

        “Do you know what was the condition of French army in Italy before Napoleon took over in 1796?”

        Pretty shitty I would imagine. Worse even than the British Army by the time of the Crimea, and thar’s saying something. Doesn’t change the fact the man was a tyrant and a piss poor statesman. Let’s not neglect he was only able to turn it around by basing France’s entire national focus on building up the army; as far as sociological miracles go, that’s roughly two dozen leagues below the industrial revolution (which France was too focused on waging war to ever get round too).

        Praise of Napoleon always does seem to skirt around the cold hard fact fact of Waterloo. I will credit him that it took the allied forces of every nation in Europe to decisively crush him; or more accurately Blucher, Wellington and a bunch of Russian guys who did what they told them to do.

        The way people sing his praises just vexes me. It’s one thing for the French to do it, globally they’ve been circling the drain ever since, forver cast in Germany’s shadow. His tenure’s the one thing they’ve got to be boastful about, empire wise. But for anyone else to do it? Like the frigging Polish just because he gave them a puppet empire? That’s just idiotic.

        • jack says:

          Maybe it was the 15 years of non-stop fighting? Maybe it was the 4 or 5 other massive countries all declaring war on him, out of fear?

  7. MarigoldRan says:

    Zhukov’s plan at Stalingrad was also equally idiotic: let the Germans take most of Stalingrad. Then attack from the flanks with well-prepared armies and surround them.

    And Sherman’s plan against Johnston during the American Civil War was also very simple: attack his flanks. Since Sherman’s army was much bigger than Johnston’s, it meant Johnston didn’t have the manpower to protect his flanks, which meant that the Confederate Army kept on getting outflanked and forced to retreat from one strong position after another.

    And Grant’s plan against Lee was also remarkably simplistic: “Where Lee goes, I follow.” Basically, Grant took his numerically superior army and attacked until Lee’s army got bashed to a pulp.

    And Hitler’s strategy in the beginning of WWII can be summarized to his: “you see that weak point in the French defenses? Let’s attack it with our tanks, marching together as a division!”

    And Alexander the Great’s strategy at Issus and Guagamela? Put our best troops in the middle and make the enemy king run away.

    Mongol tactics? Fake a retreat. Then when the enemy army follows in disorder, turn around and slaughter them with our reserves.

    Most successful battle strategies can be summarized in a single paragraph or picture. Simplicity in battle plans is generally considered to be a good thing. The Japanese, for example, had very complicated battle plans against the Americans. We know the results of that war.

  8. MarigoldRan says:

    Also, the Korean War had lots of examples of simple-to-explain battle plans:

    For the Americans it was: let’s land an army behind enemy lines and destroy them from the back! (Inchon landings). The Chinese military advisers in the North Korean army was like: “NO,YOU STUPID NORTH KOREANS. STOP ADVANCING. YOU’RE LEAVING YOUR REAR WIDE OPEN.” And the North Koreans generals were like, “hahahaha. That won’t ever happen! We’re about to win the war.”

    Then Inchon happened and the North Koreans were like “oh crap.”

    Then MacArthur messed up. The Chinese strategy after MacArthur crossed the parallel can be summarized as this:

    “Let the stupid Americans advance to our border. Once their troops are tired and cold, and their supply lines are stretched to the limit, we attack.”

    Guess what: MacArthur fell for it. “What? Intelligence is reporting that the Chinese are massing to attack? Lies! The Chinese would never attack us. We’re about to win this war Hahahaha.”

    Hubris has ever been the downfall of generals.

  9. MarigoldRan says:

    A summary of the Battle of Cannae in two diagrams:

    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    (Roman army advances- X’s stand for Roman legions)

    CCCCCCCCC CCCCCCCCCC
    CCCCCCCCCC
    (Carthaginian Center retreats)
    (Carthaginian Flanks advance. C’s stand for Carthaginian units)

    Which led to:

    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXXX C

    CCCCCCCCCC

    (Roman army surrounded by Carthaginian army. Roman army destroyed with virtually no losses on the Carthaginian side)

  10. MarigoldRan says:

    Er, belay that. (stupid Microsoft Word). Below is the better version.

    A summary of the Battle of Cannae in two diagrams:

    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXXXX
    (Roman army advances- X’s stand for Roman legions)

    CCCCCC CCCCCC CCCCCCCC
    (Carthaginian Center retreats)
    (Carthaginian Flanks advance. C’s stand for Carthaginian units)

    Which led to:

    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXX C
    C XXXXXXXXXXXXX C

    CCCCCCCCCCCC

    (Roman army surrounded by Carthaginian army. Roman army destroyed with virtually no losses on the Carthaginian side)

  11. MarigoldRan says:

    In summary, your diagram of the battle between Wenli and Reinhard is a pretty realistic description of what most famous and decisive battles were like.

    The reason why most of these diagrams look so idiotically retarded is because there is no other option: organizing the movements of masses of men and/or spaceships requires idiotically simple plans. Otherwise the men and the spaceships would get all tangled up and accomplish nothing.

    Consider: how would you evacuate a sinking ship? You make everyone line up in orderly formations and move them slowly into the evacuation pods.

    And that’s only with one thousand+ passengers. Consider the difficulties of moving around one million soldiers, while they’re being shot at!

  12. MarigoldRan says:

    Oh, I could go on and on about the incompetence of generals in the beginning of a war. You’ve touched a nerve here. It normally takes several lost battles before one sides finally wises up. WWI was a bit of an anomaly in that the generals started unpopular and incompetent and stayed unpopular and incompetent.

    Consider the stupidity of the Americans before Pearl Harbor:

    1. They lined up their planes to protect them from saboteurs. When the Japanese attacked with planes instead, the American planes were lined up in neat rows to be strafed at.

    2. They decided not to use torpedo nets because they didn’t think Japanese torpedoes were any good.

    3. Intelligence broke the Japanese code prior to Pearl Harbor. The generals didn’t listen to the intelligence.

    Consider the stupidity of the French before WWII:

    1. Let’s have our tanks march with our infantry. That way, our tanks can move at 6 miles per hour!

    2. Let’s move our army out of position to attack the decoy German army because we don’t think the German army is capable of marching through a forest (Ardennes).

    3. Let’s not attack the Germans when their entire army is in Poland. Instead let’s sit on our ass and fiddle our thumbs and let the Germans attack.

    In hindsight, lots of decisions were idiotic and stupid. It’s just that no one realizes how idiotic it was until someone writes a book or makes a movie about it.

  13. Rusty says:

    I think if Siegfried had been alive, he would have restrained Reinhard’s battle hungry tendency (and Oberstein and Hildegard would have been on his side) so Vermillion might not have happened. But yeah, his death in a laughably easy fight against the petty nobles is a painful waste.

    For me, the incompetence on the Imperial side wasn’t so grating. After all, it was a chronic disease caused by undue priviledge like Merkatz said. The Alliance, on the other hand, was painful to watch. There were reasonable people in fairly high positions like Sitolet, Greenhill and Bucock, and fiascos like the invasion business still happened.

    • Again, it’s all understandable. I do think that the feeling and impression I got out of this 2nd viewing was worth articulating, as it could become a tough hurdle for some discerning viewers whose expectations are set up so highly.

  14. Yami says:

    The first season intentionally finished off most of the incompetent people especially on Reinhard’s side so that we could see awesome clash between Yang and Reinhard without much interference.

    LOGH is one of the few anime series that i consider as Masterpiece and glad to see that there are other people blogs about this series.

  15. Dux says:

    Honestly I think this is one of the shows biggest flaws: yang wen li (and to a lesser extent Reinhard)is ridiculously overpowered, to the point where he can just walk in and out of the so-called ‘impregnable fortress’ Iserlohn without firing a shot. He NEVER loses in battle and everyone else is presented as completely incompetent. Just like you I didn’t really notice the first time around, but upon rewatching my evaluation of the series is definitely not as good as it used to be.

  16. jack says:

    Andrew Fork’s plan was about as well thought-out as the Bush Administration’s plans for the Middle East. There’s no other way to say this: it’s childish of you to expect more competence from everybody.

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