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]
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.
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?