We are doomed to want the things that lie beyond our reach. The image of the baby, Felix Mittermeyer trying to grasp at the stars ends the epic Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It is an interesting theme, speaking to us of how we can never be content, and how our actions are in complete opposition to our stated desires. I had just completed all 110 episodes, easily some of the better spent 46 hours of my life.
“There are few wars between good and evil; most are between one good and another good.” -Yang Wenli
Yang Wenli is a good guy. He has a conscience. Often we hear him philosophizing or reflecting on the human cost (lives lost) of his wartime leadership. He carries the burden of the decisions he’s made, though remarkably devoid of grief and angst.In comparison, many of the admirals of the Empire, notably Oskar von Reuental and to an extent Wolfgang Mittermeyer actually enjoy warfare. I liken their behavior to the feeling of cognitive dissonance. Wikipedia gives us:
A powerful cause of dissonance is when an idea conflicts with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as “I am a good person” or “I made the right decision.” The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one’s choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
Reuental, despite his many admirable qualities, lives for his ambitions. It’s not like he doesn’t care for people – it’d be difficult to inspire loyalty from comrades and subordinates if he didn’t. It’s that his reason for being is to fight. His pride and dignity as a warrior is paramount, and he never reflected on the human cost of his pursuit the same way Yang Wenli, or even Reinhard von Lohengramm did.
Reinhard is referred to as “a sword [that] has no reason but to exist as a sword.” His singular purpose was to “seize space”. To seize, to rip it from the hands of those who’d defend it or withhold it from him. He goes beyond Reuental because not only does he actively seek conflict, he is also not the same administrator that Reuental is (Reuental is quite talented in this sphere). Reinhard has no reason but to exist as a sword.
Which brings us to the “Westerland Incident,” where Reinhard upon advisement of (and interference of) Paul von Oberstein allowed Prince Braunschweig to hit the Planet Westerland with a nuclear warhead. Oberstein reasons out that Prince Braunschweig will lose all popular support if he is allowed to launch his weapon, exposing him as an iredeemable villain. The positive consequence of which is his quicker defeat and the prevention of even more wartime casualties. Bateszi writes:
This is the kind of political versus moral quandary that has no right answer. If Reinhard had stopped the strike, he could be dragged into a war of attrition which could claim millions of soldiers over a period of months (and even years, perhaps), but by allowing it, his rise to power is swift, albeit, forever tainted with the blood of Westerland. Neither is an easy choice to make, and for exactly that reason, we have a thrilling tête à tête between leaders, who, very literally, can forsake or save the lives of millions with one word.
An ethical dilemma, as Kinon reminds us, is a conflict between two rights. I’d frame this as a long-term vs. short-term problem, where as the war takes longer, the more casualties will be incurred.
The actual casualty statistics are beyond me at present, but the illustrations should present the conflict well enough. A prolonged war would have resulted in much higher casualties. However, Reinhard and Oberstein perhaps could’ve considered the nature of the casualties incurred. A prolonged war would perhaps have higher casualties overall, but the Westerland incident resulted in primarily civilian casualties. Is this distinction important? Soldiers signed on for combat risks. Civilians didn’t.
The Universal Continuity of the Gundam metaverse, if not the whole of Gundam itself attempts to portray conflict without portraying obvious moral favorites. Legend of the Galactic Heroes does in 110 episodes what Gundam tries to do in over 230 episodes (excluding Turn A Gundam). This isn’t a knock on Gundam. I’m just attempting to illustrate that as epics go, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is efficient, and economical.
Another argument for this is that the theme I explore here is only one, ONE of the many interesting and compelling things that can be discovered in this show. You’ll discover finely delivered arguments (both told and shown) for autocratic and democratic forms of governance, massive space fleet battles (always in the thousands of capital ships involved), interesting dogfights, a planet-sized fortress vs. planet-sized fortress slug fest (yes you read that right) gratuitous hack-and-slash violence, drama and plot twists, comic and tragic romance, and truly interesting characters (both central and peripheral).
I purposely don’t review anime (Iknight is tempted not to relate to it as anime, and I don’t blame him), but I have no qualms about calling Legend of the Galactic Heroes a masterpiece. I’m willing to bet, out of foppery and whim, that even coburn will give this show one his 10s, no grudges, no reservations, no arguments. Nearly every moment is satisfying; I almost never feel cheated – and even when I did, I can easily appease my feelings (I’m looking at you, Jesus Minci). I almost feel like I’m being too greedy for wanting more out of this anime. It does feel like a privilege to watch.
Going back to the theme I started exploring, both Reinhard and Wenli reached for ideals: Reinhard wanted to have it all – to seize the universe and keep those dear to him close, and Wenli wanted a democracy that works – that he can retire early from and enjoy a generous pension. Their ideals are both grand and quaint, and are both played out in the galaxy of stars.
Like Felix Reuental, I reach for the lights in the sky. I want to have these feelings again from watching a show. Macross can gratify me with its songs and the love they inspire. Gundam can excite me with its robots and the conflicts they attempt to resolve. Aria can fill me with wonder with its quiet miracles. Nana can rip my heart out and make me fall in love with sadness. But I want to feel this way again about anime, the satisfaction of witnessing near perfection sustained and amplified for over so many episodes. I can relate to lelangir who said this show killed anime. But it didn’t really. It killed me. I’ll find it very difficult from this point on to keep this show from being a standard, it’s trained me to make great expectations out of the shows I’ll be watching.