I think I know why. But first, some disclaimers. Not every extended conversation in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is exemplary; some will be guilty of what those in Fate/Zero do. Conversely, there are conversations in Fate/Zero that are remarkable in the ways those in LotGH are. I will note some of them later in the post, but this piece is not about those exceptions.
I like Fate/Zero and welcome its continuation in the Spring season of 2012. I’ve shared the show to quite a number of friends, and one thing is quite obvious: the first episode is a tremendous hurdle because of the scarcity of action and the sheer volume of exposition dumping via extended conversation. I think the show only started picking up when the summoning rituals started (those were awesome, scored well musically too). A number of my friends who I introduced it to simply passed out during the double feature first episode. I had to fight my way through sleepiness myself every time I watched it, and I don’t think I want to subject myself to it anytime soon.
I remember distinctly how Toshaka and his conversant ended up walking in circles just so there’s something, anything can be animated to give some energy to the scene. The effort however, was comical instead of cool.
The narrative itself is a big, wordy thing, where plotting and verbal engagement forms most of the content as opposed to the actual fighting between Magi and Servants. Conversations between Saber and Irisviel… paint dries more entertainingly – unless you’re focusing on their character designs (quasi-fapping). Same thing between Kotomine and Gilgamesh… a horror of boredom (unless you are burning with homolust). But the worst are those with anything to do with Toshaka, just… incredible.
The thing about these conversations are that they all are slow-moving tugboats that are trying to maneuver this supertanker of a plot (laden with so much dependencies on the fantasy elements content) in a tiny harbor. The story itself isn’t big or complex, there’s just so much content that it depends on to move forward. “The magic thingy will activate the fabled doodads that invoke the centuries long history of magical family whose current generation is weakened due to fantasy element X which is exacerbated by the nature of the Noble Phantasm of the servant which was supposed to belong to a different magus anyway.”
“But wait, the daughter of magical family Z isn’t actually human but some kind of golem which allows it to be a magical decoy against the multiple magical creatures of this magical battle for this quasi-religious magical thing which grants wishes of both the human magi who is more than human as well as the magical servant who isn’t human but was once human but some of them may wish they were human again” etc, etc.
Am I exaggerating? Yes. This is intentional, but what it really is a condensed way to create the effect of 17 out of 20 minutes worth of anime episode (multiplied by 13) has.
So what’s so different about those in LotGH?
Well, instead of the dialogue informing us about the plot, the plot informs the direction of the dialogue but the content itself informs us about other things. The sterling examples of dialogue in LotGH are about things. In the 11th episode we find Vice-Admiral Yang Wen-li discoursing with Admiral Greenhill about the turn of events propelling the Free Planets Alliance. Yang juxtaposed the Galactic Empire’s character with that of his own government:
Sometimes I have my doubts. The Empire, with a few nobles ruling the masses, is bad government. The Alliance, with a government chosen by the people, is badly governed. Which one do you think is wrong?
Forgive me. That’s not proper talk for a soldier.
Look at the wealth of goodness this short statement has! It is about things, big things – things that very few people actually talk about, unless they’re pompous undergrads in PoliSci class. This forms the very core theme of the narrative. What government is right for now, and for all time? In addition, Wen-li frames the constraints of the soldier: the willingness to serve the government one is sworn to follow and protect, while expressing one’s opinion despite being at odds with the governments directives.
Entire episodes can be like this, where there is no action and instead you have conversation after conversation that builds on, exemplifies, or elaborates on this theme. You have nobles choosing to die with or at the hands of the people to stay and face the Alliance invasion force while you have the elected officials ratify war against all good sense because it is an election year. These are actions, results – but arriving to these results is through a lot of telling, not showing. The telling works because I feel I’m in the middle of a riveting conversation across 110 episodes about something big and important.
As I’ve said at the beginning of the post, there are exceptions in Fate/Zero (just as there are equivalent coma-inducing boring dialogue in LotGH). This post is not about these exceptions, but I will mention some from Fate/Zero. The first set consists of those between Rider and Waver. They are always about something; verily, about existence, meaning, results, vitality, and being-in-time. Now that’s actually a lot of things, they’re all related in the context of Waver’s education into an adult – Rider’s invitation for him to come of age. Rider doesn’t use big words too, he IS big, his presence is huge; these lends gravitas and meaning to his simple but grandiose – if comedic, statements to Waver.
The big exception in Fate/Zero is delivered by Rider, yet again. It is his sermon to Saber in the “Banquet of Kings.” The lecture was about the being of a king, the character of a king, about conquering vs. martyrdom and who is worth following. Consistently, Gilgamesh has nothing to offer in this conversation (because he is an insufferable bore). It’s Rider who is the energy of the show and the source of so much of its entertainment value (Kotomine’s and Kiritsugu’s contrast is creepy and boring, and manifests in just a lot of adult angst scenes). He shows, tells, and tells some more; and somehow, overcomes what would seem to be insurmountable barriers all the others fail at breaking through to provide entertaining, if not gripping dialogue for us viewers.
The last time I tried to rewatch LotGH was 2 years ago when I just ended up cherry-picking arcs and episodes. I’m doing a full rewatch in earnest this time and I intend to bring forth more posts like this. In other news, Fate/Zero is returning in a few weeks and I’m excited to see Rider and Waver again, but it’d be awesome if the rest of the cast could be interesting and exciting as well.