Julian: GAR & Biggles – In Space!
Legend of the Galactic Heroes‘s opening two episodes of space warfare made it clear how the series’ military confrontations look and broadly function: fleets line up and manoeuvre, space fighters are sent in and beam weapons are fired en masse. Interestingly, because both sides’ spaceships are submarine-shaped, they’re much easier to hit from the side than from head on, so whenever we see a fleet taken in the flank the results are literally explosive.
Given the show’s compelling heroes and the gripping political upheavals, I did not expect much variation on this theme. Writing about the show before I remarked on how gently the spaceships were introduced and established, so I gave up hoping for eye-popping spaceborne action. Trust the Legend, then, to blow me away with a multi-episode battle-stravaganza, only enhanced by the usual liberal helpings of human drama and political machination.
How awesome is the Death Star? Very awesome. I know that, you know that and indeed your mother knows that too (I asked her yesternight). The Legend (and the original novels were written in the early Eighties) takes the Death Star concept of a big, spherical fortress with a huge laser and – true to form – gives it its own unique spin (ah-ha). The sea of liquid metal as an outer shell allowing friendly ships to pass through and carrying floating gun turrets isn’t just a cool concept: it also makes for wierdly beautiful spheres of shining metal in space. That’s not the best thing, though.
Apparently, the Lord of Mordor sees all.
‘The best thing, and the thing that clearly distinguishes the Legend from Star Wars, is the very fact that there isn’t just one of these fortresses. They’re evidently unusual but not unknown, as the previous siege of Geiersberg during the Lipstadt conflict established (I now realise it was setting us up for this larger battle). Furthermore, as one of the Empire’s admirals points out, Schaft’s plan isn’t an out-of-the-blue technological development but a logical progression: with a fortress like Iserlohn in your way, it makes a kind of sense to bolt lots of engines onto your own fortress and try to fight fire with fire.
The Legend can go for episode after episode without any violence – on a human scale – at all, but when the axes are handed out things get quite bloody, quite fast. This is the mark of violence which is graphic yet not gratuitous. (Black Lagoon‘s violence is both, while Seirei no Moribito‘s is neither; Bleach is bloody but not especially graphic, yet extremely gratuitous – it’s heartily enjoyable sword-porn.) Or, to put it another way, the violence is bloody because real violence is really bloody, rather than because the animators wanted a sanguinary money-shot every episode. I said ‘quite bloody, quite fast’, because ‘speed’ and ‘red’ are the two key words to describe the Legend‘s martial encounters. The impact of speed imparts shock – and this is where it is similar to Seirei no Moribito – and so does the flow of blood.
Of course, a viewer such as myself is perfectly capable of enjoying the violence as though it is gratuitous.
This particular battle’s own close-combat encounter, between everyone’s favourite bred-from-the-genes-of-Chirico-Cuvie shock troops, the Rosenritter, and enemy boarders, is especially speedy because both sides are mounted on what can only be described as space-bikes. The sudden clashes between the two sides as they raced over the molten surface of Iserlohn reminded me of the way Malory describes (in a rather stylised way) tournaments – which is fitting, given that these are the Rosenritter. Then there’s the way the gouts of blood from the casualties freeze as they spill out into the cold, unfeeling vacuum of space. (I apologise; I must be feeling poetic today.) These guys always bring me the best violence. (Poetic and geekily referential.)
Moving up in scale somewhat, these fortresses’ presence in this battle also allows for some exciting fleet tactics, with fleets sallying in and out of Iserlohn and at one point chasing each other around its surface. The siege as a whole reminded me rather of the Battle of Alesia, although Kempf is certainly no Caesar, which may be why he loses. Iserlohn is Yang’s home, and this was really Yang’s battle: it’s sway was decided by his absence and then his presence. It was also his pupil Julian who made the crucial suggestion which lead to victory, and his ‘Guest Admiral’ Merkatz who executed Julian’s plan, vindicating Yang’s work as an adoptive father and his decision to trust the Imperial defector. And it was (yet) another telling comment on the series’ two governments that Yang was absent because he’d been hauled home by politicians who feared his power (perhaps rightly – I have yet to watch beyond Episode 34), while Reinhard was absent because he didn’t want to be associated with the campaign if it failed. Lohengramm’s advantage indeed.
Anime, in my experience, is not exactly bursting with massive battles. It could be the effort required to animate them, or the competing attractions of personal, heroic violence, or some reason beyond my comprehension. At any rate, I consequently treasure those moments – frequently when a long show is drawing to a close – that action on a vast scale erupts. Hence, in part, my affection for Char’s Counter Attack, which gets down at the very beginning to the kind of battles which usually appear only once per fifty episodes of Gundam (hooray for feature film budgets). Hence, too, my ecstatic reaction to the clash between Iserlohn and Geiersberg: it doesn’t get much better than this.