Fair warning: this post contains Tsar Bomba-sized spoilers for the eighty-second episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and comparatively minor ones for the subsequent episode. If you have any interest in watching it, and you haven’t seen the eighty-second episode, don’t read this.
Recalling Poplan’s remarks at the Battle of Vermilion some thirty episodes ago, I think it is fitting that Yang was killed by a cunning plot, executed when he was isolated from his friends and under the effects of sleeping medicine. Anything less would have felt too cheap. ‘Cheap’ is the word I have in mind because, while Yang’s death wasn’t too easily achieved to bear, it was easily achieved. As Walter von Schenkopp despondently pointed out, Yang wasn’t killed by Reinhard and if Yang had to die he deserved nothing less.
Yang was Reinhard’s equal as a military thinker, but I feel he was Reinhard’s superior in character. Although Attenborough jokingly defined the motivation of Yang’s forces as ‘foppery and whim’, it’s usually been Reinhard who’s acted out of a desire for personal satisfaction while Yang has been reluctantly fighting for ideals. (To be fair, Reinhard appeared to have an ideological beef, as well as a personal one, with the system he replaced. Since he took power, however, that hasn’t been an issue.) There is an underlying assumption here that ideals are somehow inherently superior to personal motivation, but we’ll let that lie for now.
Anyway, Yang was the comfortingly modern moral centre of the story, and now he’s gone. There are few other characters that we can trust so easily; the two that spring to mind are Julian and Frederica, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that they both had greatness thrust upon them in episode eighty-three.
When I covered the fall of the Free Planets Alliance I noted how the Earth Church (‘Devilish Dangerous Terrorist Terraism‘), alone among the show’s factions, are unambiguously portrayed as bad guys. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a very Twentieth Century epic: it’s an epic of titanic political clashes, and it’s materialistic, in the philosophical (‘nothing exists beyond the physical’) rather than in the moral (‘possessions are the ultimate good’) sense – materialistic in the same way that a Marxist is materialistic. The only potentially metaphysical event I can recall offhand is Kircheis’s intervention in Reinhard’s dreams in the eighty-first episode, but even that might simply be a product of Reinhard’s own mind (he doesn’t strike me as being a particularly stable person).
The Earth Church cult is the only faction whose leaders (excepting the ones who are just in it for the power, money &c) don’t have motivations which can be explained with reference to the physical. Reinhard seeks to ‘win the universe’, Yang fights for ideals which are meant to be applied to real political structures, both heroes’ subordinates usually align themselves with their leaders’ interests and the lesser villains usually act out of self-interest but so far we don’t have much of an idea of what the Terraists really want (apart, as I said, from the venal ones).
The other frightening people and groups in the Legend are frightening because they present a threat to characters we care about. Like the Gelut assassins in Flag, however, the Terraists are frightening because they are inscrutable, and they’re associated with irrationality. We learn almost nothing of their doctrine, though we see the suicidal bravery of their brainwashed and drugged followers. The same irrationality is present in Yang’s assassin, who stands there shouting and waving his arms in the air after firing his first and only shot, and of course in Andrew Fork, who is a bona fide madman spirited out of a psychiatric institution by the Church for their nefarious ends.
Now that I’ve written the above, it may be that everything about the Earth Church will suddenly be explained, so I can only really say that this applies for sure to the Earth Church in the first three seasons, but it’s interesting nevertheless. The only other instance in the Legend of what looks to my occidental eyes like religious practice is the Imperial habit of making reference to Valhalla and the Norse pantheon; there’s very little to tell us whether this is genuinely belief or is simply a ceremonial form of words, but either way it doesn’t seem to motivate action so even if it is genuine, it’s still faith denatured. [I think a slightly Latinate, Miltonic arrangement is appropriate there.]
BONUS: Julian asking an important question surrounded by older, higher-ranked men:
Yeah Yang’s death was some what more powerful due to the fact that he did die essentially undefeated, IIRC. Undoubtedly by falling to such cowards who wore Reinhard’s colors is going to eat at the Kaiser and his staff. Now that their greatest enemy is dead there’s no one worthy of fighting them, or so they think.
Like they say in Warhammer an empty mind is easily filled with faith.
“Terraists are frightening because they are inscrutable, and they’re associated with irrationality. We learn almost nothing of their doctrine”
Not knowing your enemy is the most frightening thing you can have plaguing you in any type of conflict.
Seems like this “Earth Church” is like some mysterious religious enigma. Maybe they need raving mad devotees who will turn only to them?
You mean Oberstein isn’t the moral center of the story? He takes care of a stray dog! He can’t possibly be a bad person!
@ Crusader: It’s odd how Warhammer produces the odd good line. I wonder if Games Workshop have some decent writers chained to desks in their underground lair . . .
@ xephfyre: I suppose the idea of an inscrutable enemy could be connected to the Lovecraft ideal of incomprehensible horror, but on a smaller scale.
@ Baka-Raptor: Meh, a literal morality pet. Though Oberstein could potentially be the moral centre of the story for really twisted viewers, I suppose.
In a way, he is a moral center.We all absolutely hate him because his solutions are always “amoral” but from a purely materialistic point of view, they make sense.If Reinhard always followed Oberstein advice instead of caring about honor and all, thousands of soldiers would probably be still be alive.
But for Reinhard, a victory without honor is meaningless so he refuse to take hostage and resort to effective but “cowardly” tactics.
So yeah, in a way, Oberstein is a moral center.He remind us that as fascinating as Reinhard is; he remains a blond brat who gets people killed in the name of pride.
But perhaps it tells something important that Oberstein forget.The result isn’t always what matters, the end doesn’t always justify the means.At some point, the means can be so low that it compromise the end no matter how high and lofty it is.
The fleet will follow Reinhard to the end of the universe, they would never follow Oberstein.
An amoral centre, then? I take your point that Oberstein is a kind of ready-made pole of absolutely utilitarian thinking for Reinhard, Reinhard’s admirals and the viewers to set themselves up against. But he’s not the moral centre.