Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a lot like Romance of the Three Kingdoms
June 13, 2009
The Empire, long divided, must unite: long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.
And that is how the classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms opens its first chapter. ‘There is no war to end all wars’, this much Yang Wenli seemed to have understood. After Qin Dynasty fell, Liu Bang united all under the flag of Han that lasted 400 years before it split into three kingdoms, eventually becoming one again under the rule of Sima family. Likewise in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, one can’t help but sense that history has been repeating itself, is repeating itself and will always be repeating itself. We witness a birth of yet another oppressive dictatorship, as well as a democratic government yet again seeding manufactured sense of loyalty and duty to billions of its citizens into prolonging another fruitless war. Even though the universe is finally unified by Lohengramm empire by the end, one can already sense the next turbulent quake in history approaching by the show’s end. Will Felix’s thrist prove too large for a mere vassal? And will Minci’s seeds of democracy be ready to sprout when the empire fails its people? Mittenmeyer once said all the lives lost in this war was for peace, but all seems insignificant before that vast array of stars, forever expanding.
A capable minister in peaceful times and a villainous hero in chaotic times.
Such is Xu Shao’s evaluation of Cao Cao’s fortune in RoTK. There are many similarities between Cao Cao and Reinhard but I’ll just name three notable traits they both share as villainous heroes of chaos. The first is their insatitiable thirst for ambition. It’s what brings warriors and strategists like Xun Yu and Mittermeyer under their command, and I guess this the kind of charm that we as audience often find alluring in stories, rooting for someone to seize the opportunity in the time of chaos and carve their own destiny. The second is their ability to control and use the people under their command. Cao Cao once claimed that his nemesis Yuan Shao would have won if he listened to advisors like Tian Feng. Thousands of years later, Reinhard said something very similar when he finally conquered the Alliance. The third is, well…they were simply destined to rule. I’m not sure if ‘destiny’ is the right word, perhaps ‘luck’ is more like it. Reinhard made his early entrance to military thanks to his sister, eliminated all opposing forces within the empire without any external interference, and demolished the Alliance through Scorching Earth strategy (which worked since no one listened toYang Wenli). Opportunity came to them like gifts from heaven and they consumed it like a hawk snatching its prey. Something very similar could be said about Lelouch and his encounter with C.C. and murder of Euphie, but in the case of Code Geass the events seemed more forced by the writers.
The best strategy is to let your opponent know your next move. Even better is to let your opponent know your next two moves.
The battle of Marr-Adetta (episode 71-72) in LoGH is a perfect demonstration of this. As the battle went on, it became clear that Knapfstein and Grillpalzer were using text-book commands, but always failing because they could never predict their opponents’ moves. Reinhard and Reuenthal on the other hand seemed to know exactly what Bucock was planning. Fahrenheit was momentarily in pitch because he couldn’t see as far as Reinhard, but could see far enough to avoid further traps. Likewise, Yang Wenli invaded Iserlohn Fortress by first making Lutz think that he’s luring the army out from the fortress, then countering the trap set by Lutz. In that sense I guess we can rank generals by their ‘intelligence level’ or ‘level of prediction’ like this:
Tier 1 (legendary): Yang Wenli, Reinhard, Reuenthal, etc.
Tier 2 (smart): Fahrenheit, Lutz, etc.
Tier 3 (wild boars): Bittenfield, Knapfstein, Grillpalzer, etc.
Of course this is just an example, I used to make these tiers with my friends to rank the warriors and strategists of RoTK as a game. Feel free to make more comprehensive list if you are motivated ^_^ . Just as a note, this applies not only in battles. Another example would be the struggle for Phezzan’s power between Rubinsky and his son Dominique. When out-predicted, death is the price to pay.
I also want to quickly mention that the futuristic technology of LoGH is designed so that the space battles to be more like the ones in RoTK. There are ‘corridors’ one must take in order to reach other side of the galaxy, advanced electromagnetic jammings reduces the amount of field informations, destructive canons and metallic shields make for great siege battles, etc etc. I thought the details were very clever.
When I first watched Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, all I could think of was “THIS WAS EPIC!”. If I had to sum up my reaction after finishing Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it would be “this…is…epic”. In hindsight, Gurren Lagann wasn’t really epic. It was awe-inspiring, exhilirating and heart-warming, but does not have the complexity nor scope of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Complexity and scope is important because we as readers can not completely grasp the web of connections between plethora of events and characters of LoGH. But we do sense all these coincidences, accidents and chances interweaving each other, and that the movement of its overall plot is not a mere deus ex machina of the writer’s but as how things really should be. This feeling of being overwhelmed, that something is so complex and large it’s beyond my grasp, but at the same time sensing that everything is so right…briefly ignoring correct definitions, this is what epic essentially means to me. I am sure there is more, and I can not exactly come up with all the reasons, but I hope you get the sort of feeling I’m trying to convey.
And Legend of the Galactic Heroes is probably the most epic story I have ever experienced.