If it were not obvious from the first Legend of the Galactic Heroes novel it should be painfully apparent that Yoshiki Tanaka is dedicated to having the lives of Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-li be mirror images of each other. It is important to note they are never presented as the same man on opposite sides of the conflict. They are not doubles of each other. They are strategists who look remarkably similar but differ on some key points that make all the difference.
They are both young men who are clever and clear thinking who are viewed as lucky upstarts by the older corrupt establishment. At the same time their younger rivals view them as something that must be torn down for their advancement. Both commanders long to change the sickly systems they reside within but still few willing to step up to the challenge. Both leaders have a single loyal person constantly by their side along with a highly capable cadre of supporters who are the few people able to see their ability.
At the same time how both men view the path to reform is radically different. Reinhard believes that he must be the one who helms the change and will crush anyone who stands in the way of his righteous rule. Yang believes that any true change must come from the will of the people despite the fact that he knows the masses rarely have the will to enact that reconstruction or maintain the disciple to support it. This colors their attitudes, alliances, and strategies.
With civil wars in both the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire the character of both Galactic Heroes is put into stark contrast. The crisis will show the strengths, weakness, and characters of both of them as well as the organizations they exist within.
While the first book introduces Yang Wen-li and Reinhard von Lohengramm then pits them against each other in successive battles to quickly drawn us into the world (OK, minus the big history chapter at the beginning); the sequel works to show us the philosophies of these two intelligent leaders in much greater detail.
The death of Kaiser Friedrich IV shakes the very fabric of every political structure of the galaxy. While fate steals the chance for Reinhard to get bloody revenge on the man who stole his sister it does create a power vacuum for him to step into. But before Reinhard can take the throne he must destabilize the Free Planets Alliance. Soon there are civil wars on both sides of the Iserlohn Corridor.
Can Yang prevent the Alliance from transforming into a military dictatorship? Can Reinhard tear down the decadent nobles and usher in a reborn Empire? What will Reinhard have to pay to see that dream?
This second book gets off to a bit of a slow start focusing more on political manipulations and less on battles. And the battles that are present aren’t fought between equals this time around. The many political, strategic, and philosophical conversations can be dry but the pace is quick and these moments are essential. Still, I prefer a bit more witty banter in my fiction. Though there are a few gems, like this one:
“From the days when human beings were crawling around on all fours to this very afternoon, people who break the rules using violence have never been called gentlemen. If that’s what you want to be called, though, you’ve got the power now, so while you still have it I recommend you get some somebody to write you a new dictionary.” —Alexandor Bucock
Sadly, this sweet takedown is not immediately followed by the words: BOOM.
For all the insights into theory in this second book, the story ends pretty melodramatically for Reinhard. And even Yang has this sort of epiphany that foreshadows oh-so-much to come.
First things first: Dusty Attenborough finally shows up in the novel. Now admittedly he does not do that much. He is mostly just introduced as a named officer under Yang. They don’t have a long conversation or a critical strategy session. At this point, you would be more convinced Alexandor Bucock and Yang were the old friends by the tone and gravity of their conversations. I would have to guess Dusty is one of those characters who becomes very popular after they get a few key scenes later in the books. If that is the case it would then make sense for the anime with 20/20 hindsight to introduce Dusty earlier and give him more scenes. It also makes sense to introduce him early in the anime so Yang has someone to bounce off of with his observations as opposed to him just having lots of inner monologues like he has in the novel.
Otherwise, the second novel flows much like the first as compared to the anime. In fact, the anime basically took everything that happened here but at a slower pace. The novels continue to be the streamlined experience. All the big events occur. All the uprisings, major battles, introductions, and deaths happen in the same order. It is just that the novels move like cavalry from scene to scene. The novels never feel rushed and the pace is always controlled and deliberate but at the same time, there is no real chance to stop and admire the scenery.
That results in an experience that will be very different for everyone. As everything has slowed down, in general, this can be seen as a blessing or a curse. The novel cuts to the heart of the matter with all of the politics and then just highlights the bigger moments from the conflicts. In the first book, there was a good deal of battles with the political shenanigans resulting in the aftermath. This time, the political machinations are what lead to the crescendo and the battles are more of the falling action. In the novels, nothing is focused on more than anything else. On the downside, this means that even the leisurely parts of the anime are told at the same rapid pace even if you might not want that to be the case.
It is worth giving some shout outs to some exceptional characters in the book. As Kate mentioned Bucock really stand out for some witty remarks and cool moments despite the fact he is sort of ineffectual when it comes right down to it. Hildegard von Mariendorf, on the other hand, has an impressive introduction. Everything from convincing her father to ally the family with Reinhard to her handling of the other royal houses during the civil war really brings her to the forefront as a capable, cunning, and charming young woman. Mittermeier and Reuenthal also really get to be on the forefront of the battles in this arc. They really get some major chances to show who well they work together but also a few chances to shine in their own ways.
Despite Reinhard’s manipulations that set in motions the events of this installment, I found Yang and crew to be the real stars of this book. Well, they are up until the dramatic and tragic final chapter of Reinhard’s grab for power.
As has become a staple of Yang strategy, he often comes up with plans that require the least amount of people in harm’s way. On the other hand, in this volume Reinhard makes one of his most heinous decisions of the entire series. Highlighting more than ever the differences between these two characters.
Their approaches to their respective governments is also on full display. Take this quote from Yang, “Corrupted government doesn’t come down to politicians taking bribes. That’s no more than individual corruption.” Yang could easily seem like an idealistic philosophical fool, but he is much more nuanced. He sees the cracks, he knows the dangers, but ultimately he believes in democracy as a whole.
Reinhard has ignited a coup d’état in the Alliance while also waging a civil war in his own domain. His actions in this book feel like they were created for maximum carnage. Maybe one of the lines I found most chilling came from Mittermeier of all people (though he is certainly speaking for many others) when he says, “. . . it’s the use of force that gives authority its meaning, not the other way around.”
Reinhard suffers from this in spades. Every time he climbs the ranks he loses a bit of himself he never planned on sacrificing. Reinhard always wins but never the way he wishes to triumph. Taking the throne has been his dream for the longest time but the price he pays is severe. He loses two vital pieces of himself. By following Oberstein‘s plan he wins a quick victory in the civil war with tremendous popular support but he taints his morality in an irrevocable manner. Soon after he also loses his two major moral compasses that would normally keep him on the path of the straight and narrow. To anyone else it would seem like an unmitigated victory but it is far more like a Pyrrhic victory to Rheinhard.
Yang on the other hand always just hopes the next big win will be the one that lets him finally retire so he can live the simple life of a historian. The problem is every victory merely mires him deeper in the politics of the Free Planets Alliance. He saves the republic and its democratic ideals but all in all he mostly just sealing a single deadly crack in a dam filled with horrific structural faults. The worst part is he is even more indispensable to the military which also makes him a greater target for enemies without and within his own government.
But at the core of the story is what makes both of them Galactic Heroes. It is not that they are uncompromising avatars of justice. Both of them are forced to work with elements they despise and make moral compromises. What makes them heroes is that despite all of that they can still retain their moral cores despite all the filth they have begun to drown in.
Although perhaps Reinhard is not as heroic as Yang. He has lost more when it comes to those who support him but at the same time grabbed more unrestrained power. The question becomes will the next book be the clash between two heroes or of a battle between a noble warrior and a fallen paragon.
Onward to volume three!
Perhaps it is the current political climate, or perhaps it is the stripping away of the trappings of the anime, but in either case I found the charm of the Empire’s characters very nearly gone. They are no less interesting mind but I find myself looking forward to their downfall much more. Yang is equally uncharming but his ideas still shine. This may actually be the power of the novels, the ability to bring a concentrated precision to the ideals of both sides in under 300 pages.