The first and second episodes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These marks the third time that the Battle of Astarte has been adapted for the screen. Each adaptation has presented this all important skirmish that sets the dramatic, galaxy-spanning events of this space epic into motion in their own unique way. Unfortunately, this latest version chose to set things off with a whimper; by reducing one of Yang’s long-time friends, who is a key source of his initial character development, to a twenty-second cameo, Die Neue These rids itself of a key opportunity to get the viewers invested in one of its main protagonists.
Back when I first started watching the original OVA series of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I was advised to watch the remake of the first two episodes, known as Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War, as a more complete and definitive experience of the all-important Battle of Astarte. After watching this version of events, I now pass the same advice onto you: even if you want to watch the new anime for reasons unknown, I implore you to watch Overture to a New War as an introduction. It’s only an hour long, which isn’t much more of a time sink than watching the first two episodes of Die Neue These, but it will prove a far more valuable experience if you want to actually be invested in any of these characters.
To give a brief summary, in this episode we see the Battle of Astarte from the Free Planets Alliance’s side. We meet Commodore Yang Wen-li, a tactical genius whose sage advice is repeatedly ignored by his commanding officer, Paetta. After their ship is attacked by the Imperial Navy, Yang steps into command due to Paetta’s grave injuries. He turns the tide of the battle and allows both sides to make a retreat without further prolonging the bloodshed. Reinhard is impressed that he has finally met an enemy tactician of a similar calibre to himself and sends Yang a message to convey his respect for his tactical prowess. After the credits, Reinhard is invited to a ceremony at the Imperial Palace and promoted, making him the youngest Imperial Fleet Admiral in history.
It isn’t until almost three minutes into this episode that we finally get to see Yang Wen-li’s face outside of the opening. This is the dual protagonist of the series, folks. He is just as important as Reinhard, and yet we meet him a whole episode later. When we’re working with limited time, every minute is precious. It took nearly 28 minutes until we met one of the two most important characters in the whole story.
It’s as if the creators of Die Neue These are trying to adapt the source material in exactly the same way as it’s presented in the novel, then halfway through they realise that they don’t have that amount of time but instead of moving scenes around so that they fit together better they just cut out a bunch of important scenes in the middle and call it a day. The first twelve minutes of the second episode adapt the same stretch of time as the entire first episode. It would have been a much better move to have the first half of this episode added to the first episode and have some of Reinhard and Kircheis’ conversation truncated to allow both viewpoints to be shown simultaneously. It would have flowed nicely and afforded us the opportunity to meet both the key players in the conflict. It also would have solved one of the biggest problems I have with episode two.
If you read my review of the first episode, you may have noticed that I mentioned Lapp. Jean Robert Lapp is a close friend of Yang’s, as is his fiancée Jessica, and his untimely death in the Battle of Astarte has a profound impact on the two of them and is one of the main ways that Yang is humanised in this early part of the story as opposed to just being an unenthusiastic tactical machine. We see a lot of him in Overture to a New War, we are given enough time to get to know him and understand his dynamic with Yang. We also see that he tries to save the 6th Fleet first by asking his superior officer to meet up with the 2nd Fleet as early as possible, and then to surrender when given the opportunity by Reinhard, at which point he is branded a mutineer in the minutes before his untimely death. But in Die Neue These, he and Yang have a conversation that lasts no longer than twenty seconds and then he dies so quickly that if you look away from the screen at the wrong moment then you wouldn’t even realise it had happened. And if you had, why would you care? We barely know the guy, he can’t have been that important.
I have been trying to hold out hope for this adaptation, but each episode that passes makes me more and more concerned about Die Neue These. Despite the fact that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has a dedicated fanbase it doesn’t feel like they’re the audience that this is being made for. But if not them, then who? If I was brand new to the franchise I can’t imagine being engaged in the story or the characters when there’s this little to work with. Is there a secret, untapped audience of people who love epic space operas that are chock full of technical detail, but refuse to watch any series longer than twelve episodes? That’s a highly specific and contradictory niche.
I want to keep reviewing this series as a way to highlight the ways in which is differs from the previous OVA adaptation. Perhaps by doing so I can convince more people to give the old version a try, daunting as it may seem at first glance, because as it is I cannot recommend Die Neue These to long time fans or series newbies. If you’re even vaguely interested in the story so far, I implore you to check out Overture to a New War, or even check out the novels which are less of a time-sink than the OVA while still providing you with a much richer experience.
Because I can see this being a recurring theme, at the end of each episode review I have decided to award one lucky character with the prized “Most Underutilised Character” Award! Unsurprisingly, this week Jean Robert Lapp beat out all the competition when he got all of fifteen seconds’ worth of screen time and then went out in a literal blaze of glory. Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander Lapp!