“Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Volume 5- Mobilization” by Yoshiki Tanaka

The Legend of Galactic Heroes is a… well, legendary anime series. What far fewer people have experienced is the novels upon which it is based. I’m probably something of an outlier here–having only read some of the books while not having seen the anime. I wanted to write about the series of novels to encourage others to read them.

Volume 5: Mobilization

Phezzan has fallen, but what next? Many, many battles is the answer, but here we have a shift in tone for the series. Tanaka introduces a core concept of the series that changes the tenor of it somewhat. The “Tyranny of Distance” is referenced in chapter 6, noting that it “was a phrase used to indicate just how difficult unified rule of a human society that had grown by a third would be through military force alone” (125). And while Tanaka doesn’t directly confront the use of that concept within discussions of colonialism on Earth, the implications are all there. The Galactic Empire has gotten almost too large for itself. Control must turn to a personality cult, as it reads in some places, or straight fascism in others.

There is no small amount of analysis that could be done here. Tanaka continues to tell the story in an impersonal style, even citing invented historical accounts to say what historians “would say” in the future of this future about the present of the future he’s telling (hopefully that made sense). In doing so, as narrator, he distances himself from the events depicted, in which literal millions are wiped out over the course of a drawn out battle that is named a war within a war. Individuals rise and fall, but the steady march towards fascism isn’t found only within the Empire but also within the Free Planets Alliance, making one wonder even more what Tanaka is doing behind the scenes here.

Battles are the name of the game through most of the latter half of the book, and they’re huge. It’s one aspect of the series that Tanaka’s style both lends itself to such huge scales and also makes the huge scale battles go so quickly. While he describes literally thousands of ships moving in a double-headed snake formation and the combat that happens, as the descriptions whip past of hundreds of ships getting blown away, it can become whiplash. I would like a bit more description of the battles themselves, though I get why he does it the way he does, as it lets the story continue more readily, and avoids potential pitfalls of revealing poor tactics when describing tactics more fully. The series does not try to make it realistic military action, but rather goes for grandness of action to make up for it. It usually works, and it does work quite well in the second half of this novel. Tanaka also cleverly takes the occasional aside to zoom in on action, whether at the level of an individual fighter pilot being blown away by a cruiser or the impact of an explosion on a single ship.

We still get very little by way of women having any impact on the series. While a few get elevated to higher positions of leadership here, their voices are almost never heard.

Mobilization reads like a turning point in the series. The stakes are higher than ever, but the characterization is getting stronger even as the battles get larger. I can’t wait to dive into the next book.

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