Although The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime I greatly enjoy, its immense scope (110 episodes, detailing the rise and fall of immense superpowers through the lens of two men who emerge as their figureheads) makes it a challenging prospect to write about. It is not just epic in terms of its plot – epic in the sense of scale, with planets and star systems changing hands and yet also in the sense of character, talking about the rise of charismatic leaders of men with ambitions to bring down political entities centuries old – but in terms of ambition as a piece of fiction. It presents two entire ideologies embodied by its warring factions, in a sense – monarchy (and a quasi-respectable monarchy under an “enlightened” ruler at that) versus democracy (a corrupt, self-serving democracy that is no more enlightened than the monarchy it fights againt) with capital – the private sector and corporate interests represented by Phezzan – and religion, via both the spirituality of the Empire and the mysterious, destabilising Earth Cult – as third-parties who play both sides. This scale makes discussion of the series as a whole less fruitful than character studies or discussion of individual plot arcs – but these are still articles I have trouble beginning to write. More accessible is the creator of The Legend‘s, Yoshiki Tanaka’s, more recently adapted work, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Currently two episodes into its 2015 adaptation, Arslan presents the same thematic intent as Galactic Heroes but within a different context.
While one can debate the value of An Unexpected Journey as an adaptation of Tolkein’s novel The Hobbit at great length, it is ultimately an entertaining film. I recently realised there are very few truly good fantasy films made; many are entertaining or fun but flawed, but few are unequivocally good. I was thus very surprised at the quality of the first in the three films loosely based on The Hobbit; it was tonally consistent throughout, visually impressive and had a real sense of being a film made with some love and care.
In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.
This series of articles will explore presentations of evil in genre fiction.
Recently, I was discussing dystopian fiction and the “evil empire” archetype, and began to wonder about what could really be considered evil yet also avoid being simply parodic. Outward acts of brutality are in themselves unsatisfying signifiers of evil; they can even be considered unconvincing. A society based on mass executions and physical punishments and easily-understood savagery supposes that all involved in it are mindless savages who take pleasure in this – and is thus reductive as a setting.