I guess I just had to do it for Gineiden, because Gineiden is one of those shows which literally exists in a universe of its own, and kind of deserves its own separate…thing. Back in my favourite male characters special, I said Reinhard von Lohengramm would flat-out trump anyone else on a Coolest Characters list, and while that’s still entirely true for me, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that justice couldn’t be done to Gineiden as a whole, if that was all I was going to say on the subject. This definitely won’t be the last time I’ll be writing on Gineiden, and this post is very much prompted by my skittish excitement about the latest upcoming Yoshiki Tanaka work to hit anime – The Heroic Legend of Arlsan (and yes, I’ll be also spazzing about that soon enough).
Before I begin, here’s a disclaimer – I do not recommend continuing to read this, unless you have actually completed all 110 episodes of Gineiden’s OVA series. For fear of ruining the experience for anyone, I need to stress that Gineiden is a journey you only take when you know you’re ready. I promise to do a proper un-spoilered review on it in the near future, but until then…this post may not be for you. You have been warned that there are massive spoilers ahead, not only for Gineiden, but some other shows as well. And that’s enough said – time to give due regard to all these honourable heroes. Starting off with…an honourable mention.
Honourable Mention – Paul von Oberstein
Okay, I admit I’m partially conflicted about whether or not I even like Oberstein. Oberstein’s a little like Severus Snape, but without J.K. Rowling’s last minute trickery at yanking heartstrings through a bombardment of feels-flashbacks. You either allow yourself to be led by the nose with everyone else’s accusations about Oberstein being the Machiavellian evil of the entire show, or join the utilitarians in worshipping the ground he walks on – and if you’re the really generous, tender-hearted sort, you might even volunteer yourself as tribute to feed chicken meat to his dog…because even Machiavelli deserves to be loved by something, right? At the end of the day, I guess I feel more grateful to Oberstein than anything else – because without his frustratingly indestructible logic and blatant ruthlessness, the rest of the characters on this list would have long died before I had the time to appreciate them.
10. Walter von Schenkopp
Think Schenkopp, think the amalgamation of every testosterone-loaded warrior to come out of anime, squeezed and crammed into one human being. And that’s what you get – one crazy rampaging monster who simultaneously holds a deadly reputation as leader of the Alliance’s Rosenritter regiment. You’d think that with bombastic fleet battles forming the bulk of Gineiden’s action, puny men charging at each other with spindly axes would never match up, right? Wrong – every time this beast is in battle mode, expect Gineiden to descend into one of the most R21 gore-fests you have ever seen. Not that Schenkopp’s a mindless Neanderthal – when not pulling a Jason Voorhees or having drinks with his BFFs, he likes to spend his free time being a lady-killer…reuniting with long-lost illegitimate children…teaching them life lessons…
9. Annerose von Grunewald
Considering Annerose’s appalling lack of screentime, it’s a miracle she even made it onto this list – but that says a lot about what she brings to the story. Strip away her relationships and she’s an archetype of the gentle, beautiful onee-chan (or as Reinhard would say, anee-ue); but strip away Annerose from the entire of Gineiden, and everyone on this list might still be alive (ahem). No, I didn’t bring this up to pin the blame on her or anything – I just think it’s fascinating how her very existence drives so much of the plot, and how she’s the only one in the universe who can tame her feisty little warmonger brother, simply by fluttering her eyelashes and caressing his golden hair. Also, Annerose may not have been a soldier on the battlefield, but she had a non-combative war to fight in navigating the dirty world of aristocratic politics. Factually, Gineiden doesn’t have many female characters. I’ve seen feminists rise in affront over this numerical sexism, and to me, that’s just ridiculous – the females in this show fight their own battles with grace and dignity, and Annerose is living example of that.
8. Siegfried Kircheis
[SPOILER ALERT] Before there was Kamina, there was Siegfried Kircheis – and while the two are as different as chalk and cheese, I like to think that Kircheis had more of a haunting presence in the entirety of the second to fourth arcs, than Kamina ever had in the second half of Gurren Lagann. Since it was pretty much sorted that Simon could fill Kamina’s shoes, Kamina simply continued to linger on as an inspiration to his followers – but boy, hardly a day goes by without someone insulting the living by musing that Siegfried Kircheis could have done a much better job in their position. No ghost has ever been as wanted for the position of Chief of Military, Chief of Internal Affairs, Secretary of State, Head of the Kaiser’s Personal Counselling Office… But jokes aside, losing Kircheis was my first wake-up call to the Game-of-Thrones nature of this show, and shocked me more than any other death did. That, despite the fact that the person who wrote the Narrator’s script deserves a Golden Raspberry for all the spoilers they leaked in the episode previews.
7. Oskar von Reuenthal
[SPOILER ALERT] Ah, Reuenthal. I hate to say that he’s here because of how sad his entire life was; but it’s true if you don’t take it the wrong way. With Reuenthal and his demise, there was always an overarching sense of fate and inevitability; because having witnessed him and his sado-masochistic nature over the course of 80-odd episodes, anyone could see he was a ticking time-bomb about to go off. Reuenthal’s tragedy is a fine example of Gineiden’s trademark writing – taking a cliché, almost commonplace device like a betrayal, and turning it into something wholly unconventional, yet so real. Typically, characters who betray their allies are evil backstabbers disguised as angels, or misunderstood anti-heroes with some tear-wringing backstory – when it comes to Reuenthal, please, Gineiden doesn’t do black-and-whites. Reuenthal was a man betrayed by his own pride – but as is the case with every other soldier in this story, their pride is something you look at and feel awed by, isn’t it?
6. Hildegard von Mariendorf
Like I mentioned, Gineiden doesn’t feature very many women – but for a show of its time, it’s still probably the least sexist anime I have ever watched, precisely because it doesn’t resort to patronising stunts to show off its females. Karin aside, there are no Black-Lagoon-ish tough chicks with bombs and bazookas, no Olivia Milla Armstrongs to make the men cower in the shadow of their impractical hairdos – just one harmless-looking Hildegard von Mariendorf with her astute wisdom and immaculate pantsuit. A big part of why I like Hilda so much, is precisely how I am nothing like her, and will never understand her. Seriously, who falls in love with a whackjob like the Kaiser? Normal women would be pulling up their skirts and running in the opposite direction. But nah, Annerose and Kircheis could win Reinhard over by virtue of their childhood bonds; Hilda had to fight it out with skills and smarts, and she got there in the end, didn’t she? You don’t need an Ezra Scarlet or Kill La Kill to empower the women of anime – you just need Hildegard von Mariendorf to open her mouth and put every High Admiral and Commander in the room to shame.
5. Dusty Attenborough
Honestly, when Gineiden gets funny, nothing else comes close – and I normally find Attenborough at the centre of it all. Most people might prefer the goofy Olivier Poplan, and that’s perfectly fine – for me, though, the girls and booze jokes grow tiresome real quick, and I like a little something more…clever. Gineiden is chock full of quotables and meme-worthy moments; and if anyone remembers the call to “win this war on foppery and whim”, or the musings of “if this were a third rate anime”, then I’ll have you know that you’ve already been charmed by the glib tongue of the swashbuckling Dusty Attenborough. But that’s not all there is to Attenborough – like many other nobles subordinates, he’s best contented being a follower, and what a wise move, because that’s probably where he shines the brightest. After all that stiff-necked shouting from the uptight Imperial army, it’s nice to engage in battle with a smug, good-natured tactician executing orders from above…and Attenborough never fails to keep me at the edge of my seat.
4. Julian Mintz
Why won’t any other long-running shounen series learn from Gineiden? If you have a show that’s abnormally long, then the best way to introduce your main character is never through the first episode, let alone flamboyantly announce “THIS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER” (yes, Naruto?). Now wait a minute, you say, are you calling Julian Mintz the main character of Gineiden? What pills have you been taking? Well, I’ll concede that Julian doesn’t necessarily start out as the main character – but hey, look what Madoka Magica did, and tell me Gineiden didn’t do it first. If I could have it my way, I’d describe Gineiden as a story of Julian Mintz’s growth; a story of how he comes to learn and appreciate the true nature of the conflict between democracy and autocracy, and indeed, the true nature of war and peace. Being thrust into a world of accomplished yet messed-up adults, Julian matures a whole lot faster than any kid his age – and has to come to grips with feelings of ambition, hope, grief, regret, and even love. By the end of it all, if you don’t at least look back on Gineiden’s EDs (especially the third one) and feel like your heart is being skewered with feels, I wonder how you even made it through the fourth arc, since that’s where Julian Mintz becomes the new author of the legend. Unless you’re a diehard Galactic Empire fan…which is possibly the case.
3. Reinhard von Lohengramm
[SPOILER ALERT] Yes, Kaiser Reinhard is so cool…at least, up until he allowed Emil von Selle to poison his food and courted his own steady decline. Beyond his own loyal retainers, I like to think the whole Gineiden team pledged their undying allegiance to him right from the start of production – since you can really tell how back in the 1980s, the studio bombed the bulk of their allocated frames and colours on animating Reinhard’s hairflips alone. Many of us live in an age where the rise of modern democracy would make anyone denounce dictatorship as archaic and the mother of all holocausts, but here comes Reinhard von Lohengramm to turn your world upside down and champion the cause of autocracy. The craziest thing is that he actually succeeds at swaying our hearts – is it his confidence? His charisma? His compassion? At his peak, Reinhard’s character is one to be experienced, not described. And yet, as is the case with all great leaders, Reinhard’s a desperately lonely person, and it’s hard not to feel a strange sympathy every time he tugs at his locket. And of course, as is the case with all youthful prodigies, there’s also the kick you get out of seeing an inexperienced lover turn moe over a bouquet of roses. Well, whatever it is, I think we can all agree that there’s no one who can even come close to touching the magnificence of the Kaiser who turns his back on his allies and faces his enemies – and what more can I say, other than Sieg Kaiser!
2. Yang Wen-li
[SPOILER ALERT] Somewhere out there in this world, this man exists. I had the same feeling with Monster’s Kenzo Tenma, and every time I see Yang reclining in his chair, cap over his face, I get that same fuzzy feeling that humanity has hope as long as such good people remain amongst us. Some might point out that the Alliance has their own Kamina, too – but no, I just can’t see it that way with Yang; everything about him is not in appearances, but in the liquid-gold wisdom that gushes forth from his mouth. It feels incredible to think that I learnt more from Yang Wen-li than many other 3D mentors in my life – but that’s how it goes. I don’t have much else to say about Yang, other than the fact that long after the series ended, I still can’t accept the fact that he’s passed on. This is probably the saddest thing I have to say of any character here, but Yang Wen-li betrayed me, somehow, when he departed. To that extent, he confuses me as much as Oberstein does, in a different sense. How could someone so good and humble deserve an end like that? Like Frederica says, he’s the kind of guy to live long into old age, gradually forgotten by the world, surrounded by his grandchildren and his books, peacefully plodding on with each day until he no longer awakens. Because of him, I adamantly refuse to touch any of the other movies and series in the Gineiden franchise – because once I see everything there is, he’ll disappear forever. Sounds pretty sad but profound, doesn’t it?
Moving on from something so depressing, we’ve finally come to my favourite character of Gineiden…which you can probably already guess through a process of elimination, but here goes anyway.
1. Wolfgang Mittermeyer (and Evangeline Mittermeyer)
Alright, I cheated, Wolf and Eva are two characters – but hey, I wouldn’t have loved one as much without the other, and boy, do I looove both of them. Together. But let’s talk about Wolf first.
[SPOILER ALERT] I put my hands up in surrender, and confess I love Wolf because my gamble with declaring him as my favourite character paid off when he survived to the end (ha), but nevertheless, up until the final credits rolled, I never got tired of fangirling whenever the Gale Wolf appeared on-screen. If Yang Wen-li personifies humility, then Wolfgang Mittermeyer personifies honour through and through. As a Fleet Admiral, Mittermeyer is one of the rare gems who walks his talk, starting off his career by getting court-martialled and detained for all the righteous executions he’s eventually going to commit again at the height of his power (only this time no snobby aristocrat can say anything about it). I mean, sure, he can get a little short-tempered at times, and he’s certainly no Yang or Reinhard in terms of intellectual prowess, but who needs to have brains spilling out of your ears when you wield a heart of integrity? Also, this man turns the entire concept of loyalty right on it’s head and echoes the words first enunciated in the cult-hit Akira – if anyone’s going to kill someone, it’s got to be his friends, not his enemies; and it’s partially thanks to Mittermeyer that Gineiden starts its closing arc on one of the most heart-wrenching battles of all space history.
Military affairs aside, he’s pretty much the only gentleman in the entire show who knows how to do a marriage proposal right, and once that’s over and done with…the greatest fairy tale romance of all time begins. I mean, seriously, Admiral, what’s up with chastising Bayerlain for his lack of flirting skills when your waifu literally got delivered to your doorstep?
While I’m on a roll here – does anyone else realise that none of the top anime waifus are actually, er, real wives? Enter Evangeline Mittermeyer, my personal pick for the greatest anime waifu of all time – she cooks (bouillon fondue), sews, is a natural with children… I don’t care if radical feminists think she’s some archetypal oppressed Angel in the House; her marriage with Wolf is the cutest thing I have ever seen, and reminds me that more anime need to tell the other side of the story: you want a good waifu, first be a good hasubando. In closing, I guess watching these two gave me the happiest feelings I could ever have in a show about warfare and conflict. For fear of regressing into gloom, I shall avoid quoting what Frederica Greenhill says of democracy and Yang, and simply say this – really, beyond the blood and battles, there’s an unparalleled joy in leaving it all behind, returning home to the ones you love. Gineiden gives us exhilarating battles, but it gives us sweet moments like this as well. I don’t know how this show does it. Long live Wolf, Eva, and Felix Mittermeyer.
And that concludes my top 10 favourite Gineiden characters. I’ll probably say this again in the future, but here’s the thing – with characters as noble and righteous as these, it’s my firm belief that people who watch Gineiden just to put down every other show learnt absolutely nothing from it. Gineiden and its phenomenal cast are something I can never fully put into words, and for me to even try to do that here…I probably haven’t done justice to anyone one of these legendary heroes. But then, how does one even begin to express the depth and power of a legend? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t driven insane by anticipation of the rumoured remake…if only just to see these people again.
It could probably come off as odd that I chose to do a list on anime endings rather than openings, but here’s why. As much as strong openings are paramount to the start of a great episode, strong endings are equally paramount to marking the closure of a great episode.
And not in the way that you’d expect. I love anime EDs, because some of them take the liberty to be what I like to call ‘subversive’, which means that an ED chooses to take on a characteristic which is drastically different from what the series itself possesses. Which is why, more often than not, the very best of the best EDs have a reflective, calming and probing quality, and have layers of undertones carefully woven into them. Good animation, a suitable song, and above all, a purposeful and intricate relation to the series itself – those are the things which make an ED worth my watching every time. So without further ado, here are my personal 5 favourites.
Oh, hang on. Before the actual list, I thought I should throw together a mishmash compilation of EDs which I liked but didn’t make it into the top spots. No ranking, because ah wells, who can really dissect an above-than average piece of art in order to give it a number that falls below a 5?
Mosaic Kakera – Code Geass ED 2
Why do I like this random montage of children’s book illustrations so much? I don’t, actually, I just listen to this for the song. Who wouldn’t? It’s catchier than Evangelion’s opening, and that’s saying something!
Secret Base – Ano Hana ED
This sneaky little bugger of a song fulfilled a crucial role in the ending of the series; it conditioned its faithful viewers to associate the climax with an air of closure and finality, drawing fat tears from our eyes in the last scenes of the show. I know I said that I didn’t cry as much as I expected to, but it was this number that actually did me in in the first place, so kudos for that.
Don’t Look Behind – Black Lagoon ED
This is probably the most perfect example of what I mean by a subversive ending. We all know what Black Lagoon is like – guns, chicks, cars, explosions. And then along comes this slow, disturbing instrumental piece, with Revy walking along the beach, shedding bullets and dropping her weapons. Surely there’s something in there for one to ponder over?
I’m Alive – Black Butler ED 1
And this ED pulls the exact opposite stunt from Black Lagoon’s, by subverting a dark and serious anime with a spunky and light-hearted twist, making you almost believe that it could have been a slice-of-life show, you know, if we could just take away the whole Faustian contract element.
Dango Daikazoku – Clannad ED
Last on this list of runner-ups is none other than this very simple, almost nursery rhyme-like children’s song. Making Clannad so much more than a visual novel harem, by driving the focus onto human relationships and the dire importance of families and unity. Also, it pulls off the same trick Anohana did, through conditioning viewers for Afterstory, if you know what I mean…
And now, on to the winners…
#5 Splash Free – Free! Iwatobi Swim Club ED
Yes, this ED deserves this spot. Because it’s creative, and it’s beautifully animated. With water being such an essential and crucial element to the entire show, what better way to reinforce this than to end of each episode with a catchy sounding quest for the search of H2O?
But more than that, I just love Free! because it was so darned smart about how to pander to its audience, in a way that was neither offensive nor degrading. We all know perfectly well that Free! is meant to be the pioneer of the manservice genre, and boy did it exceed expectations. Yet it always did so with grace and style, never verging into hentai territory. And so we have an ED chockfull of bishounens dancing and wearing an assortment of crazy outfits. Whoopee!
#4 Memoria – Fate/Zero ED 1
What are you supposed to do when you have absolutely no idea who the major players in the Holy Grail war are? Fear not, because this ending is almost a miniature history lesson in itself, and acts as a brilliant titbit for anyone wanting to be convinced that Gilgamesh and Alexander the Great really are who they say they are. As with all of Ufotable’s works, and let alone Fate/Zero itself, the quality of animation is nothing short of amazing, and it’s a pretty apt song for a show about historical warriors clashing in a life-or-death battle royale.
I love it that we get to take a breather from the warlike personalities of the Servants, instead taking time to focus on who they once were as people, living in their respective civilisations. Through this beautiful montage, which is in fact inspired by real works of art depicting the Servants, we get to have a glimpse of their innate characters and quirks. Rider has obviously always been the almighty, charismatic sort. Archer has always liked to chill and relax, while being the absolute prick he is. And Assassin has always been deeply tormented in isolation. This ED always made me feel so much more connected to each of the Servants, reinforcing their humanity over and over again. Nothing less to be expected from a show like Fate/Zero.
#3 Hello Especially – Silver Spoon ED 1
There’s a lot I can talk about when it comes to this ED. First, the song itself, sung by Sukima Switch, manages to be both down-to-earth yet jolly at the same time, matching the atmosphere of Silver Spoon to a tee. And if you haven’t watched Silver Spoon, you really should.
Second, the sequence of Hachiken being on a journey, as the passage of time is reflected in the changing state of the land and its produce. See, this is life. This is what it means to say that ‘life goes on’, come whatever. I just felt that this choice of sequence was the perfect way to encapsulate the mood of such an earnest story. Hachiken’s journey as a student at Yezo High represented in 1 minutes and 30 seconds of him simply, well, walking.
And lastly, the friends that come, go, and stay. Life may be a journey, but seeing the motley crew of oddballs being at his side just gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? Mostly Hachiken walks alone, and then at various points in his journey, different comrades pop up to give him moral support. There couldn’t be a more accurate depiction of life and friendships.
#2 Sora To Kimi No Message – Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet ED
I’ve read a Youtube comment somewhere, suggesting that this song reflects Amy’s feelings for Ledo, and I might just believe it. I also thought that it would be pointless to try and systematically list what makes this ED so beautiful, and instead, here’s a paragraph of babble on the subject.
The best part about Gargantia is the construction of its vast and sprawling world, and here is the very best of it; an animation of the ocean and Amy on a windsurf, which doubles up as a glider. Steampunk technology aside, this amazing sequence of her surfing down crimson waves, just reflects the sheer giddiness of freedom that is so enticing and bizarre to Gargantia’s lead protagonist, the heartless child soldier Ledo. Funny that it was this ED that made me actually like Amy, because her as the spunky livewire never did much good in the actual series. Here, however, her personality is perfection. The idea of freedom is also artfully executed in the way that the camera zooms in on her as the chorus picks up, moving from focusing on the floating colony of Gargantia in the background, to the endless horizon in the distance.
On a creative note, has anyone else seen an ED which weaves in its next-episode preview the way this one does, by projecting it on a moving ship? I think not.
# 1 Tsukiakari – Darker than Black ED 1
If anything could be more subversive, deep, haunting, and immersive than this ED, well – let’s just say that I haven’t come across it yet. Just a small explanatory note to say that Darker than Black is one of my top favourite anime, for the most bizarre and unexplainable reasons. See, Darker than Black is that show which makes me take on a different personality altogether, and end up liking all the things I don’t normally like. Shinji Ikari and Asuka Sohryu are my favourite anime characters, but Yin and Hei are also very much beloved, just in a different way. And together, Hei and Yin are probably my favourite anime couple. I love the entire Darker than Black franchise, both seasons and OVAs included. ‘Morbidly beautiful’, would be the word to describe why I love it so. Don’t ask me more than this.
I love this sequence, firstly because I actually picked up Darker than Black after watching it. This gorgeous piano ballad, sung by my favourite singer Rie Fu, made me believe the show had a deeper, more sophisticated quality about it, and I was right. This song set the tone for me to enjoy the anime to its fullest.
I also love how it complements the story of Yin so perfectly. Unlike all the Rei clones in the anime universe, I’ve had a soft spot for Yin, because her development was purposeful and unorthodox. In her story arc in the first season, we see her in her prime as she sits beneath the moonlight, always searching for her lost humanity, silently resigned to her fate as a Doll but searching nonetheless. Of course, this ED is about Yin. And since she doesn’t say anything, the song speaks for her, just as Itzhak’s poetry does in the plot. It’s tranquil, it’s tragic, but it’s a solemn reminder that things that are lost could someday return.
For me, this ED will always be a serene experience unlike any other. It makes me think about life, love and hope. To call it a masterpiece would warp its nature. It’s a fluid work of art, which made Darker than Black what it was. To have an ED influence the experience of a show is a phenomenal feat that no other anime since has managed to succeed in.