The 150-year-long stalemate between the two interstellar superpowers, the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, comes to an end when a new generation of leaders arises: the idealistic military genius Reinhard von Lohengramm, and the FPA's reserved historian, Yang Wenli.
While Reinhard climbs the ranks of the Empire with the aid of his childhood friend, Siegfried Kircheis, he must fight not only the war, but also the remnants of the crumbling Goldenbaum Dynasty in order to free his sister from the Kaiser and unify humanity under one genuine ruler. Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy, Yang—a strong supporter of democratic ideals—has to stand firm in his beliefs, despite the struggles of the FPA, and show his pupil, Julian Mintz, that autocracy is not the solution.
As ideologies clash amidst the war's many casualties, the two strategic masterminds must ask themselves what the real reason behind their battle is.
Legend of the Galactic heroes was adapted from a series of ten novels, published 1982–87, by Yoshiki Tanaka. The novels won the Seiun Award for the best long-form Japanese science fiction in 1988.
At the start of its production the anime was distributed through a subscription system in which episodes were mailed to existing fans of the novels. It was made in four separate tranches over nearly a decade, with the production of side-stories continuing for several further years. The main series has the largest voice cast of any anime, with well over 300 voice actors, and it is the longest OVA series ever made.
The novels have also been adapted into a manga, a stage musical by the Takarazuka Revue and a number of games.
#1: "Skies of Love" by Michiru Akiyoshi (eps 1-22,24-26) #2: "I am waiting for you" by Michiru Akiyoshi (eps 27-30,32,34-35,37-38,40,43,45,49,51-52) #3: "Sea of the Stars" by LISA (eps 55-81,86) #4: "Must Be Something" by Hitomi Konno (eps 87-106,108-110)
#1: "Hikari no Hashi wo koete" by Kei Ogura (eps 1-5,7-13,16-17,19-21,24-26,84) #2: "Tabidachi no Jyokyoku" by Kei Ogura (eps 27-30,32,35,37-38,40,42-43,45,49,51) #3: "Kansou no Uta" by Kei Ogura (eps 55-56,58-69,71-81,83,85) #4: "Uchuu no Kakehashi" by Kei Ogura (eps 87-106,108-110)
This series is overrated on this site. That is to say, with 110 episodes, your vote only counts after you've seen 22 episodes, almost a full season, and those who don't like this show probably won't wait for 22 episodes to decide.
Which is a shame, as it's only after about 20 episodes that this series progresses from something that is slow, somewhat overly bombastic, and hinting at more to come to show itself to be one of the most intelligent pieces of anime that's been made to date.
When I say 'intelligent', I don't mean it to be cunning, surprising the viewer with unsuspected plot
lines or new angles to view something. Nor does it delve deeply into some obscure theory of science or arts, bombarding the viewer with ideas he couldn't have come up with himself. In fact, there's absolutely nothing in this series that is wholly unexpected or very deep. What it has, though, is a sense of scale that's unsurpassed in any anime - or, for that matter, any television show - I've seen.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes centers around - you guessed it - a bunch of people who, according to populace at large that inhabits the fictional future this series plays in, are of heroic proportions. That is to say, heroic in a very classical sense, being possibly a negative thing as well as a positive.
The series is set in a future wherein the universe known to man is divided into two camps, the aristocratic and absolutist Galactic Empire, and the democratic Free Planets' Alliance, who have been embroiled in a war for some time, seemingly
being evenly matched. This balance is shattered when a military genius with a far-reaching ambition rises on the Imperial side, prompting the Alliance to, somewhat grudgingly, give ever greater backing to the most capable officer on their own side. Both men surround themselves with able staff, who become legends in their own right.
It sounds like your average hero of freedom-versus-tyrant story, but it turns out to be anything but. First of all, the heroes do have a sense of their own importance, but also the sense to question whether they are all that special, or whether the circumstances of their times have just brought them to a spotlight which people equal to them could never have aimed at. More importantly, the main question on which the whole series hinges remains an open one. This question is the age-old one of which is better, autocracy or democracy, the problem being that a good autocracy is usually better than a good democracy, but a bad autocracy being worse than a bad democracy. Within the happenings of the show, it becomes apparent that, militarily speaking, at least, a good autocracy has an edge over democracy in terms of speed and decisiveness, and this shows in how the series progresses.
A large part of the series is devoted to showing the war and its subsequent smaller-scale rumblings. The war is fully shown from the side of the commanding officers - one of only a very few shows to do so - and does show an appropriate sense of scale. With battles involving thousands of battleships and millions of men, simple depictions of large-scale tactics take the place of views of the battlefield itself, and a considerable part of the show is, laudable, devoted to discussions on logistics and military intelligence.
A larger part still, though, is devoted to discussions on politics, all within the greater autocracy versus democracy question. Again, these thoughts never go very deep, but what strikes one is that so very many possible variables are brought up. Almost any motive of rulers or the general populace that might affect a political decision is included at some point in the show, making me at least think to myself: 'They even thought of thát one.' The show does tend, here and there, to lean toward the old 'good soldier, bad politician' cliché, but, overall, it really lacks a clear villain, instead showing each possible side (apart, perhaps, from religious fanatics) from every possible angle. Moreover, all this is shown within a future universe that is highly consistent over the full 110 episodes, even if differences between the warring sides tend to be somewhat exaggerated: in many cases whole societies seem to act a bit too much according to a somewhat radical ideology, only to make their following actions be true to form.
This being true to form applies also to most of the actions that, at first glance, seem to be overly dramatical, in the first place many of the actions of the dozen or so main protagonists. However, when thinking about the how and why of their actions, it usually becomes clear that they cannot have but acted as they did, according to cultural mores and individual character. A case in point would be the reliance of many Imperial officers on the character of some military commander to predict his battlefield tactics. This would seem lunacy, until it is remembered that the Imperial commanders are a tight-knit group, mostly of noble birth, and known to each other: each commander would know the peculiarities of all others, which become all the more predictable as the importance of gaining personal glory and honour in battle are taken into the equation.
This reliance on known characteristics of all personalities is also possible because the characters don't evolve all that much. Now, I've never understood why 'character progression' in general seems to mean having characters make a full volte-face, and I am, in fact, happy with a series that shows all characters as being fully grown, and fixed in their ways. Each has a specific role to play, and a mind-set that might be predictable, but is, again, true to form. This doesn't make the character shallow. Far from it: their characteristics mean that each takes a single position to a fitting extreme, making for interesting differences between the characters, and accompanying differences in outlook.
That said, it is indeed true that the characters may be somewhat flat, and quite a few seem to be included only to show a different point of view toward a specific situation or theory, but it is exactly this relative flatness that makes it possible for them to discuss so many situations.
As for the art, it is old and outdated, but that can't be held against the show. It is a shame that, mainly in the first season, the series is at times simply bad: persons walk in an awkward way, scenes are recycled, and even relative positions of facial structures change from frame to frame. There's no excuse for that. Technically, though, the art definitely gets better during the course of the show.
In fact, the show being old might be a boon. The creators have opted to make the drawing style relatively realistic, which fits the series splendidly. One has only to look at the manga to see how different it could have been: the style of the manga doesn't fit the show at all.
Real points have to go to the design. Again, nothing is really innovative, from the spaceships to the almost 19th century looking setting to the uniforms of the soldiers. It is, however, solid, and consistent, and really brings the world to life.
The music is outstanding. It mainly consists of generally well-known classical compositions, which, granted, have been often used before, but never have they been used to such splendid effect: especially the use of pieces during battle sequences, fitting the individual scenes to the music, is a joy to watch.
As a whole, Legend of the Galactic Heroes never tries to be overly deep, and, though it tends to be somewhat bombastic, never loses itself to any glorification. It is slow and quite meticulous, focusing on a lot of details, and consists for the largest part of dialogue, not action. The story progresses slowly, and only after about a season's worth of episodes the real story starts to evolve.
And this show never, ever tries to evoke an emotional response. The whole series is based on having the viewer have an intellectual understanding of what happens, not an emotional one. There are, thus, no cheap tricks to elicit emotional response, nothing overly dramatic (barring a few strokes of bombast), and no characteristics that make a main protagonist or villain.
I can only applaud this, considering it a feat to produce such a good series without relying on drama. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is, in this sense, the absolute antithesis of my other personal favourite, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, appealing to the rational side of the viewer, even when the protagonists act with all their vaunted 'foppery and whim'.
This is Star Wars. Lucas's franchise should be renamed to something else.
If any work of entertainment in our history deserves the title of 'Star Wars' then it is this anime, and not George Lucas's franchise. This is more star wars than Star Wars ever was, is, or will be. This is star wars. Epic wars among the stars, grand vision with something to say, something to show, all the while consistent narratively, thematically and audially, never pandering to a clamouring fan base, this is 110 episodes of pure sci-fi operatic drama of the highest quality. This is star wars.
Preferably experienced after watching the prequel movie
My Conquest Is The Sea Of Stars, the story of the LotGH OVA pits two systems of living against each other. Two charismatic men. Delving through politics, military, religion, philosophy and media, it is a detailed anime that rarely ever takes short cuts. This means that we see everything play out and are never expected to just fill in large gaps with our imagination. We don’t just see ships blowing each other up, we see the tacticians inside them planning their moves, we don’t just see armies invading planets; we see them deal with the aftermath of restructuring society. There are no short cuts in LotGH, only one long and very entertaining path.
LotGH is like the anime equivalent of Michael Mann's Heat when it comes to the two protagonists of Reinhard Lohenngram and Yang Wen-li. They are not in each other’s faces with conflict; they are at a distance yet always on each other's minds. Human civilisation as their chess board. They are not protagonist and antagonist. They are figureheads who are almost comrades in their strong resolves to end a terrible war. They are like magnets drawing fate towards them by their personalities alone; then they back it all up with action and propel humanity into a new century.
Yang Wen-li. The great irony of Yang is that he is the historian-wannabe who is destined to make history himself. The anime speaker for Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller's voices. Those two great literary giants of scathing wit and nonchalance. One of Yang's best quotes is the following: "People may need societies, but they don’t necessarily need 'nations'” He is beyond patriotism or nationalism. He is a conscientious, self-deprecating, charming and laid back man with the humility to feel intense burden and guilt at his actions, even though he tries to take the path of least violence, he is part of a war machine and is directly responsible for millions of deaths. This fact is not lost on the man, and it makes him that much more of anime's greatest characters.
Reinhard Lohenngram, the more romantic fairytale character, with flowing blonde hair, unparalleled achievement, aided by his unwavering childhood friend to rise through the military ranks of the empire with the sole purpose to rescue his sister from the clutches of the emperor, with the additional task of reforming and uniting the entire galaxy as a peripheral duty. Reinhard is not only the most powerful man in the universe, but he's also probably the loneliest. He's a pretty tragic figure that goes through more conflict than Yang, considering the autocratic environment he has to wade through, trying to hold onto his soul as the leader of such a system of living is what’s fascinating about his character.
There are dozens of memorable characters all fully fleshed out, even though they're supporting members, the fact that this is 110 episodes long means they all get a chance to shine in the spotlight and develop just as well as the two main figureheads. Many names will be etched in your mind after you've finished the tale, names such as Kircheis, Reuenthal, Oberstein, Mittermeyer, Poplan, Bucock, Schenkopp.
LotGH might get flak for having the appearance of being a talky and dry anime but that could not be further from the truth. Because of such excellent characterisation, the emotion and drama of this saga is beyond anything in other anime. When characters pass away the sense of loss is palpable, in the same vein of how character deaths in live action cinema affects the viewer, such is the ambition of LotGH in reaching for greatness beyond the anime medium.
"Humans don’t fight for principles or philosophy. They fight for the person who embodies their principles and philosophy. They don’t fight for revolutions, they fight for the revolutionary."
People fight for Reinhard and Yang. They are pyramids, and underneath them are a large cast of characters that are fascinating, fully developed and run the gamut of good to bad to walking the thin line between. One could argue that the empire has the most interesting group of characters, they get slightly more scenes, they have more skill and cunning, but then the republic is more relevant to the majority of viewers watching. They're more relatable because of the environment they're in which reflects modern day westernised society very well, warts and all.
LotGH's epicness lies in its relation to reality, in that we can actually believe various situations portrayed in the story can happen; that a group of men and women can band together to fight for equality no matter what the odds.
LotGH investigates and ponders the virtues and shortcomings of these two systems of living with so much depth, so much impartially, it’s a joy. You're not meant to root for one system because the show doesn’t paint with broad strokes. Whether you prefer one side or the other, both will be populated by characters you like, so not only are you split on an ideological level but also at a basic entertainment level. In fact you're not really meant to root for any side, you're an observer to history being made and repeated. Life is cycles.
When characters talk in LotGH, they talk to each other and not the viewer. For the most part, this isn’t a show stained by one of the main staples of the anime medium, that number one device used by lazy writers to convey information to the viewer: walking talking expositions. This is an anime that is prime material for such characters, who may as well directly stare at the 'camera' and waffle on about what they're doing for the sole purpose of cluing us in. Not so in LotGH, as characters only address each other with information that is relevant to them, not us.
We figure out what's going on through character actions, not asinine summaries from them. If they bring up something that they already know amongst themselves, then they discuss it in a relatively coherent fashion and not typically clichéd manner. In short the viewer is never treated like a child, we have to actually concentrate when watching this story because the characters aren’t going to wait up for us or spell everything out with easy words.
Characters will admittedly often sum up their situations in LotGH, so we can get our bearings, but it’s done naturally as you'd expect for people in a war situation demanding situation reports, it’s never shoe-horned in. Characters reflect upon experiences a lot, about what they've done, what they're doing and what they will do in the future, so a lot of information is conveyed but the most important fact is that they're talking to each other and not the viewer. You will rarely ever question the intelligence of characters, you will rarely exclaim "you're so stupid!" because most of the characters featured in the story are highly intelligent and are already two steps ahead of you. There is no greater viewing experience than watching intelligent people battling each other with everything they've got.
Another important aspect regarding exposition is that this show has a narrator who is the replacement for expositional characters. The narrator transitions us from one setting to another very concisely and is an integral part of the anime. If it weren’t for this grandfatherly voice we'd be bombarded by the terrible expositional conversations anime is famed for, but thankfully we're spared that fate.
Although there is a small irony in the fact that in the last season, comprised of 24 episodes, when the animation is at its best, these tropes of anime that have been disparaged in this review begin to surface. With expositional dialogue and unrestrained character body behaviour beginning to rear its unwanted head. Though it’s not enough to detract, it’s still noticeable considering all of the quality and restraint shown previously. Maybe it’s yet another example of how limitations such as low budget can make creativity flourish through determination, whereas abundancy, such as improved animation in the latter half of this OVA, encourages complacency.
So LotGH is not perfect. The animation and art are dated, the plot riddled with small holes that would make an obsessive nitpicker sweat. Some scenarios are diluted or presented in a very simple and convenient fashion that betray the ambition and scope of the series. Religion is painted with a broad stroke and not explored much. Some military tactics and operations are unrealistically achieved with very little complications when so much thought was put into them beforehand.
LotGH simply makes up for all that with pure passion, overriding aesthetics with storytelling and plot holes with historical research. The concept behind the art is solid, the ideas of what the animation attempts to show you are inspired. The plot holes do not negate the story, they can be forgiven for two reasons, the first is that the show is already so full of research and detail that when the viewer spots a periphery hole its almost glaring, and secondly because at the end of the day this is an anime for teens and needs to sacrifice some procedural details for the sake of entertainment given to you at a decent pace.
Not every little detail needs to be presented to you, because this is entertainment, not a documentary. Except when every detail actually is covered and it is a documentary, but more about that later.
If we have to choose between sacrificing plot details/art quality or character details, I would like to think most of us would choose to preserve character. Characters drive the story. An entertaining story with flat characters is not going anywhere. We need to emphasise and connect with depictions of human beings to be fully entertained. LotGH's intelligent characters populate it with so much personality and resolve, so much consistency, there are no clichéd twists and turns from out of nowhere, there are no characters dying and magically coming back to life.
There is a real emotional current running throughout the main characters’ arcs, a strong bond of friendship, love and camaraderie that is tested to the limits, and it results in very powerful episodes thanks to dozens of episodes worth of character development.
As much as the imperfections mentioned earlier in the review are apparent in the show, they are mostly in the earlier half, but at some point, after the first season comprising of 26 episodes, the wrinkles are smoothed out and the occasional moustache-twirling bad guy or belief-stretching plot-point are erased, until that last season where the wrinkles begin to appear again, leaving us mostly with a viewing experience packed with quality storytelling, tension, intrigue and sustained drama. You will rarely ever question the intelligence of characters, groan at their actions; blink in disbelief at their motives. LotGH stands out from the crowd for its pitch-perfect characterisation and consistent narrative.
Regarding the art and animation, if you have a problem with sparse architecture, rooms with a handful of chairs and windows, cityscapes with generic skyscrapers and not much else of note; crowd scenes that look like something a high school kid produced with pocket-money budget, then you might have a problem with LotGH. You'd have a problem period, because these flaws are due to budgetary constraints not ineptitude on the art department's behalf. If that irritates you then you're not a reasonable person. You will be placated to know that the art and animation increase slightly over the course of the 9 year production.
A quirk of the budgetary restraints to the animation results in a restrained 'performance' by the characters which is much welcomed. Another undesired trope of the anime medium is blatant facial reactions to various types of news, and some of them are naturally still used in this anime, but for the most part the characters in LotGH don’t overreact as much as other typical anime shows. When a character gives a damning speech for example, his face is static which serves to make him look even more menacing than if the animators went overboard with their tools and made his eyes bulge, irises smaller and veins pop out his head.
You just have to accept you're not going to see pioneering animation and that when a bunch of soldiers go to battle in a spaceship early in the series, there's a reason it looks like five people brawling in a nondescript metallic tube. This is not to say the entire OVA is like this however, as there are still many instances of bold imagery, thousands of ships in symmetry looking like stars is a regular motif, and the space fortresses in particular have a brilliant design with reflective liquid-metal surfaces.
The ship designs; save for Reinhard's and a few other empire ships; aren’t cool-looking. They're not sleek pointy colourful mecha; they're ugly blocky rectangles with many holes that fire lasers into your face. The design is pretty blatant: war isn’t the only thing ugly, the tools employed are also. Millions and millions of humans die in skirmishes, let alone giant battles. The cost is so high it’s hard to imagine, but the OVA does a good job of reminding you with visceral scenes of terror and misery.
Space battles consist of pre-20th century naval-inspired conflicts, with large fleets manoeuvring into strategic spots and moving in for the kill. Attacks are planned carefully and carried out methodically, with the occasional WW2 aerial-inspired dogfights with smaller jets taking off the cruisers. It’s totally unlike nearly every other space-set anime.
This war anime not once glorifies or makes the idea of war 'cool' at all. For all the talk of the Gundam franchise putting a more serious face on war in the medium of animation, it still had a kid piloting a mecha day in day out with funky soundtrack accompanying the action scenes. Not to discredit Gundam at all, as its always laid a huge burden on its kid protagonists, but in LotGH there is no subtle or overt undercurrent to the action, it is what it is: millions of people dying over and over again, mostly to the impartially beautiful and tragic classical score that the viewer can take one way or the other. That is to say, beautiful or tragic.
Chopin, Mozart, Dvorak, Wagner, Mahler, Bach, Bruckner, Brahms, LotGH rarely uses the same piece twice, which is why the LotGH soundtrack box set is massive. 23 CDs total, a behemoth of classical music, an amazing gateway for newbies to the genre, or a greatest hits for veterans. The OVA's soundtrack is timeless, much like its story. There are re-used themes and motifs, but every episode will feature a few compositions not used already. The classical nature of the music heightens the story to epic proportions, the premise is monumental and so should its soundtrack be also.
As for the voice acting, featuring such luminaries as Norio Wakamoto, Kaneto Shiozawa, and Toshio Furukawa, it is a classic cast, accompanied by a classic soundtrack. The OVA excels in audio, even if the visuals don’t.
There is so much depth that the OVA even has a character watch a documentary about the history of humanity. We observe with him a typical documentary format programme, complete with host, his academic credits displayed beside his name; documentary clips and interviews to supplant his monologue of humanity's actions since the latter half of the 21st century.
Rather than be a gimmick, it’s actually a validation of many of the show's quirks, stylistic choices and script decisions made. It provides more context to the story, shedding light on the backdrop of the saga, and the fact that we don’t even see this, the first of a few documentary-based episodes, until well over 30 episodes into the OVA is a testament to the fact that the writers of the OVA respect us, the viewer.
The documentary's content is so full of depth, imagination and epic scope it’s practically an anime in its own right. Indicative of LotGH, that there are so many story arcs or episodes that other anime would stretch into 25 episode series, but they're merely window-dressing in this OVA. Not only is the documentary episode one of the best of the OVA for its rich depiction of a future history, but because of how it changes the dynamic of the entire show, bombarding us with new facts and revelations of how these two systems of living came to be. As such, it is placed where it is with very good reason.
LotGH isn’t all serious politicking and battling, it’s carried by humour all throughout. A type of humour seriously lacking in most anime; that is to say a type of humour that doesn’t rely on slapstick, the breaking of physics, and lurid sex as a topic. The characters in LotGH are cynicists and realists; their humour is a defiant protest at their situation, the futility of war and all it entails. LotGH's humour is largely through dialogue, not sight gags. Vonnegut, Kafka, Heller, these novelists voices are heard in the mouths of many characters, from main protagonists to random fighter pilots, these men are all fed up of dying for no good reason and blow off steam with witty wordplay.
The entire anime is an in-depth exploration of two systems, approached from every direction imaginable, every context; every situation; the ramifications of military, politics, religion and media, of dynasty, lineage and class. It doesn’t lean heavily on one side or the other; both have their pros and cons when looked at objectively. What’s worse, the story ponders: a corrupt democracy or a reformed autocracy? There is of course an idealistic current running through the more relatable characters, those who dream of a universe with peace and equality, of ridding society of corruption and terror. How to go about it of course is up for debate, usually with fleets and bombs.
LotGH is a 6 year saga charting the 3 thousand year battle of humanity with itself, repeating history's mistakes and endeavours. When a character mentions something that happened six years ago, you actually remember the recalled event, because that’s how long the story is. You feel immersed in it, an invisible comrade; a third wheel standing to the side and reminiscing along with the characters. It’s inexplicable but the OVA gets better the more you watch. Every twenty or so episodes the quality rises and the storytelling becomes even more addictive.
There isn’t a single bad episode in the whole 110 episode run. Not only that, but you never know what to expect either, unlike the vast majority of other anime which have a clear narrative of beats: protagonist starts on A, must get to B, must end up at C. With LotGH the plot is so rich, the world so vast, the characters so many, you can never predict what people are going to do next, where they'll end up or what will happen. LotGH's depth is unparalleled.
The saga goes through year after year and you feel the weight with each season, you watch the characters grow together or drift apart, you see setups one episode then pay-offs dozens of episodes later, you see friendships, rivalries, enemies, comrades, battles, love, marriage, birth and death, you see it all. Nothing is left out, absolutely nothing. Other series are just as long, other series have better animation, but no other series is as far-reaching in depth and consistently intelligent and accomplished.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a legend of the anime medium. The greatest anime production in its history.
It is so rare to find any type of lengthy series that span over 100 episodes without declining in quality over its duration due to various factors such as the abundance of inconsistencies in the story, or rehashing the same narrative structural wise, which is pretty common in long running series. Other limiting factors are the available funds for its execution, or its own popularity, which can induce authors to change the course of the story. However, there is one title that managed to evade said issues, being an adaptation of a series of novels by Yoshiki Tanaka, with a lengthy production of 110 OVA
episodes released over the span of nine full years, from the period 1988 to 1997.
I am talking of course of "Legend of the Galactic Heroes" or in its japanese title, "Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu", which is by far one of the best series I have watched so far, from all different mediums. It is a magnificent military space opera anime with drama and sci-fi, enriched with military warfare, intricate political strive, marvelous characters and fantastic dialogue. It is a tale that ultimately proposes a vision society often pondered about, and that is the validity of democracy and autocracy. Many people may have assumed that this anime is purely narrative driven, being its main focus dialogue, which is partially true, yet it has so much more to offer; naturally, it has its flaws as well, which I will try to depict below in addition to its strengths.
The story of Legend of the Galactic Heroes focuses on the 6 year period in which the two main political factions of the galaxy clash, the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, with Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wenli as the most important figures respectively. However, this interstellar war has been waging for over 150 years, with casualties over the millions, marked by the crumbling Goldenbaum dynasty which rules the Empire, and the dysfunctional democratic state of the Alliance. Both Yang and Reinhard, have a reason for being engrossed in military affairs: one to finance his university education, while the other to save his sister from the Emperor. Both being the geniuses they are, they clash with each other in accordance to the pursuit of their goals. As they gain fame and deal with their superiors, people, scheming, political and military warfare, those are the aspects that will dominate these men's life.
The premise may seem simple as first, which may appear as a struggle of good, democracy, against evil, autocracy; however, this is absolutely not the case. The anime portrays magnificently both sides, the first at its worst, while the other at its best respectively through the numerous advantages and flaws of both political ideologies. For example, democracy being a huge impediment for drastic changes, as opposed to autocracy. This makes it for the viewer impossible to root for a specific system, as in addition each side has its own charming/interesting characters. Furthermore, it leaves audiences pondering which is actually favourable, besides making the story unpredictable and exciting.
As mentioned earlier, the story expands greatly on both ideologies with intricate political disputes that are well presented as it is realistically displayed to the viewer, with different things such as Nationalism, exploitation of the weak, oppression, you name it. Then there is another faction in the story, and that is "Terraism", which represents religious belief. This party was of significant importance in the anime, yet its motives and background was weak and never really expanded on; besides, its enormous influence would have many viewers raise their eyebrows whether this should be believable or not. Another lacking aspect was the fact that it didn't expand on the advantages of a religion, rather only focusing on the worst of it. Being an atheist myself, I still find this a lacking aspect. It should be mentioned that there is at times an external narrator to explain the situations to the viewer, including future events, which in the eyes of some may be a hindrance.
The vast amount of episodes may deem viewers to think that the pacing is way too slow for its own good, yet this is not the case; contrary, in my humble opinion, its pacing is flawlessly done, befitting of the narrative. Detailed, rational and straight to the point dialogues are present, which are necessary for character exploration, as well as leaving viewers absorbed in it. Some audiences suggests that the first grand arc is slow, yet I tend to disagree with this; from the very first few episodes, it foreshadows on the big events that are to come, instantly leaving anyone interested, be it the story or the characters itself. In addition, LotGH does a fantastic job in world building, by exploring the characters and explaining the history of how human race developed since leaving Earth, as well as political events relatable to real historical data. However, speaking of the world, or in this case the universe, its map layout is oversimplified to a 2 dimensional plane, which is naturally not the case in space. Besides, the lone planet of Phezzan is supposedly of great economic influence, yet how or why it is, was never fully explored in the anime.
Naturally, it is not all politics: war is waged to achieve afore-mentioned stances and goals. The various battles that take place throughout its duration are no simple "asspulls": these are all well-coordinated through the cunning of the different commanders of each fleet, and their tactical strategies and knowledge. However, it must be mentioned that said strategies are simplified in order for audiences to easily grasp and understand said tactics, which can be lacking in the eyes of some, in addition to display to viewers that not everyone in high positions are smart. These battles are in addition of big scale: people die in the ten's of thousands, if not millions, easily discerning the damage and scale of each confrontation. Neither it is a one-sided war: through intrigue, political corruption, conspiracies and civil wars, the outcomes of battles are often unpredictable generating a lot of tension for the viewer, in addition to appreciate the cunning of different individuals.
There is a downside with the show though, even when it shows the ugly sides of warfare, it is slightly romanticized version, with subjects such as glory and honor, which not always blend in well realistically speaking - this doesn't mean that the fights are tensionless. Hand-to-hand battles are present as well, and these are done with battle axes most of the time, which is strange considering the advanced technology available. Another thing to point out would be the different strategies used: the majority is based on true historical recordings of medieval times, yet there is the problem that these are meant for ground battles, not three-dimensional warfare. Finally, some may indicate that the knowledge of the different commanders of each faction have too much influence in the battles, while at times acting a bit too convenient for plot progression, yet this was a small drawback.
LotGH is not all death and mayhem, it also has its share of slice of life moments, as well as humor to relieve the tension of the situation at times. These are well done, explored though the characters personalities and conceptions of each situation. For example, taken from a conversation in the anime: Soldier: "Your left leg has been crushed" Commander: "Your reports has always been effective vice-admiral" - through the personalities of the characters, such situations and dialogues are easily either humerous or inspiring for the audience.
The cast of characters in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is huge to say least: each has a role to play, and are of importance, being evenly distributed between the different factions in the anime. Most of the character development is rather small, which may be a drawback for some, yet it could be said that it is crucial, as their beliefs are not easily bended to accommodate sudden plot changes, which adds to the intrigue and credibility of the story. Another strong point of the series is the fact that these are not your typical heroes, they're aware of their actions and the consequences, constantly thinking whether their actions are right or not, pondering if it is justifiable with their beliefs, and with society. Furthermore, these need support soldiers to be able to operate and execute their ideas.
There is also the fact that the every single character is susceptible to death, and when it happens, it would hit any viewer as a train as audiences experienced and got to know the character from the beginning to the end. A positive aspect is that these are not over-glorified deaths as is frequent in other mediums: these death's are often simple and befitting of the atmosphere it was trying to portray at the time. Other thing to note is that although the presence of woman is scarce, and seem to take a back role when it comes to warfare, it never sexualizes them in any way; in fact, these are very capable and independent.
Moving on to the different characters, from the Alliance, there is Yang Wenli, who is the likable type of character, intelligent and very cunning: in fact, his genius is one of the best among the last centuries of history. In addition, he is a pacifist which is strongly engrained in his beliefs of democracy, which he firmly stands on. He could be seen as a perfect character military wise, which may be deemed by some as unrealistic, yet is clumsy in daily situations. Then there are others such as Julian Minci, who is in care of Yang, Frederica Greenhill or Attenbourgh; who will forget the likes of Walter von Schennkoppf or Bucock?
On the Galactic Empire side there are arguable more characters of interest. First you have Reinhard von Lohengramm, a strong-willed, naturally talented person. Viewers could describe him as the perfect alpha male, yet as will be apparent, Reinhard has its own weaknesses. There is certain character development presented, being affected by the various situations and character interactions. His motives may seem rather weak, yet is at the same time not overly dramatic, as is seen on his background stories. Kircheis is of sum importance as well, as he is the closest friend to Reinhard, and serves as counselor against some of his friends actions.
Then there is Oskar van Reuenthal, which at first isn't that interesting, yet as story progresses, audiences observe and learn his character, a strong-willed individual with moral, composed and wise, while at the same time stubborn. What makes him so interesting is the fact that he struggles to find his meaning in life, and on how his childhood was. In fact, he could be described as a ticking time bomb, were it not for the fact of the soothing presence of his friend Wolfgang Mittermeyer, renown for his boldness in warfare, yet kind. Other outstanding character is Paul von Oberstein, an emotionless mysterious man, who firmly believes in the better good, yet with all motives based on reason, which he is often criticised for.
The supporting cast play an important role as well, as without them, the main characters wouldn't be as well presented or fleshed out. The representation of human disputes for glory or status is likewise well relayed to the viewer, as it is a very accurate representation of human behaviour. It also introduces Maquiavellism for the justification of fights, another thing to ponder for the protagonist. Other good point of the anime is that there is racial diversity. A small drawback would be the fact that there are no alien races, only humans, which might seem odd considering a vast amount of space is already explored without encountering any other types of life forms.
The animation quality of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is rather lackluster, even considering it began airing in 1988: background characters were badly drawn, motions being very basic, not always fluid as desired and the likes. Nevertheless, it must be said that the quality certainly improved over the course of the story, which is rare in the medium. The character's design is something to behold as well: these are as realistically as possible designed, which enhanced the overall serious atmosphere it was trying to portray; furthermore, facial expressions are not exaggerated either, having the various personalities of said characters come over magnificently.
The animation of the different battles fulfilled its purpose, yet the motions were basic as well, and sometimes rehashed. Nonetheless, the design of the various battle ships and military tools made up for it: these are not fleshy mecha robots, but blunt quadratic structures, best suited for space warfare. In addition, there is also a lot of explosions and gore, accurately representing what war really is: ugly and cruel. Other element to remark is the use of simplified schemes on computer panels on the movement of the enemies, in order to make the viewer quickly understand the situation of the battlefield.
The soundtrack used in Legend of the Galactic Heroes may not have been of original material, yet the compositions used were magnificent, and never overused. Artist such as Beethoven, Wagner, Chopin, Brahms or Mahler are on the order of the day, wonderfully transmitting the atmosphere and emotions it is trying to relay to the audience. The opening and ending songs don't fall short either, yet with compositions such as "Hikari no Hashi wo koete" by Kei Ogura encapsulates truly what LotGH really is: a glorious space opera. The sound effects of the battleships themselves may have been simplified to laser beam sounds, besides of the issue with sound effects in space: though entertaining, it isn't realistic.
Where it truly shines as well are its huge cast of voice actors: with over 300 of them, each for all the different characters present in the anime: this is truly dedication to a series. The voice actor performed their role masterfully, carefully conveying the different emotions presented, as well as the different personalities each character had. People like Wakamoto Norio as Oskar von Reuenthal, Kaneto Shiozawa, Toshio Furkawa, you name it.
Having dived in expecting a slow start, I was pleasantly surprised: the story gripped me form the very first moment with its clever dialogues, to build further up into even better story and execution of it. Legend of the Galactic Heroes falls nothing short of a masterpiece, with a fantastic narrative, complex and intricate story, a huge cast of very memorable and fantastic characters, in addition to a glorious OST, befitting of the anime. Naturally it has its flaws, such as exploration on the motives of some factions, or some oversimplified characters, yet I believe these are minor, and of all the things it executes well, it easily overshadows these. LotGH may have easily inclined me to try out other space operas.
So do I recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Yes, I wholeheartedly do to anyone. Surely the mere length and outdated animation of the series may put some viewers off, yet they will find themselves pleasantly rewarded. Don't expect any fancy overpowered characters or the likes, rather a well crafted story of the universe and battles amongst the stars. This is what could be considered the true Star Wars, a true epic.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an epic tale of the rise to power of two men born at the right time on opposite sides, leading to a clash of brilliant spectacle that could only be executed with care in as an animated original.
Though Legend of Galactic Heroes is 20 years old the visual quality and care is quite priceless. As a viewer who is reluctant to watch series over 40 episodes or over 10 years old, I was taken aback by the engaging art ranging from Ancient Rome, to Victorian England, to Blade Runner-esque futuristic set-pieces and costuming. Both factions, The Free
Planets' Alliance and the Galactic Empire, had its own distinctive look, engaging the eye in nearly every direction. Add to these looks, the numerous space battles waging between the two factions and you have a piece of art that is timeless.
Sound - 10/10
Legend of Galactic Heroes boasts over 100 individual voice actors with, I believe only one person, doubling up. This show is a veritable "who's who" of the time's voice talent, and many of these talents are still working today. The quality of performance from this cast is overwhelmingly great. The actors take to both comedy and drama with a meticulous sense of intelligence, and there are few, if any times I found an actor to have either over or under-played a scene. Musically, this anime uses very well-placed classical music as the aural backdrop for the series, and perhaps the only flaw musically are the opening themes, rife with pitchy, technically abominable singing, but because it is so little of the sound content, then I can personally overlook it.
Characters - 10/10
In this show you would be hard-pressed to find a character that does not serve a definite purpose. There is a large cast of characters ranging from princes and generals to whores and religious fanatics. Each character plays his part in the machine of this show, all believably true to their actions. The only flaw with the characters I suppose is names. While the show is good on giving viewers subtitles to serve as a reminder, because these are German names and those of nobility (which also includes titles) there is a double edged sword that both breeds authenticity and becomes mnemonically troublesome.
Story - 9/10
LoGH is a magnificent space opera that delves into philosophy and politics with an unmatched ease. It is clear where shows like Death Note, Code Geass and creators such as Clamp get their influence from when watching this show. While the writing suffers a bit in the final 15-20 episodes, the slack is picked up by the extraordinary momentum the writers and voice cast from the previous 90 episodes created. Even with those flaws, there are no instances of stagnation in the narrative. The show is always distinctively going somewhere, elegantly leading the viewer with excellently written narration to help with suspense. LoGH also manages to integrate fictional technology into the story with out it overwhelming the viewer, or being an excuse for trite deus ex machina.
Enjoyment - 10/10
For someone who is very picky about show length and characters, I was truly stunned by the way this show was tightly managed as a narrative. The pace is a very consistent and mild to help go back and forth between raising questions and finding resolution. LoGH was a highly satisfying experience, and its a shame it was never brought to English so that it could find a bigger audience. I think it's the type of show that Adult Swim, or G4 (when it was TechTV with Anime Unleashed) would have eagerly consumed at the beginning of their respective launches.
We all enjoy looking up at the night sky, and watching the stars. And quite often we wonder what exactly is going on...out there in deep space. Fortunately, there's a ton of excellent space anime which will clue us in and make our imaginations run wild!