Thanks to the constant nagging of my friend razortongue, I've finally decided to give Legend of the Galactic Heroes another shot with its prequel film: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars. To my understanding, this was actually the pilot for the entire franchise and as far as pilots go, this was definitely a strong start. At the same time, I feel like I should provide a fair warning to anyone who's interested in tackling this massive beast. I'll say this right now: Legend of the Galactic Heroes is NOT an accessible franchise in the slightest. There are no scantily-clad princesses held hostage by giant slug aliens, no fast-paced giant robot battles, no mystical superpowers, no space stations that destroy planets, or anything of the sort.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a franchise which requires large reserves of patience from the viewer. This is a war drama through and through, told not from the perspective of the soldiers but rather from the perspectives of the commanders in charge. The focus of this franchise is not on fast-paced battles and the rule of cool, but rather on politics and the human condition. No entry of the franchise was ever released outside of Japan and as such, watching the series subtitled is the only way to go which may very well be to its detriment because there is NO shortage of dialogue. If you come into this franchise expecting Star Wars, Code Geass, or Fate/Zero on steroids like some of the OTHER reviews on this site make it out to be, you're going to be thrown for quite the loop when you find out just how much of a stark contrast the franchise is to its comparisons.
Now if you read all of this, you understand all of that, and you STILL want to keep going, I highly encourage you to watch this film prior to watching the rest of the franchise as it's the perfect introduction to the situation at hand. Legend of the Galactic Heroes takes place in the distant future, where there's been a long and protracted war going down between two factions: the Galactic Empire (which isn't ruled by Emperor Palpatine... oddly enough) and the Free Planets' Alliance and we're treated to a long opening narration which essentially tells us that LOGH is the tale of two people whose actions have managed to leave their marks on history forever.
The driving force behind Legend of the Galactic Heroes as a whole are Reinhard von Musel of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wenli of the Free Planets' Alliance. So... the two men who changed the course of history forever happen to be on opposing sides of the battlefield. Gee, ain't that subtle? Despite all the praise that LOGH as a whole receives and my slowly-changing views of the franchise, there are some things about it that I can never suspend my disbelief for. Oh well, c'est la vie as the old adage goes. Thank GOD there aren't any Yang/Reinhard slash fics in existence... that I know of, anyway.
When it comes down to the storytelling, I can safely say that the narrative is mostly sound but one problem that I have with it is the fact that this film basically paints out the Free Planets' Alliance to be nothing more than a bunch of bumbling buffoons who can't take advantage of conditions which will easily lead to victory whilst portraying the Empire as a faction that more or less has its shit together. Now this is partially forgiveable since My Conquest is the Sea of Stars IS a pilot film, but it's just that one minor detail which doesn't really sit right with me. Beatnik's review of this film says that LOGH isn't like Gundam because it doesn't portray one side as inherently superior to the other and vice-versa, but this film does exactly that.
That brings me over to my next biggest problem: the characters... or rather, how Yang was handled. To put it short: Yang wasn't given as much time in the spotlight as Reinhard was so we don't know much about Yang to begin with. Don't get me wrong: Yang has a sense of characterisation about him, but I know absolutely nothing about this guy and have no reason to root for him OR his faction. Meanwhile, the exact opposite can be said about Reinhard. I mean, I don't support autocracies whatsoever, but I can actually find myself wanting to side with Reinhard more than I do with Yang because well... I got to see more of him! I got to see why he's even in this war in the first place, executing strategies that would ordinarily be HUGE gambles succeeding, etc.
Now with that said, there is another problem I have with the characters and that's the fact that Yang and Reinhard are damn near infallible. Seriously, Reinhard got away with pulling one of the most insanely risky tactics I've ever seen in war drama and managed to actually get the high ground on the opponent whilst everything that Yang predicted came true, and were it not for Yang's timely intervention, the Free Planets' Alliance's military may very well be handled by a bunch of screeching monkeys throwing faeces at each other. Why is this a problem? Well... LOGH is hailed for its supposed realism and yet I don't find Yang and Reinhard realistic in the slightest. Well... moreso Yang than Reinhard because once again: we spent more time with him and we ended up learning more about him than we did with Yang. Oh well, enough of that babble.
With all of that nastiness out of the way, let's talk about what I really did like about this film. As an introduction to a two-sided conflict, Conquest doesn't quite do the best of jobs but it provides us with more than enough information to actually get the general idea of what's going on and it's quite evident that what we're clearly missing from the pilot movie will be further explained in what's to come later so if this film really did leave that good of an impression on you, it would be a good idea to follow up this film with the main OVA series (which I may or may not do in the near future, but that's a different story).
On another note, and this pertains more to the franchise as a whole rather than the movie specifically but honestly... it's nice to see a space story which focuses on the political side of things rather than just giving us epic starship battles with plenty of lasers and exotic alien women who become masturbation material for overweight, basement-dwelling comic book geeks who tout the supremacy of the original Star Wars movies over the prequels. I mean, I'm not the biggest fan of political dramas, but then again... I love the everliving Christ out of crime procedural shows and I've been getting a taste for stuff like Law and Order, so Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn't really THAT much of a stretch for me.
Moving over to the visual side of the spectrum, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is the fourth (I think) anime I've ever watched that came out of the 1980s (the other 3 being Fist of the North Star, Akira, and the first season of the main LOGH OVA series). I'll say this right now: I absolutely love the art direction in this movie. If you were to ask me what a space opera *should* look like, I'm more likely to point you over to Legend of the Galactic Heroes than Star Wars. Everything is beautifully designed and I actually love how the character models stay fairly close to reality and don't have huge eyes or bizarre bodily proportioning. Hooray for an anime series that actually has humans that look like humans that AREN'T suffering from severe radiation poisoning!
Animation is a different story however. I get that this came out in the late 80s and more importantly, it was given the budget of a film so it's definitely a cut above most of the other stuff that came out around the time period. At the same time, there are parts where the animation looks a bit choppy/stilted that just don't sit right with me. Don't get me wrong, the animation in this film is actually pretty damn good but it's just those moments where character movements are stilted or there's a frame or two re-used which just stick out more to my eyes than the good parts. Get what I mean?
On the audio side of things, this film gets a solid 10/10 from me. The musical score of this film makes the score that John Williams composed for the entire Star Wars franchise look like discordant drivel. I don't think anyone who's ever watched LOGH can disagree with me on this one. THIS is how a space opera should sound like. The music carries each scene that it's played in exceptionally well and as far as I could tell, there was no repetition of tracks or anything that felt inappropriate for whatever moment was on-screen and that shit always nets a few points in my book. I can't really speak much for the voice acting since I'm not Japanese but to my understanding, there are a few high-profile Japanese VAs on-board with this project so there's always that to look forward to.
Final thoughts? My Conquest is the Sea of Stars can be likened to the prologue/foreword chapter of every novel that most people tend to skip over. Whilst the main OVA series (from what I understand) is capable of standing on its own, this film provides a fair amount of context which can help the prospective viewer better understand what's going on. Also, this film provides a relatively accurate benchmark of what you're in for if you're planning on watching the main OVA series so if you really didn't like this film all that much, chances are that you should stay the fuck away from LOGH in its entirety. Conversely, if you found yourself enjoying this film, you should definitely give the main OVA series a shot... which again, I may or may not do in the near future.