Legend of the Galactic Heroes - Die Neue These stands in the unenviable position of being a remake of one of the greatest and most beloved anime ever made. The original OVA series commands a passionate and loyal cult fanbase, to whom the slightest fault or deviation is tantamount to a personal insult.
Considering the baggage this show is carrying, it can be difficult to judge it by its own merits. Which is a shame - viewed in a bubble in which the OVA series does not exist, Die Neue These is not a bad anime. In fact, it's quite a good one. It is, however, a bad remake, and a bad adaptation.
That it is a bad adaptation is curious, as this serves as a more faithful adaptation of the source material than the OVA. But the problem lies in that adapting Legend of the Galactic Heroes into a visual medium is nigh impossible, and it's a small miracle that it was done successfully once. The original novels are so dense with description, backstory, context, lore, and philosophical navel-gazing that to adapt only that which is shown is to adapt around a third of its actual content.
While there is minimal narration at the start of each episode, Die Neue These otherwise ejects the narration that was so frequent in the first adaptation in favour of showing rather than telling. "Show, don't tell" is a good principle in theory, but here it doesn't work in practice, resulting in the loss of vital information, important context, and thematic weight. This leads to a lack of emotional investment in certain major battles that the significance of is not made clear, and character moments that echo historical events not shown to the audience. In some instances, the lack of information can simply be baffling - a notable example includes a mob being dispersed by the activation of fire hoses, which in turn automatically alert the fire department. However, these fire hoses are only previously shown to be sprinklers, and their function as fire hoses is not explained, nor is the fact that their activation alerts the fire brigade - as such, it looks like an angry, bloodthirsty mob dispersed because they got a little bit wet.
Likewise, without the room to explore their motivations, many minor characters come off as one-dimensional strawmen, whereas their reasoning and motives, whilst usually misguided, were actually grounded in some kind of reasoning or principle in both the OVA and novels. The worst example is Maximillion von Kastrop, who in the original OVA punches a couple of subordinates towards the end when his impending defeat becomes clear, and only when at wits' end. Here, he is characterized entirely by punching everybody who speaks.
Aesthetically, the overall design of the FPA and the Empire's societies and uniforms are excellent, sticking close to the design of the original series, and showing a clear divide between the European-styled aristocracy of the Empire and the modern metropolis of the FPA. The ships are similarly well-designed, with a mechanical, utilitarian feel to them that suits their role. By contrast to the rest of the series' design, the much-maligned character designs stick out like a sore thumb. There is a very shallow variation in the character faces, and whilst not quite samefaced, it would be hard to tell most characters apart by face alone. This would not be worth comment in most series, but in Legend of the Galactic Heroes this presents a unique problem. To compensate for the similarity in faces, focus was put into giving the characters unique hair, as this was not possible with character costumes due to 95% of the cast being in uniform. The problem is that this leads to many of the characters having very over-the-top and elaborate hairstyles that are unfitting of military personnel who doubtlessly do not spend an hour every morning fixing their hair up. It's a distracting feature that breaks the immersion of a series otherwise grounded in realism (It is also worth noting that the original series managed to give most of the cast distinctive hair without the need to overly stylize any of it). Similarly, many characters appearances are otherwise ill-fit to their lifestyle and personality, such as Fahrenheit and Schenkopf.
For all the errors that Die Neue These makes as an adaptation, however, it still retains a great deal of what made the source material so excellent in the first place. Legend of the Galactic Heroes follows a dual narrative with protagonists from both sides of a centuries-long intergalactic war, in which both sides are almost as bad as each other. The Galactic Empire is a fascist autocracy in which nobility are an oppressive ruling class, whereas the Free Planets Alliance are a corrupt, failing democracy, controlled entirely by politicians motivated by greed and self-interest. The Empire's side of the story is a slow-burning tale of political intrigue, while the alliance's story focuses on scathing social and political commentary, both of which are pulled off excellently.
This divide between two sides of the story also shows a dichotomy between its two leads, Yang Wenli of the Alliance and Reinhard von Musel (later Lohengramm) of the Empire. Where Reinhard is a character wronged by the empire, determined to exact his revenge and take over the empire from within by any means necessary, Yang is a scholar at heart, only joining the military to gain a history scholarship he couldn't otherwise afford, and was drafted into the military when his tactical prowess came to light. While both are extremely skilled, they otherwise offer a direct contrast in temperament and motive.Their combat ability also brings to focus grounded and realistic battle tactics ripped straight from the pages of history.
It's this, along with Yang's fascination with history, that lends LotGH a tone of a historian looking back on past events. Yang often wonders how the events of the present will be regarded in the future, whilst comparing them to those of the distant past.
This gives LotGH an excellent sense of scale, which is also shown in how war is perceived - shown not only in the bigger picture of grand victories and defeats, but focusing on the human element of it all. It's made clear that for every one of the many ships that sink in this series, thousands of lives are lost. It even goes so far as to explore the societal impact of war, focusing on the effect on the economy and standard of labour.
Unfortunately, Die Neue These - Kaikou is only the prologue, a taste of things to come. It was never going to achieve greatness in of itself - even the original adaptation was only able to do so much in its first 12 episodes. However, Die Neue These gets enough of the core elements of the series right in spite of some issues in execution that it's a solid show unto itself. It is somewhat hard to recommend, however, as the original series accomplishes almost everything this series does just as well, and more. The only things DNT has to offer in comparison are slightly better pacing, and an excellent score by Hiroyuki Sawano. But if it didn't have an older sibling to be compared to, Die Neue These would no doubt be considered excellent.
For Fans Of: Mobile Suit Gundam, Monster