Nov 26, 2010
Spiral Labyrinth is the last release related to Legend of the Galactic heroes, and, like the first prequel gaiden series ('A hundred Billion Lights; Hundred Billion stars'), is made up of various story arcs that flesh out the background of the main characters and some supporting characters of the main series as well.

These ‘side stories’ were conceived in both written and anime form after the main series, and they contain a significant amount of foreshadowing and allusions to future events and important characters from the main series that are only named or shown in passing. These references would likely not be appreciated by those who haven’t seen or don’t like the main series. Hence the two prequel series’ should be treated as exactly what they intend to be: A ‘side story’ collection, not unlike some of the ‘specials’ that get bundled with anime DVD’s these days. Except that there’s no filler here, and we get to witness stuff direct from the source material. For that reason, it is strongly recommended that these two prequel Series should be watched after the main series, and this review is aimed at those who have already seen the main series.

Just like the first gaiden, Spiral labyrinth takes up a relaxed pace with a tone that is quite different from the main series’ tension filled drama. It doesn’t have the epic space fights or the massive story or character exposition of the main series. Instead, it presents the highlights of the past lives (mainly the military career) of the series’ main characters i.e Reinhard, Kircheies and Yang wenli. It is quite interesting to see what kind of (shitty) assignments (and misadventures) these future legends had to put up with when they were on the lower end of the military ladder. The lack of an overarching story would normally be worrisome; but the writer(s) takes good advantage of the story arc format, and the result is a commendable variety of stories which differ from each other in nature and theme, and helps keep things fresh.

Since the two prequel Gaidens were released from 1998-2000, the quality of animation is much better than in the main series. The colors are much stronger, the drawing more firm and overall the animation is more vivid. Like the main OVA, the series uses classical music and it fits perfectly well with the scenes. The infamous narrator is back again, except he doesn’t seem too keen on spoiling the story this time around (there’s not much to spoil anyway, as suspense level is much lower for the most part). The Seiyuu cast is the same, except for Kei Tomiyama, who did a perfect job as Yang wenli in the original 110 ep OVA. Due to his death by Pancreatic cancer in 1995, his role in the LOTGH franchise as Yang Wenli was taken over by Hozumi Gouda (hunter x hunter, D-gray man), who doesn’t sound as natural as Kei did in the role, but he makes for a perfect replacement.

The first half is entirely dedicated to Yang who, starting from his humble beginning as the son of a merchant ship Captain who dies in an accident on duty, is dragged into a military career by a strange twist of fate, and is then shot to fame when he saves the population of the planet ‘El Facile’ from an enemy invasion. All this we are told in the main series, but the first two episodes of SL cover the early part of Yangs life in a bit more detail.

His next assignment after El facile is a secret investigation into the death of a famous Free Planet Alliances war hero, ‘Bruce Ashby’, who supposedly died in an accident after winning the second battle of Tiamat. This investigation then takes up the better part of the next 11 or so episodes, during which we see Yang researching history, meeting historical figures, getting posted at a remote POW camp where he meets Patorichev for the first time, and comes across an old history obsessed ex-imperial soldier-turned-POW. As interesting the focus on Yang is, the long arc starts to drag towards the end. Despite that slight hiccup, the cameos on the FPA side are quite interesting. We get to see a much younger Bucock as a Turret operator. Yang’s interaction with Czellnu and Dusty Attenborough never fails to lighten up. The strict and principled Murai also makes an appearance towards the end of the arc to lend Yang a hand out of a tight situation. Overall the arc is interesting and enjoyable thanks mainly due to the history lesson and the solid cameo roles, although the plot itself starts to stagnate towards the end.

The best and the worst part of the series is in the second half; Focusing entirely on Reinhard and his trusty companion Kircheis, the last 14 eps are divided into 4 arcs, each with a unique story. Thus, we have an excellent 4 ep ‘Mutineer’ arc, which places Reinhard and Kircheis in a ship trying to save it from enemies without, while facing an internal discord within its ranks (complete with an epic Lotgh-esque death scene); the somewhat dull ‘duelist’ arc in which Reinhard faces off his would be assassin in a duel is the only blot-mark on the OVA; another 4 ep long masterpiece ‘Retriever’ sees the duo deep in enemy territory on an espionage mission as Reinhard commands a battleship officially for the first time; and finally the 2 ep long ‘third battle of Tiamat which is surprisingly the only arc with a proper lotgh-esque space battle.

While the ‘duelist’ is somewhat underwhelming (although mildly interesting), the ‘Mutineer’ and ‘Retriever’ are so good that they easily come close to the quality of some of the better episodes from the main series. These arcs also add details to LOTGH-verse, as we find out the origin of the zephyr particles, and how Reinhard gets his flagship Brunhilde. There are also some references to characters such as Merkatz; a small (random) cameo by lutz, and a somewhat larger one by Wahlen.

Overall, Spiral Labyrinth is slightly better than the first Gaiden due to a more consistent quality, a better variety of story arcs and a stronger role by Yang wenli. Definitely a must watch for LOTGH fans.

Reviewer’s Rating: 8
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