Legendary. Galactic. Heroic. The definitive space opera.
This one was a long time coming — and nearly took as long to finish. 110 OVA episodes of a series that was never released outside of Japan. I’m talking, of course, about Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a title that even today continues to garner praise from fans and critics alike, despite it beginning its run in 1988. Snobbish anime ‘elitists’ cling to this one like a holy grail of plot twists, animation and voiceover work, so it was something I definitely had to see for myself.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes focuses on the never-ending conflict between the autocratic Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance. In the midst of political turmoil, two military officers make a name for themselves in the opening battle of the series: Reinhard von Musel of the Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance. Their peerless strategic and tactical management draws the loyalty of their superiors and subordinates, and each commander soon finds himself climbing the military and political ranks due to their victories and heroism. For Reinhard, this is a boon, as he seeks to overthrow the Emperor’s Kaiser line; his childhood taught him the error of autocratic rule under the iron fist of a tyrant. For Yang Wen-li, who simply wants to fulfill his military service and become a historian, the added responsibilities are most unwelcome as he soon finds himself being used as propaganda for political campaigns under the increasingly-corrupt democratic system. As the battles continue, Reinhard and Yang Wen-li find themselves as the de facto heads of their respective political systems and must challenge their personal beliefs, as well as each other, to shape the future of the galaxy.
While clocking in at an admirably long 110 episodes, LOGH has the pacing down to a fine-toothed comb. Practically no filler exists in the entire series, and every event brings the story closer and closer to its explosive conclusion. LOGH manages to keep trucking on due to the obvious split between two powers in the galaxy: the Empire and the Alliance. Since we see the story unfold through the eyes of both Reinhard and Yang Wen-li, the series is free to branch out as it sees fit using its enormous cast of diverse characters and fold back neatly to a central point (typically an engaging starship battle). Between these wonderfully animated scenes (especially for a series so old), the plot advances through a series of political machinations involving defamation, espionage, treason and murder. I could liken the series somewhat to ‘Final Fantasy Tactics in Space,’ but I don’t even think that would do LOGH any justice. It’s that complex.
Of course, LOGH is tirelessly compared to the more contemporary work Code Geass considering they are both about military superpowers and involve devious politics, military strategy and tactics, but after seeing LOGH I feel the comparison is unwarranted. Lelouch is indispensably the main character of Geass and we only see the world through his eyes and make decisions based on that viewpoint. LOGH shows the Galaxy through both Reinhard and Yang and, later in the series, other smaller parties that stake their own agendas. I should probably mention that Geass also has supernatural powers, while LOGH is firmly seated in more believable science fiction. So no, comparing the two series is definitely apples to oranges. Just thought I’d hammer that out.
Another fantastic thing about this series is the animation. 1988 — so we’re talking fully hand-drawn animation … for starship battle scenes. And no, it doesn’t skimp on high-flying action; jet fighters spiral in all directions during dogfights and entire fleets move across the screen. The detail on the ships and scenery on a myriad of planets is fantastic and almost never repeated in scenes.
If there’s one thing that I can complain about, however, it’s the way the series ends. I’ll admit, a large part of it was my growing attachment to the world and its characters after seeing the entire series throughout a 6 or so week period, but I also know that a majority of the last season (80+ or so) was extremely anticlimactic and almost forced. Not as much as a title like, say, Death Note with its use of Near and Mello, but the heroics of the characters in LOGH’s last season are mostly unnecessary and more of a formality at that point. It’s a drag, but that’s how ‘real life’ endings are anyway, right?
In any case, it’s a real shame that this series will probably never be released outside of Japan. Considering all of the remasters going on, I would love for this series to get picked up and localized, though I don’t know who would be able to grab it and market it successfully. Going retro isn’t much of a mainstream deal unless you throw on a bit of new paint, and completely remastering 110 episodes is not something that could be done on a typical budget anyway. More importantly, I don’t even think that the combined talent of all the English voice actors in the west could even number as many characters as in the series to be voiced. And I, for one, would not be looking forward to Chris Sabat voicing half the cast a la Dragonball (Z/GT).
A definite must-watch for any anime fan. And it’s pretty easy to come across, considering its licensing status.
Character Ranking: Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- Yang Wen-li
- Frederica Greenhill
- Siegfried Kircheis
- Katerose von Kreutzer
- Hildegard von Mariendorf
- Julian Minci
- Walter von Schenkopp
- Reinhard von Lohengramm
- Alexander Bucock
- Oskar von Reuenthal