Random warning: Never watch the previews, NEVER, they are full of spoilers. And so are the episode titles, so never look at them, NEVER.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes can be one of the most intimidating series to start in all of anime with 110 episodes in the main OVA series, several movies, and 52 OVA side story episodes it can seem like madness. But this is the definitive space opera inside or outside of anime.
There are dozen of reasons to watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes: the complex politics, the epic space battles, and just the overall maturity of the the whole production. But the only reason any of that matters is because the characters are so compelling that they make you care about everything that happens. This is why I never cared for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series despite how good it might be it never connected me to the characters.
I had considered starting Legend of the Galactic Heroes on my own several times but thankfully Narutaki and my roommate decided to join me in watching this series once a week otherwise I would be watching this at a much slower pace. Even if you have to brave it alone know that it few series will reward for your effort and dedication. This review is for the first arc of the series with 26 episodes.
So perhaps you don’t know anything about Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Well, let me tell you, it’s infamously epic and quite long. And no we didn’t write that wrong, it is a 110 episode OVA.
You might be saying to yourself, well 110 episodes sounds long but compared to many a shonen fighting show it’s not too crazy. But this isn’t a shonen fighting show, these 110 episodes are a dramatic, political, and strategic running narrative with a cast that swells with significant characters.
But don’t worry, as the title implies, you can quite easily break the show into parts. You can even take a break between parts, but I promise you won’t want to. That is what makes it so amazing! Space opera has never been done better than Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
The Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance have been dead locked in intergalactic war for centuries. The Galactic Empire is a decadent monarchy and the Free Planets Alliance is a corrupt democracy both so weakened from within that they cannot conquer the other. But there are two rising stars, one on each side, whose actions will forever change the balance of the galaxy.
Admiral Reinhard von Lohengramm plans to overthrow the corrupt regime of the Empire where as commodore Yang Wen-li merely wishes to keep the democracy he loves alive. Reinhard is disgusted with the decadent nobles who stole his sister from him and vows to gain power through the military to get his revenge. Yang on the other hand keeps rising through the ranks despite his best efforts and in the process drawing the attentions of the vile Patriotic Knight Corps.
Countless men and women will dedicate themselves to helping or stopping these two men. As a man who studies history, Yang realizes that this story has happened before and will happen again.
Yes, there are huge space battles, we are thrown into one in the first episode where numbers like 300,000 get batted around when discussing the loss of soldiers in an attack. People get blown up, set aflame, impaled, and everything else but LotGH likes to throws these moments at you sparsely, so much so that you get surprised by the graphic nature of things each time it happens.
This story is about a huge war that has been waged and never ceased but something about the clash of these two men, Yang and Reinhard, is about to change the course of the war. The ideas they represent, the moral ground that is tread, and the ability to show two sides, each with a set of values that are not demonized is what gives LotGH a unique flavor.
Everyone in LotGH comes off as someone to either root for or hate on both sides of the conflict.
Yang and Reinhard are amazingly charismatic each in their own way and the similarities and contrasts between the two of them in the first arc are brilliant. Reinhard with his ambitious and upstanding goals but morally gray motivations and methods perfectly flank Yang with his slacker charm, easy genius, and upstanding character that is seasoned with a realistic view of the world. They are both tactical geniuses but both are remarkable strategists with their own distinct style. Reinhard is able to set up situations where he cannot lose and Yang is able to come up with brilliant strategy on the fly to survive in hopeless moments no matter how horrible the hand he is dealt.
I definitely felt myself leaning towards Yang but I was still enthralled by Reinhard’s story.
Both Reinhard and Yang strive to make the galaxy a better place but their ideals make it destiny to clash time and time again. Each time they meet it is not only a clash of their military strategy but of their world views. Reinhard wants to burn away the corrupt nobility of the Empire and feels only he has the vision and strength to reform the galaxy. Yang wishes just to keep himself and the people under his command out of trouble but we see that he has deeper and more grand ideals than just survival. Yang just knows you have to survive to make them a reality.
As the first arc goes on both of them must also deal with internal struggles within their respective governments which exposes the strengths and weaknesses of both of their philosophies as well. When this part ends both men have changed themselves, their organizations, and the very course of human history itself.
Yang, Yang he’s our man! If he can’t do it no one can!
This poor guy clearly comes off as the underdog in the series because not only does Reinhard just have more resources, his own government is constantly getting in his way. The Alliance seems to flip-flop from thinking Yang is the hero of the hour to thinking he is going to plot a coup to overthrow them. This actually stems from their own greed and corruption, they just can’t understand that a man exists who doesn’t want power and dominion, especially one as militarily and strategically capable as Yang. And this is what makes Yang such a contrast to Reinhard.
Reinhard is trying to do all those things! However, Reinhard also has noble ideals and grand dreams for the Empire he so desperately wants as his own. Both of these men are plagued by the deceit, arrogance, and disregard for the people by their respective factions but their personalities and ways of dealing with it couldn’t be more different.
Yang has sort of accepted that the democracy that he defends is rotten from the inside, but he doesn’t believe in using military might to fix it. Reinhard on the other hand believes the only way to cure the downward spiral of the Empire is by becoming the Empire himself.
They are two sides of the same coin and as such they are perfect rivals.
The Empire is popular if for nothing else the sheer number of outstanding personalities in its ranks.
Siegfried Kircheis is Reinhard’s childhood friend and right hand man. He’s not only utterly dedicated to Reinhard but he is also Reinhard’s moral and spiritual compass. He gives humanity to Reinhard ans shows the audience the purity still in the Empire as a whole.
Oskar von Reuenthal and Wolfgang Mittermeyer are two admirals that side with Reinhard early on. Their ability to go from charming, witty personal banter, to intense political philosophy, and then to brilliant military strategy often all in the same conversation not only encompasses why people love these two characters but the show as a whole.
Daryl Surat’s favorite character, Paul von Oberstein, is a Machiavellian supporter of Reinhard who seems dedicated to putting Reinhard on the throne but with no real moral compunctions about anything he feels he has to do.
There are about a dozen other great admirals in the Empire that are worth rooting for from Merkatz to Mecklinger. There are some equally despicable nobles and military personnel as well but they don’t stand out as much as usually get crushed under the weight of Reinhard’s brilliance.
The Empire seems to get a lot more screentime, especially in this first arc, so that gives it some advantage as far as character popularity and understanding their motivations. And whether you like it or not, you can tell by the opening sequence alone that this is a story about Reinhard and then everyone else.
One of the first real connections we see on screen, and one that really brings you into the story, is the friendship between Reinhard and Kircheis. They have been each other’s confidants since almost the moment they met in their boyhood and are by far the most bonded people in the series. Where Reinhard goes, Kircheis follows, but don’t for a moment think it’s an unequal relationship. You are privy to their private conversations where many times it is only Kircheis rational thought that keeps things in check, as the series continues you come to realize, as does Reinhard, that Kircheis is an indispensable part of the dream that Reinahrd is trying to build.
Adding to the party who rally around Reinhard early on are Reuenthal and Mittermeyer another two with a friendship that is engaging. Since the first time you really meet them they get into a bar fight, you can tell they are going to be fun to watch. And are probably my personal favorites from the bunch as their comments are witty and once again you see how each understands and helps the other even though they are vastly different.
All of these guys, and many of Reinhard’s crew unsurprisingly, are these upstart kids causing no end to the string of distrust and belittling that goes on by many of the older generation in the military. This is also combined with the many incompetent nobles that have been given high ranking military titles without a lick of sense in their brains. Which is just another reason the new guys trying to take charge are beloved by fans.
At times it feels like Yang is the Alliance but there are still complex and fascinating people beside the Hero of El Facil on the side of democracy.
Take Julian Minci, Yang’s young ward, he is still very green but you can easily see that he is learning to be a great man from his mentor.
Dusty Attenborough is Yang’s charming friend from the military academy. He too has a laid back charm like Yang but while being nowhere the genius that Yang is but he is also more socially and romantically competent.
The Alliance side also has a good look at the grunt soldiers like pilots Ivan Konev and Olivier Poplan who give a distinct humanity to the Alliance and are definitely the most mischievous of the cast.
Despite what some people may say there is some romance in LotGH. Early on Yang starts to get some romantic tension with Jessica Edwards and it is always well handled.
The Alliance is also made up of horrible squabbling politicians and military men like Job Truniht and Andrew Fork. You tend to forget the horrible people in the Empire that Reinhard steamrolls over but you never forget the jerks in the Alliance even when you try your hardest. They all seem to go out of their way to make Yang’s life harder.
While the fine cast of the Empire comes off as elegantly awesome, the crew on the Alliance side is ruggedly charming. There is a more laid back feeling from them, that’s not to say all of them have such a good attitude, but all the cool people do!
They are represented by guys like Schenkopp the rough and tumble leader of the Rosenritters who’re known for their ferocity in battle that literally sends guys running away when they hear the name. And thanks to the efforts of him and Poplan, every woman they run into is pretty much given full attention!
Speaking of women, I shouldn’t forget to mention Greenhill who is reliable and cool-headed much like her military man father, but these two don’t always end up on the same side of the fight for democracy.
The Alliance also has one of the few cool old guys worth mentioning, Alexander Bucock, who the military often looks to to be opposed to Yang but will make you cheer with his distention.
Since the class structure of the Empire doesn’t exist they Alliance comes off as much more accessible, down-to-earth, and common which are all good things, they are the every man side of the battle.
If the politics and the characters don’t hook you fully there are the massive space battles to sink your teeth into. They are amazing battles involving hundred of ships that can boggle the mind with the sheer grandeur of the fights and the horrific tragedy of the causalities that weigh on the minds of both sides.
The battles themselves are based on the real world strategies of famous generals invoking the brilliance of geniuses of the past while still taking into account the nuances of fighting in space. Battling is done on three dimensions shown through taking into account factors like solar winds, gravity wells, and composition of gas giants.
But it is not all ship vs ship battles. We also see ground soldiers fighting hand to hand in some of the bloodiest and most gruesome battles in the series. There is even a rather awesome siege of a liquid metal planetary fortress. And best of all, these battles are all set to classical music giving everything sense of majesty.
If you like the first 10 episodes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, you’ll like all 110. I say this because of my own viewing experience where after 4 or so episodes I thought LotGH to be a fine series but not engrossing however by about episode 10 I was fully on board and could never turn back.
That’s not to say that the show is all the same after it gets going, quite the contrary, major strides are made each episodes and after just one arc you’ll be amazed how far you’ve come. But the storytelling stays consistent throughout and the character prominence amidst this war is a main stay.
I will admit that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is not for everyone but if you want to see space opera at its finest then I beseech you to take on LotGH!
Do not let the size of this show dissuade you from getting into one of the greatest anime of all time. It has everything that the mature anime fan could hope for in an series: rich and wonderful characters; a deep and complex political plot that remains human while operating on a galactic scale; epic space battles with amazing tactics; nuanced romance; and so much more. It is all too easy to let the slow pace of the first few episodes give you the wrong impression of this show. Give it four episodes which is pretty much one DVD and you will see how much the series draws you in once you get to know who the people are and what they are fighting for. This is a one of a kind show that will make you understand why 110 episodes is just not enough.