Warning: We assume that you have watched Legend of the Galactic Heroes before reading this. We will spoil anything and everything.
In every age, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is kind of an oddity in that its fans reverie it, rightfully so, and basically everyone else has never heard of it. But having experienced it, it really is the cream of the crop when it comes to anime and even more so space opera. I don’t really have a top favorites list of anime, but I do have ones that stick out to me the most and for a long time nothing has really broken into that category, that is until LotGH came along.
While we have covered all of the anime related to the first 10 books of Legend of Galactic Heroes saga we saved our final thoughts on the 4th season as well as the series as a whole for this bonus post. We did this so you could read these posts along with watching the show and avoid spoilers for any section you were watching. This also gives us a chance to talk about a few things outside of the work proper itself like the fandom or specific characters that would require us to spoil parts of the ending. And ultimately it is gives us one last chance to sell people reading spoilers on exactly why this series is worth sitting through 110 episodes in the main series let alone the movies and side stories.
The crux of what makes Legend of the Galactic Heroes so powerful is its ability to tell multiple stories with increasing numbers of points of view, philosophies, and ideas without ever telling the audience this is the hero, this is the villain, or even more importantly this is what you should think. This is a feat that is accomplished because of the focus on characters. Yes, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is about intergalactic space battles and politics, but the writer realizes that the most important thing is who is behind those battles and policies. I think what really hooked me in the beginning of Legend of the Galactic Heroes was the friendships that could be found on both sides. Reinhard and Kircheis, Yang and Dusty, Reuenthal and Mittermeyer just to name a few solidified that Legend of the Galactic Heroes was a people story. It’s that foundation that makes the series an emotional ride while being fraught with staunch political drama and epic space battles.
I think of the the major strengths of the series is how it ends such an epic story with just enough resolution. In the last season we see how Reuenthal is pushed into a rebellion and how that leads to his downfall, the marriage of Reinhard and Hildegard and the birth of their son, the confrontation of Julian and Reinhard, the final days of the Earth Cult, and the death of Reinhard von Lohengramm. The series knew exactly how much of the story to wrap up and then what to leave to our imagination. We see the personal lives of the surviving characters get solid conclusions or at least hinted at the direction their life will take. But the political situation and the future of the Empire and the new government of Heinessen is left up to your imagination. This gives you enough information that you feel satisfied but leaves enough open that you still tell the universe of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a living breathing thing that will continue on.
It is not lost on me that one half of each of those three friendships I mentioned do not live through the series. But the one that I found particularly tragic was the aforementioned Reuenthal’s and his push to rebellion in part 4. Reuenthal’s path from the very beginning is always teetering on the edge of darkness. He is a man marred by his past, even from birth, who is prone to brooding and pride. In so many ways he and Mittermeyer are like polar opposites but they are both brilliant strategists and inspire loyalty from their subordinates, it is their opposing personalities that makes each an indispensable friend to the other. In the end, when Reuenthal takes the reins against the Empire it comes across that even he isn’t sure if he is doing it for himself or misguidedly for Reinhard. In a way you see the signs from the beginning that this would occur but on the other hand I feel he was very visibly pushed. As the walls start closing in, he kills someone who I’m sure everyone cheers to see go, Job Truniht; we see the resolution of his torrid love affair as he meets his son for the first and final time; and he fails to meet Mittermeyer one last time. When Mittermeyer finally arrives and subsequent scenes are some of the crowning moments of the series. His mourning is greatly felt when he stares out into space on his ship heading back home. I think the effect was so great because of the inevitability of it and the desperate way Mittermeyer tries to fix things. It still makes me desperately sad to recall it all. Reuenthal greatly represents one of the many themes in the series: Can talented, life-long soldiers be happy with peace?
I will now share my possibly unpopular theory with our readers. I can blame a good deal of the tragedy in the series squarely on the shoulders of Paul von Oberstein. Oberstein was responsible for letting the planet of Westerland being nuked. As several characters note it is Oberstein’s weapons policy that is responsible for the death of Kircheis. The hole created by Kircheis’s unfortunate demise is felt throughout the whole series. Oberstein’s hard line stances, questionable methods, and lack of communication often led to a divide in the ranks of Reinhard’s top people. It could be argued that had Oberstein not been as high as he was the Reuenthal rebellion might not have taken place. Also his connection and patronage of Lang might have been one of the reasons that weasel got as high in the ranks as he did and to a place he could do so much damage. I’m not saying that Oberstein was not also often portrayed as being indispensable to Reinhard with his willingness to perform acts and spearhead policies other people would not dream of doing so. He was an amazingly well-written and provocative character. Had all of Reinhard’s top brass been the The Get Along Gang the series would have been far less interesting.
Oberstein was one of those characters where I was constantly grappling with his motives. He makes such short appearances but really makes them count for a lot. Every time he was there I was hard at work trying to figure him out, to analyze him, to wrap my head around him, but he is pretty much left up to the viewer to interpret much more than other characters on the canvas. I found him to be equal parts cold and calculating. In my mind I am totally convinced that he colluded for the death of Kircheis and that he quite willing pushed and pushed till Reuenthal broke. Oberstein was always looking out for Reinhard but I never felt Oberstein actually cared about what was important to Reinhard beyond government. Almost like a parent that is grooming their child for greatness without regards to the fact the child might want happiness. But in fairness to that regard, Reinhard was constantly struggling with that too. Reinhard wanted to be able to separate himself and to be a good and just leader, Oberstein believed he was making that happen. I do not like the man but he was a fascinating part of the cast.
I would like to point out some odd misconceptions I had going into Legend of the Galactic Heroes from stories I heard. The first was that there are pretty much no women in the show and that the few women in the show were largely unimportant. While the cast is overwhelmingly male and men have most of the important roles, it is fair to say the women in the show are behind some of the monumentally important events. Jessica Edwards, Hildegard von Mariendorf, Frederica Greenhill, Katerose von Kreutzer are all important figures who contribute majorly to the plot. Jessica, Hildegard, and Frederica are all politically active at one point or another. Frederica and Katerose are also both active soldiers at different points in the series. Hildegard in particular wins the most important battle in the empire’s conquest of the galaxy when she spearheads the conquest of Heinessen simultaneously saving Reinhard’s life and avoiding a complete and utter defeat for the Empire. Speaking of men and women there is also a decent amount of courtship in the series but it is organic and never overwhelms the main plot. Yang and Jessica have a subtle but powerful romance until her death and Yang later marries Frederica after a leisurely working relationship that blossoms into love. Hildegard and Reinhard have an awkward but amusing affair while Julian and Katerose have the most standard courtship. There were also several other minor characters who have everything from cheap one night stands to full-blown love affairs. I appreciated that they knew how to delicately integrate these romances into the narrative. Also I got the strange impression that there were quite a few history episodes with Yang looking over achieves in info dumps. While they existed they were only three episodes, were usually pretty organic, and oddly enough never involved Yang, the historian.
I found the Alliance to have such a down to earth attitude with Yang the core of laidback, it was very lovable. They had a nice combination of the upcoming, the new and the old guard often times having a familial feel which always makes them more relatable. But also makes them contrast with the Empire greatly because so many of Reinhard’s gang are the youngish officers. The veterans like Bucock and Merkatz (among others) are pivotal to Yang’s team whose sacrifices in the final arc while not shocking are harrowing acts that are drenched with acceptance. Both deaths were essentially to ending the era, but that knowledge did keep me from shedding tears for them. And let’s not for get Schenkop, that incredible leader of the Rosenritters, bad-ass that he is gets taken out by someone no name grunt. Oh, he takes out a mountain of guys beforehand, and gives a great death speech but essentially the man got punked in the end, why? I am fully aware that LotGH likes to depict the uncertainty in war, but at the same time I do not care, his final bout should have been with someone significant!
I think I was both surprised by the fact that by the end of Legend of the Galactic Heroes ends with the death of both of the main characters but I also have to say by the end of the series I felt it would almost be disingenuous if it ended any other way. We fall the rise and fall of both Yang Wen-li and Reinhard von Lohengramm the two greatest men of their times. We see what they had to overcome, how they rose to power, what they accomplished, and the enormous legacy they both left behind.
The length of Legend of the Galactic Heroes really felt daunting at first. But somehow it ended up not being enough, I can say with all certainty that if 110 episodes of a show is not enough they are doing something right. I look forward to any and all supplemental material I can get my hands on. And I am on the hunt for LotGH merchandise, if there is any, maybe a roman album!
The legend ends and history begins.