Warning: We assume that you have watched the main series of Legend of the Galactic Heroes (the original 110 episode OVA) before reading this. We will not spoil anything major in the Gaiden series but everything and anything in the main part is fair game.
I don’t know how many introductions I can write for Legend of the Galactic Heroes without constantly repeating myself. It is the best of the best when it comes to Space Opera and the side stories follow in those footsteps.
The first Gaiden series of Legend of the Galactic Heroes centered solely around Reinhard’s rising through the ranks with a minor guest appearance by Schenkopp and an even smaller cameo appearance by Yang. To make up for it the longest arc in this second Gaiden series is a look into Yang’s early career. And that is a decent recompense for his overall secondary status as a protagonist throughout the series. Of course we get more of Reinhard climbing of the ladder but the Blonde Brat has always had greater ambition than the simple living historian. Yang always tries to get away from complications in his life while Reinhard lives for them.
None of us fool ourselves into thinking that Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn’t the story of Reinhard, but happily half of this second gaiden series is also dedicated to Yang in his younger years, too. There are plenty of elements of surprise in the series, even though some things are obviously marred by us already knowing the future outcome of certain characters. The narrator also likes to harp on this by continuing the tradition of saying ominous things. But, ha!, this time he can’t ruin it for us.
This story begins with Yang’s early life and how he eventually found himself with no other option but joining the military which leads him to becoming the hero of El Facil. With his uneasy fame he is assigned to investigate the life and death of the Alliance hero, Bruce Ashbey. As Yang digs deeper into Ashby’s legacy he finds that it is certainly more complex and sordid than the history books make it out to be and there are many people who wish it to remain that way. Yang’s reluctant search for the truth puts him in harm’s way everywhere from the capital of the Alliance to a prisoner of war planet. At the same time we get some more side stories about the various roles of Reinhard including Reinhard the insurrectionist, Reinhard the rose duelist, Reinhard the privateer, and Reinhard the genius.
Rising through the ranks is kind of a theme for the gaiden stories, but as we know, unlike Reinhard, Yang never sought military achievement. But like Reinhard, trouble seems to follow Yang wherever he ends up and of course he always comes out looking quite good by accident or not. Yang’s disposition hadn’t changed too much from the man he is in these stories. But you do see him realizing the corruption in the government. The murder mystery that Yang is addressing brings in quite a lot of suspicion for him and the audience. I know I constantly found myself thinking someone was pulling strings as Yang’s duties changed. The journey is good, but the final conclusion is a little less than dramatic but perhaps that fits who Yang is. On the other hand, Reinhard always has a flair for drama like getting himself wrapped up in a duel. The old school kind. Or how about a mutiny? This really shows Reinhard’s ability to move people, even winning over the more common soldiers to trusting him. With such a strident class separation in their system, this is vital.
It is a nice change of pace for the Gaiden series to finally getting around to focusing on Yang. While he might not have had as many life of death struggles as Reinhard it is clear from even the first episode that Yang is used to being simultaneously put upon and ignored by his superiors while getting himself entangled is some serious trouble. And we quickly see that even Yang’s love of history has the nasty habit of getting him in over his head. Spiral Labyrinth is a fairly good exploration of the corruption and incompetence on both sides of the war and further explanation of why nothing really changed before Reinhard and Yang entered the picture. The mystery of Bruce Ashbey might be a bit anticlimactic but it is in line with the feel of the universe. This story also marks the first meeting of Yang with Fyodor Patrichev and Murai. It is interesting to get to see a little more of these two more than just being part of Yang’s dream team in the main series. Of course we also get to see a bit of the Empire’s side as well. As opposed to the normal formula of Reinhard getting assigned to a new position where everyone underestimates him until the end we also get the story of the Duelist. Here we get to see Reinhard involved in shenanigans outside of the military. Reinhard still does everything the Reinhard way but it is nice to see him a bit outside his normal routine. We also get to see a bit more of Magdalena von Westfalen who did not appear that much in the main series but was always awesome whenever she did show up. I have to wonder if she appeared more in the novels or was she just criminally underused in there as well. But as with the first set of side stories the most important part of these early Reinhard stories is to show really how much people are justified in saying, “Only if Kircheis were here.” We see what an indispensable ally and adviser he is time and again. Plus is fills the show requirement minimum of bromance which would have otherwise been deficient.
A nice crop of cameos and new faces show up these episodes. Yang’s story is peppered with early meetings and mentions of more important characters to come. Patrichev and Yang’s team up is one of those destined friendships so it feels really right how they come together. Through this Yang also starts his legion of followers. They also meet a guy at the nicest prisoner of war camp ever, who I called simply “the devil.” He looks like an old, devious demon and has a laugh to go along with it when he is helping Yang. In Reinhard’s half the best appearance is that of Baroness Westfalen. She is a cool, calculating lady who I must agree is not in the show nearly enough. This reminds me that both Yang and Reinhard could have tapped a lot of booty in this OVA but do not.
Some of the technical details should be mentioned as well. This is the first of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes OVA to heavily use CG. Before this most everything was hand drawn but almost all the ships are computer graphics in these side stories. It is super noticeable as the ships do not look as pretty as they used to and at some times their animation is sort of janky. It is hysterical when ships explode into puffs of pink smoke like they were taken out by a gang of vicious space pixies. You can tell that they are just trying out this new technology but don’t really get it. It is not enough to distract from the story but it has to be mentioned as you cannot miss it. On a positive note Hozumi Goda finally comes into his own in taking over the role of Yang Wen-li after Kei Tomiyama died. In the first gaiden series it is obvious that Yang has a new actor but in this series Goda finally sounds a bit more like the Yang we know and love.
While I never complain about more Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and actually still hope more will be made in the future, I do kinda wish the gaiden OVAs had been more, well, gaiden-y. The series is filled with interesting characters that we only see peripherally, so this could have been an opportunity to tell us about them. I can’t be the only one who would have loved to see Bucock or Merkatz in their younger years among other options. But this isn’t really a complaint about the quality of the stories told which make me feel like I never took a break in between series. If anything I just want more, more, more!
It is so odd to think that this is the last major chunk of Legend of the Galactic Heroes we have left. After this there will be a round-up of the movies but once that is done we will have closed the book on this series. It has always been exceptional from beginning to end. It had wonderfully flawed characters that grew as the succeed and failed often in equal measures. It had dastardly villains who represented all the vileness of men with power but too little morality that was as resonant then as it is today. An unbelievable mixture of high adventure and deep politics. They even were able to throw in some comedy and mystery when it was appropriate. There was something comforting about going home on Wednesdays and looking forward to four episodes of epic space opera with my friends. I am sure we will find other shows to watch on anime night but I don’t think any of them will have the power and scope that this series has. It was an unusual set of circumstances that let such a series run so long and I appreciate the fickle whims of fortune that let it come to be. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has been a one of a kind experience that I will treasure.