It is rather hard to believe but we’ve watched all of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. ALL OF IT! But it seems like less of a celebrated victory and more of a melancholy reality that this is all there is to the epic of Reinhard and Yang. I don’t have to say too much because if you’ve made it to the movies you are already invested. But actually it is worth nothing that you could watch (two out of three) the films to know if this is a series you want to dive into.
And so we come full circle with Legend of the Galactic Heroes. We started in the middle of Reinhard’s plot to overthrow the Empire and followed Yang and Reinhard’s rise and fall through the ranks in four arcs as both men tried to nurture their ideals. We then went back with two side stories that showed how both men were molded by the corrupt systems that raised them but remained true to higher ideals. These last three movies tie both of the halves together. Our lasts steps in this unimaginable space operas has us re-examining where it all began.
1988 introduced the first Legend of the Galactic Heroes movie called My Conquest is the Sea of Stars. It is the most immediate prequel to the main series that takes place shortly before episode 1. While Yang Wen-li and Reinhard von Müsel have been on opposite sides of the battlefield previously in this movie is the first time they truly go head to head and start to learn what a formidable foe the other one is. In 1992 the Golden Wings came out. Another prequel to main story it covers Reinhard’s rise to the ranks. It is mostly known for its radical departure in characters designs, mechanical designs, and voice actors. And finally 1993 gives us an Overture to a New War which is an expanded retelling of the first two episodes of the main OVA series. This time there is more information from the novels on the screen as well as theatrical levels animation. These three movies are the bridge between the gaiden series and the main series.
My Conquest is the Sea of Stars while technically a prequel, does nothing that makes it difficult to start at this point. Despite it being a movie, it fits in seamlessly with the series both storytelling and animation wise. Here Yang and Reinhard get a taste of each other’s battle prowess, which is significant not only because it informs their relationship for the entire series. But also it shows that the world is changing, no longer is it just incompetence leading, these two can change the tides of war. Yes, finally seeing where the rivalry between Yang and Reinhard comes from has more impact if you know them, but the battle is still memorable. And the original series isn’t info dumping you who everyone is at the beginning anyway, so you pick up on little things as you learn the characters.
We actually started watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes by watching My Conquest is the Sea of Stars. If you are in it to win it then this is a great place to start. It is the first direct confrontation that Yang and Reinhard have on the battlefield and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the series. We see the high and lows of both sides of the conflict with the haughty and spoiled aristocracy of the Empire and the corrupt and bureaucratic chaos that is the Alliance. Yang and Reinhard both get moments to shine and show how they are unique and extraordinary thinkers in stark contrast to the incompetents around them. We also see Yang’s penchant for speaking with the Bard’s Tongue as a running theme of the series. You know the second Yang goes, “Well as long as XXXX does not happen” it means they are going to cut right to XXXX happening while the people above him ignore his warnings. We get a few scenes with all the major players of the first arc as well like Mittermeyer and Dusty. Along side Yang and Reinhard’s story we also follow the story on two gunners in the Imperial navy. Their story in an interesting insight into what the grunts think on the Imperial side as opposed to the high level maneuvering we normally see from the Empire. Sadly these two characters never appear again in the series. The animation for this movie is like an excellent episode of the main series but it will not make you gasp at how radically different the budget is. This a solid entry to the series and sets up the material that follows it flawlessly.
Golden Wings starts earlier than any other beginning from the series, with Reinhard and Kircheis’s early boyhood. We see them join the military together and engage in their first big battle as well as going against some of the nobility. Things that happen in this film are the foundations for what Reinhard and Kircheis are known for; being an unstoppable team; taking aristocracy down a notch; proving to the common soldiers they are capable; and yet, this movie is terrible. It isn’t just bad because I have expectations for the series or about how characters should look and sound. If the dull dialogue and amateur story progression doesn’t practically put you to sleep it is because you are dumbfounded by the villain and laughing at the horrid facial expressions of the cast. Don’t watch this if you are unfamiliar with Legend of the Galactic Heroes! I say this because on a certain level this movie is hilariously bad for fans who might be curious. Even though this seems like a film that is specifically trying to bring in a new audience to the franchise, they do it not one bit of justice.
My goodness. Golden Wings certainly lives up to its infamous reputation. Obviously someone thought that if they played around with the appearance of Legend of the Galactic Heroes they could get a new audience. The only voice actor who is consistent is the narrator and he does not spoil anything with innuendo about the future so is he REALLY the Legend of the Galactic Heroes narrator we have come to know and love? The characters designs just look so painfully early 90s especially when compared to the more timeless versions from the original series. You know who everyone is on the Empire side but Yang and the Alliance officers look like they are all characters from another series. Also the villain of this story looks like the least popular member of a second-rate goth rock band. The imperial uniforms are a tacky purple affair that look more like school uniforms. The story is clearly your standard Gaiden story about someone trying to kill Reinhard as he rises through the ranks. The problem is without the panache of the original the story just comes off as a serviceable but forgettable throw away 90s OVA. The less we say about this the better. They wisely abandoned this experiment and went back to the style that severed them so well for the rest of the series. It is worth seeing as a bizarre misstep in the franchise but hardly a priority bit of viewing like the rest of the series. Just make sure no one sees this as their first exposure to the series as it gives a bad first impression.
Having gone through such a huge story then seeing it from the beginning once again in Overture to a New War was like breathing new life into it. This was a stunning finish (I am ignoring Golden Wings) to an amazing series. Here we see the world begin to shift as two larger-than-life personalities collide and change the course of a war that is seemingly never ending. Reinhard, Yang, and every detail of the show is rendered in crisp, film quality animation. Overture to a New War shows all the potential of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, my only complaint would be how little of the amazing cast (read as: not enough Reuenthal) appears at this juncture.
To make up for the debacle that was the Golden Wings we end with Overture to a New War. For every misstep that Golden Wings made Overture to a New War does the same thing with unprecedented style. Overture to a New War is a re-telling of the first two episodes of the main series with luscious theatrical animation. Anyone who has seen the main series will tell you that the budget on the first two episodes is sort of low as they were not yet sure how successful this series would be so the ability to go back and redo those episodes with some major money is wonderful. It tells the story of the initial battle that would truly spark the rest of the series into being. We get parts of the story expand upon like the love triangle between Yang, Lap, and Jessica. It was the perfect way to end the series. It lets us go back to the start of the story and remember everything we loved about the series with the highest quality possible. If you have are trying to get someone who is reluctant to watch the series you might want to start with this movie. While nothing else in the series sadly looks as nice its initial wow factor cannot be denied.
It is really sad to let this series go. Considering how long Legend of the Galactic Heroes is, that the quality of its storytelling never wanes except for one film in its collective, and that there is still so much that I want to know about its people, this is a feat by any scale. It is one of the best in anime, a pinnacle, which will age gracefully and will never be forgotten.
And we have come to the end of the road. After starting this series it has been an amazing journey of 162 episode and 3 movies. But we have finally come to the point were there is no more Legend of the Galactic Heroes to watch. I finish the series with a mixture of joy and sadness. I am proud to have finished such an amazing and one of a kind series. It was an incredible epic that truly shows you what animation can accomplish. And the same time now I know there is no more is the series to watch so it fills me up with a bitter sweet regret. It is like parting with an unforgettable person that you sadly know you will never see again. But even if you never see them again the time you spent together has enriched and shaped your life for the better. We will probably never be fully done talking about this series. I know we have a podcast about the series coming some time in the future. I am sure that articles on the blog will analyze various parts of the series and we will reference this show as a meter stick for wide range of topics. But for now we close the book on this masterpiece and urge you to open up the book for yourself if you have not already done so.