Title: Legend of the Galactic Heroes aka Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu aka Heldensagen vom Kosmosinsel
Companies: Kitty Films/Artland/Madhouse/Magic Bus/AIC/SHAFT
Format: 110 OVA
Dates: Dec 1988 – Feb 1997
Synopsis: The history of humanity is a sad one, to say the least. With a legacy of endless strife, millennia of meaningless conflict have escalated war to the stars. And yet, while mankind falls into the same pitfalls without resolution in sight, the ambitions of men are not bound by such follies. In the midst of 150 of one such struggle, two brilliant individuals arise. One is Admiral Yang Wen Li, a scholar whose integrity shall inspire the hearts of a failing nation. The other is Count Reinhard vom Lohengramm, a charismatic leader with dreams of conquest that exceed those of his pathetic empire’s. The journey these two are about to embark on is one to make history. And neither are ready to know where that journey will take them.
Pacing and progression: Slow, seamless, and solid.
Philosophy: Heavy, but never preachy.
Universe: Is observed from every angle with an open mind (theocracy notwithstanding).
Cast: Most will prove their worth by the end.
Intensity: Doesn’t let up for a second.
Plot twists: You may see them coming, but they will blow your mind.
I really don’t want to keep this short. If it were up to me, this review would probably span the length of a doctoral dissertation. And even then, there really is no way to give a thorough analysis of Legend of the Galactic Heroes before realizing that I have barely scratched the surface of this virtually unrivaled masterpiece. It would be presumptuous of me to hail it as the greatest anime of all time. But to think of it as anything less than a contender is greatly underrating what LOGH manages to achieve.
Before anyone gets turned off by the cheesy title, it is important to note that the name Legend of the Galactic Heroes is somewhat of a misnomer. For all the heroics the protagonists bestow, they are all merely portrayed simply as men of history. And while Yang and Reinhard are what drives the story, it really isn’t about them. This story really isn’t about anyone. What LOGH is, is a tale of human history, an observation of the philosophies and personalities that change it. Using the framing device of an interstellar war, this anime delves into the concepts that create society, never afraid to question and defend every bit and piece of it. This series is not afraid to admit the merits of autocracy, while never explicitly, or even implicitly, giving it the philosophical upper hand against democracy. Outside of terrorism and theocracy, each system of authority is broken down it its base parts, never overgeneralized, never attacked, never worshiped. After all, this is an anime about contradiction. There is no agenda.
When it comes to Yang and Reinhard, the two act as perfect foils in a rivalry that defines the other’s existence. But more important is those they inspire. The cast of LOGH are people of ideas, and it is these ideas which bring these characters to light in almost unimaginable ways. Granted, not all characterization is significantly profound, such as Julian, who transforms from a humble recruit to perhaps the wisest man in the entire galaxy. While there are those, such as Ruental, who come full circle, many only go as far as Eisenach’s nonverbal quirks. Luckily most characters teeter on the side of heavy character development and analysis, leaving very little time wasted. This is not to say that characters like Eisenach are less important. What matters is that just about every main and supporting character has a valid reason to exist.
For all of its being a study of human history, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is still a space opera. And oh does it deliver. And like any good space opera should, LOGH merely uses space battles as one of many tools to create its rich universe. If this anime was only exciting during deep space skirmishes and the occasional axe fight, this would be a pretty boring series. As fun as these moments are to watch, it is the anticipation of what will happen next that makes LOGH so compelling. What’s important is not so much what will happen, but more why and how it will happen. At a point, it is not so hard to predict the upcoming plot twist. However, knowing where all the pieces are set, keeps one alert for the inevitable, giving rise to an unrelenting sense of urgency, which doesn’t just linger around and appear when necessary. With every scene, the momentum is maintained and crescendos along the way. When two soldiers talking in the mess hall can retain all the energy of a glorious battle, you know someone is doing something right.
But more than anything, what makes Legend of the Galactic Heroes distinguish itself the way it does, is its endearing willingness to better itself. The production team didn’t just stop at already exceptional quality early on. As time goes by, the animation vastly improves. The cast becomes more relatable. Many of whom could be defined as stupid-evil are essentially wiped out by the end of the first season. The impact of each and every story element only gets stronger. And the themes become more and more relevant, all cumulating into perhaps the greatest antiwar message in all anime. I have no idea how it holds up to the original novels; however, that doesn’t stop this OVA from being an outstanding piece on its own. I feel as if I gained much from watching LOGH. And I am certain, that everyone and anyone will find it just as meaningful in their own way.
The Rating: 10
Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx