Legend of the Galactic Heroes (銀河英雄伝説 Ginga Eiyū Densetsu) is a (1988-1997) 110-episode space opera produced by Artland, based on the novel by Yoshiki Tanaka and directed by Noboru Ishiguro (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Megazone 23).
The setting of this story is grand. It’s a Space Opera for which the stage is the entire galaxy. It revolves around a war taking place over decades in a fictional future between two major camps : The (autocratic) Galactic Empire and The (democratic) Free Planets Alliance.
The conflict is handled with an open mind as the story doesn’t root for either ideology. It presents arguments for and against those ideologies, for example, one can say that a good autocracy is usually better than a good democracy, but a bad autocracy is worse than a bad democracy. The series explicitly presents the autocracy vs. democracy argument by showing the impact of both ideologies on the people at their best and at their worst, all the while sticking to the open-minded portrayal of the clashing camps. The history behind each camp and how it came into being is meticulously fleshed out with surprising attention to details. And as a look on human history, nothing is left unmentioned as countless themes are brought up somewhere within the story; whether it’s betrayal, assassination, terrorism, cultism, love, friendship or family; light is shed on each of those many different topics when the right occasion arises.
The battle scenes are fleshed out and brilliantly thought-out down to the last detail. There is a huge emphasis on tactics and strategies, and the focus shifts between not only the different camps during the battles but also between the officers on each camp from the least important ones to the most important ones. The fun of the battles doesn’t only lie in the explosions of the space ships or the occasional axe fights, half of the fun lies in seeing how each side plans the tactics and strategies to use against the opponent. In addition to that, the environmental conditions also come into play sometimes since they can dictate how a battle should be fought, so it was also fun to see how the opposing sides try to use the environment to their benefits (e.g. black holes and asteroids).
The dialogue is very impressive. There are countless quotable lines and memorable discussions. They range from interesting and thought-provoking, such as “People need societies, but they don’t necessarily need nations” to silly (yet amusing) like “Humans were drinking alcohol five-thousand years ago, and we’re still drinking it now. Alcohol is humanity’s oldest friend, how can I abandon a friend?”. That said, the show rarely comes off as preachy.
The show centers around countless characters, however, one can say there are 2 very important characters without whom, a good chunk of the big picture would be lost.
On the Free Planets Alliance camp, we have Yang Wenli, the FPA hero who doesn’t like to be labeled as such. He’s easy-going, wise and beyond things like patriotism. He loves democracy, and he fights due to his love for that ideology. And while his achievements enable him to rise in rank within the military, his true passion in life is studying history. He also loves tea with brandy.
On the Galactic Empire camp, we have Reinhard Von Lohengramm, an ambitious man with unrivaled charisma and strong conviction. He joins the military for the sole purpose of rescuing his sister from the clutches of the emperor, and he realizes that the only way to do so, is to become the most influential man in the empire.
To say, however, that the story revolves solely around these 2 characters, would be very inaccurate. Yes, they are in a way the most important ones, but so many other characters play very crucial and essential roles, and they each bring their message and point of view into the story. Whether they’re emperors, military officials, political candidates or regular citizens; the anime makes sure all of them tell their stories. I found one supporting character in particular to be very interesting, the character is Adrian Rubinsky, the leader of the autonomous nation of Fezzan, a so-called neutral nation that works from behind the scenes to manipulate the on-going conflict to its benefit.
The character designs are handled brilliantly as one can easily distinguish between the characters and remember which character belongs to which camp not only based on facial features but also based on the uniforms of military personnel.
As a work of Science Fiction, scientific and technological inaccuracies can’t be avoided. How bothersome those inaccuracies can be is however up to the viewer to decide. For example, the use of dated technology such as old computer models and floppy disks can bother some viewers especially considering that this is supposed to be a futuristic space opera, but keep in mind that this is an anime adaptation of a novel that was written in the late ‘70s, so try not to hold those inaccuracies too much against this anime.
With the abundance of characters, one might find it hard, if not impossible, to remember the name of each character. One could also argue that there’s a specific organization of cultists that isn’t handled with nearly as much care as everything else.
The animation is arguably the category that could easily break the series for many viewers, as I noticed that many modern viewers refuse to watch anything that was released before the year 2000. It’s not particularly impressive by today’s standards but it’s really good if we go by the standards of the early ‘90s, which I suspect wouldn’t matter much to some viewers. One can also notice how it improves by comparing the early episodes to the last ones, since this series was released between 1988 and 1997 (110 episodes).
Weeb level: 1/10. The anime doesn’t even require surface-level knowledge of the medium, as most of the common tropes to the medium range from rare to nonexistent.
Quality: By combining the scores of all the categories of the show (story, animation, characters, sound and my own personal enjoyment) I shall award this series with a rating of 9.25/10.
Where to Watch: The series is currently legally available for streaming only on HIDIVE.
Many thanks to Bacchus for writing this review.