It’s easy to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes (LoGH) as a typical space epic, but LoGH is much more than a simple space opera. LoGH aspires to discuss ideas about government, military, religion and philosophy, making LoGH sophisticated and dense while still having the classic drama associated with space epics. Running at 110 episodes, the length of LoGH is only matched by its sheer scale. Like most space epics, two colossal forces battle for control of the universe; one side supporting democracy, and the other, autocracy. But LoGH doesn’t contain itself to just two factions, with many independent forces affecting the fate of history through other means such as political corruption and terrorism.
With many perspectives present within the show, LoGH often uses a omnipotent narrator to communicate exposition. Reliance on a narrator could be a blessing or a curse depending on how one enjoys their storytelling. But I can confidently say, LoGH gets the full potential out of its narrator. He never overextends his reach into exposition the characters can naturally convey, and often raises the level of intrigue for future events. Bringing a remote vantage point to view this troubled time, it allows the audience to not favor one side and gain insight to the pros and cons of every mindset. Leaving the viewer to ponder the philosophy of their principles and draw their own conclusions.
How one’s actions will be interpreted by future generations is a recurring motif within LoGH. The narrator allows the audience to take the position of the historian, recounting an incredible narrative of greed, sacrifice, and heroism. The only downside of the narrator is due to LoGH being scripted for an audience who has already read the novels. In episode previews, the narrator would often spoil the major events of the next episode, leaving less suspense for new viewers. This problem is easily circumvented by skipping the previews at the end of each episode.
Though one will skip most of the blatant spoilers in this manner, LoGH is still heavy handed with its foreshadowing within the actual content. But even if one guesses what happens next, LoGH has enough substance within its story it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the series. Rather than the foreshadowing ruining the surprise, it helps build toward dramatic climaxes. This style of storytelling is aided by LoGH’s slow, but consistent pacing. Together it builds a seamless narrative full of great characterization and drama. Some may be bored with LoGH’s slow and deliberate episodes, but once I got absorbed into its world it didn’t bother me at all. I wanted to learn more about the people and their universe.
The plot primarily follows two young admirals who share similar dreams for the galaxy, but go about achieving it through different means. One is Yang Wenli, a lazy historian who wishes to preserve democracy. Sucked into the military to get a degree, he became a hero by evacuating millions from an invaded planet. Yang Wenli’s brilliance unveiled, the historian was unable to escape the war and becomes the figurehead of democracy. The other is Reinhard Von Lohengramm, the regal upstart. His family ripped apart by the cruelty of the autocracy, Reinhard wishes to change the government from within, establishing himself as a fair ruler. Though on opposite sides of hostilities, the two are perfect complements bringing out each other’s genius. These two are the embodiment of charisma, their resolve and insight inspiring others to join their cause. Shows with a large cast such as LoGH often have forgettable characters who are overshadowed by people like Yang and Reinhard. But by the end of watching LoGH, many names such as, Kircheis, Reuental, and Schenkopp will be burned into one’s mind. The anime focuses heavily on character development and analysis, leaving no character without purpose. Each is distinct in ideals and design, populating this massive universe with genuine people.
Despite the number of characters in LoGH, it is simple for the audience to remember and place them in the correct faction. This incredible trait is made possible through LoGH’s excellent character designs. Characters of the same group share a uniform they wear almost every episode, but have defining facial features separating them. The art stands the test of time for a show with a first episode airing in 1988, but I can’t say the same for the animation. The walking looks awkward and the space battles have a total lack of animation earlier on. Luckily, LoGH is the exception to long running anime, and its animation improves over time. Once in stride, the show builds a space aesthetic only matched by the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek.
Accompanying the visuals are classical pieces by Mozart and Mahler. The grand sounds of a symphony adds to the epic scale of the battles and drama. LoGH’s music choices are always appropriate and never intrude on the moment, allowing the story to take the lead. The only exceptions to this are the opening and ending songs. These are generally ballads which follow along with the themes of the show. Other than one which has some ridiculous engrish in it, these are beautiful songs which embody the messages of the show.
Throughout the series, LoGH punishes the ignorant and short sighted while rewarding those with merit. Those with the ability to improve themselves and contribute to humanity as a whole are praised as heroes. The idea is furthered by LoGH’s own improvements in quality as the show goes on. Not only is the animation upgraded, but every other storytelling element. The unrefined villains are eliminated from the spotlight, and the events only get more dramatic. The continual forward progression mirrors humanities history. Through racism oppression and war, humankind perseveres and advances.
The only faction which didn’t support these themes was the religious group whom is never explored with any depth. LoGH represents them as an extremist group with no redeeming qualities, leaving out a complex facet of humanity which could have added many spiritual concepts. The only other issue I have with LoGH was it didn’t feel personal enough for me. Not to say it wasn’t emotionally gripping, but it just didn’t have the extra human touch. Because of the distance the show puts between the viewer and the events, I cared for the characters but didn’t relate with them. Their ideas granting me insight, but not changing me.
Undeterred by these flaws, LoGH is a space epic with outstanding execution. Few shows match its ambition and those that do, rarely succeed on the same scale. The political drama, immense world, and intelligent characters construct a saga one will not forget. But perhaps LoGH’s greatest strength is its expertise in portraying the cyclical nature of humanity. Which in turn, creates one of the most compelling anti-war messages in anime history.
The Legend Ends, and History Begins
I also want to give a special thanks for a friend of mine who helped edit this review! It wouldn’t read nearly as well without him.