The first movie in the Legend of the Galactic Heroes franchise is a prequel that serves two useful purposes. It adequately fills in some historical details that the series could not and polishes its rousing space battles with the updated animation they deserve.
The story depicts the 4th Tiamat Battle, the Alliance's fourth failed attempt out of six to capture the impregnable Iserlohn Fortress. An isolated space battle, no matter how monumental, will only interest those who can appreciate the wider context. By this I mean the fact that this is the first time Commodore Yang Wenli and Admiral Reinhard von Musel meet on the battlefield. In fact, the script assumes viewers know the characters, often flying straight into confrontational dialogues without much explanatory background. Thus, although the events here precede those in the series, this movie is by no means a suitable introduction for those new to LOGH.
Neither can I call it essential viewing for established fans; rather, the movie serves as an easy education for those eager to learn more about LOGH's complex timeline. Viewers can expect the usual exciting space battles and plenty of poetic dialogue, but also less satisfying attempts at political intrigue.
The movie looks crisper and cleaner than the series and offers smoother movements. The most rewarding improvement, however, is that the environments feel more involving. The narrative even dedicates some minutes to showing off the Galactic Empire's military grandeur, so that the ships look like genuine hardware in stead of animated toys.
The soundtrack continues in its lofty vein with the 4th Tiamat Battle occuring to the militaristic sounds of Maurice Ravel's 'Bolero'. The ending theme is also a suitable instrumental, although hardly memorable.
What to say of excellent characters who reveal only a snapshot of their kaleidoscopic lives? Even the key players, Reinhard and Yang, remain static here; in light of that, their stupid, incompetent commanders who serve as antagonists look even more one-dimensional. For this brief adventure, at least, they are adequate, and reawaken all the emotions that their more comprehensive versions in the series deserved.
This movie will appeal to one marginal bunch of people: the avid fans of LOGH. It avoids becoming a cheap retread that so many studios churn out for petty cash, and doesn't fall into the category of pointless filler trying to resurrect loose threads, either. If you have a spare hour and wish to dip into LOGH's universe again whilst learning something more about the history, this show will serve its purpose well. I actually recommend watching after the first season of the series (episodes 1-26) to ensure memories of Reinhard's and Siegfried Kircheis' early career are still fresh.
Imperial Admiral Reinhard von Musell is an ambitious, aspiring young admiral within the Galactic Empire, who has earned the animosity of his peers; they believe that he has reached his position only due to his sister’s influence with Kaiser Goldenbaum, earning him the nickname of "the Admiral under the skirt." Meanwhile, Alliance Commodore Wen-Li Yang, fresh from his heroic victory against overwhelming odds at El Facil, has just been given the unenviable assignment of military advisor to a self-assured superior officer. Both of these Galactic Heroes, on opposite sides of the conflict, face the same task of having to overcome their superiors’ suspicions and win the day at "the 4th Tiamat Battle" of a 150-year-long war.
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