A popular African proverb states: 'When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.' Shows like Now and Then, Here and There and Grave of the Fireflies point to the grass, the suffering of the masses at the bottom. Legend of the Galactic Heroes tackles the questions of war from above - from a historical and political perspective - thus shining a brilliant light upon the giants who move and shake our world.
Despite its aged appearance, LOGH is an epic in the truest sense. It paints a picture of heroism that dwarfs younger, glitzier productions in sheer scope and detail. Reinhard von Lohengramm, a charismatic idealist, rises to the top of an empire with the aim of forcing the known galaxy into an efficient meritocracy. Yang Wenli, on the other hand, is a world-weary military genius fighting to protect a corrupt democracy from invasion by said empire. While they confront each other in the military sense, their conflict is also an ideological one that pits a slow, unreliable system of justice against a vivacious, unchecked egalitarian one. It challenges the 'good democracy vs bad autocracy' propaganda found in most other media, offering in stead an innovative dilemma of timeless relevance.
Unsurprisingly, the narrative juggles a multitude of subplots, counterplots, and intervening twists - so many, in fact, that recalling them all at once is impossible. Moreover, around this core of political rivalry, it also wraps layers of momentous space battles. With troops counted in the millions and fortresses the size of planets, the battles encompass the kind of mind-boggling scale only an epic of this calibre could sustain. Nevertheless, while complex in design, LOGH feels neither rushed nor bombastic, and organises components of its plot with the easy-to-follow logic of a jigzaw. This is perhaps the unique quality that marks it out as a masterpiece: the confidence it shows in its own deliberate elegance to inspire with dialogue even as it entertains with action.
Of course, since the original novels that spawned this show were written by a history nut (Dr Yoshiki Tanaka), having some interest in global history and politics adds extra dimensions to the enjoyment. History lovers will appreciate the narrative drawing parallels with real historical figures and events (for example, the script borrows aspects of Russia's 1812 strategy against Napoleon and transplants them into the Amlitzer invasion of the Galactic Empire). Students of political science, on the other hand, will admire its astute discussions on governance. By no means is that level of knowledge actually required - those with no academic interest in these themes will find more than enough excitement in the show's powerful controversies.
I won't compare LOGH's animation to that of any recent sci-fi; that would be like rating the original Star Trek against The Matrix. Compare this title, however, to Future Police Urashiman or They Were Eleven and clearly it sits somewhere between the two. The world is comprehensive and detailed enough to avoid the childish looks of the former without achieving a distinctive style like the latter. Since this was a straight-to-video release spanning a decade, however, the animation quality does improve over time.
Forget the opening themes - they're dated ballads only interesting as antiques. The timeless orchestral pieces by the likes of Beethoven and Brahms, on the other hand, endow the in-episode drama with much magnificence. This is particularly true during the space battles, where they accompany the movements of the ships so well that they could have been composed specifically for this purpose.
The cast of LOGH is probably one of the largest in anime history. I count roughly a dozen characters that represent the absolute core, tens more that perform indispensable supporting roles, and hundreds that duck in and out of the plot as the script demands. Fortunately, LOGH wields its cast with remarkable deftness; apart from the convenience of their names appearing on screen, the plot ensures each character matters in some memorable way. Granted, the minor villains are simply callous and incompetent (like insidious Commodore Andrew Fork or that tool in the toga, Maximilian von Kastrop), but the painstaking development of the main cast compensates for this.
In any case, when pressed, I can narrow that core list to two: Yang Wenli and Reinhard von Lohengramm. These extraordinary protagonists exist in exclusive political worlds that meet only through war, and even their personal journeys take on starkly different dimensions; while Reinhard's career flows with the fateful grandeur of an epic poem, Yang's is more like a definitive collection of political parables. (My favourite of these occurs in episode three, when Commodore Attleborough asks why Yang's neighbours won't help as the fanatical Patriotic Knights Corps attack his home. Without missing a beat, Yang replies, 'The freedom to "not get involved" is perhaps the most valued freedom we have in this country.') Although Yang and Reinhard exchange hardly ten lines of dialogue, one could never achieve his full genius without the other to counteract him. Moreover, as integral as they are to each other, much of LOGH's thrill simply lies in watching them outmanoeuvre each other on the battlefield even as they dance politically on a knife's edge.
Powerful. Challenging. Relevant. LOGH is the exhilerating tale of that rare breed of human beings - heroes - who steer the course of history and shape the lives of millions through their indomitable personalities. At the same time, it neatly amalgamates a rich array of historical and political perspectives without sacrificing depth, subtelty, or coherence. Indeed, LOGH is a narrative feat that must be seen to be believed.
The war between the monarchical Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance has raged ceaselessly across the galaxy for over a century, with the fleets of both powers having fought countless battles. Currently the conflict revolves around the strategic Iserlohn Corridor, one of only two passages of space through which the two forces can access each other. Here the Empire has built the nigh-impregnable Iserlohn Fortress, whose deadly weaponry has thwarted repeated efforts by the Alliance to capture her. Phezzan, a neutral mercantile state, controls the other corridor. The long war has resulted in an indecisive stalemate, but there are two men from the two worlds who will change everything: Wen-Li Yang, a gifted strategist from the Alliance who wants nothing more than to retire and be a historian; and Reinhard von Lohengramm, a man from the Empire whose ambition knows no bounds. Their loves, struggles, triumphs and failures play across an interstellar stage of intrigue, war and death.
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