Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Alt title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu

OVA (110 eps x 26 min)
1988 - 1997
4.283 out of 5 from 3,415 votes
Rank #182

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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StoryI'm no stranger to space opera, so when I heard that Legend of the Galactic Heroes featured an epic war between a 'Galactic Empire' and a 'Free Planets Alliance', I went in expecting the kind of moral dualism found in Star Wars and Star Trek. Sure, the Alliance is revealed to be corrupt and the Empire is undergoing reforms, but even then I'd assumed it wouldn't go any farther than Babylon 5 - which attacked corrupt democracy by way of glorifying benevolent military dictatorship - or the smug condescension of Firefly. Yet further Galactic Heroes went. Every other time I was about to make a sly remark about the moral hypocrisy of one position or the ramifications of another, it was done for me - often through the omnipresent narrator. Think that the gallant politeness of enemy commanders is nothing more than the complicity of mass murderers? It's an idea mentioned in passing. If the war is usually depicted simply as spaceships exploding to a classical soundtrack, the horrors are also shown: once, a soldier holds his intestines as his ship burns. The respective benefits and problems of a corrupt democracy or a benevolent dictatorship are treated in a surprisingly even handed manner - to the extent undue bias exists, it is with people rather than politics. In terms of scope the narrative is breathtaking as it takes the fate of these two nation states right through their struggle to the finish. This development is never fast paced but I can't recall a single filler episode - it feels like the inexorable march of historical events, or, as the narrator frequently intones, ‘another page of galactic history is turned'. Pains are taken to flesh out this universe. Whole episodes are devoted to history lessons, which are more entertaining than that might sound. Admittedly this is not a realistic universe even by the generous standards of space opera - letters are still hand-written, everything about the Empire whiffs of nineteenth century anachronism, even the Alliance can seem old-fashioned. Though not plausible, this is certainly a fascinating world to get lost in. Space battles are frequent, tending to fall into the common space opera tropes of ignoring three dimensions (unless they feel like it) and being treated as a naval engagements, though within those conventions I found them to be pretty interesting viewing. There are numerous action scenes involving men wielding axes (explained away as long-range weapons don't work for technobabble reasons), which can be enjoyable for character interactions - especially Walter von Schenkopp being a badass - but can also be undermined by the very studied, theatrical manner of the writing. These engagements could also be seen as somewhat silly. Furthermore the use of German will leave something to be desired for anyone familiar with the language. All that considered, the high rating reflects my feeling that the strengths of the plot - which feels like an epic novel in the vein of Romance of the Three Kingdoms - surpasses its own weaknesses to become something superlatively memorable.AnimationThe animation is pretty weak - in space battles there can be a dependence on stock footage, movements of characters are invariably stiff, and the action sequences - such as they are - are never special. However, visual presentation and designs are consistently good, with a surprising number of the huge cast of characters being identifiable at a glance. The quasi-period setting and costumes of the Empire are well realised, as are the more contemporary looking apparel of the Alliance. So too are the spaceships inside and out, especially the Brünhild. There's an overall elegance to this aspect of production that is admirably suited to Galactic Heroes.SoundMost of the music is European classical, but a good ear is shown in applying given pieces. The songs for the openings and endings mostly fit this theme - the opening is invariably a classical piece sung by a woman (or women) in English, while the ending - which uses a male singer - is mostly classical but occasionally veers into light pop, always in Japanese. The English is very good for all but the last of the openings. With that opening excluded, these songs are quite listenable - even if their similarity may make them blur together. The voice cast is notably sizeable, many of whom would later go on to fame in other anime series - and there are certainly several excellent performances here. If I were to single one out I'd choose Kei Tomiyama, whose rueful Yang Wenli is sympathetic and approachable. When the role was recast for Golden Wings, it just wasn't Yang to me anymore.CharactersSince a consistently positive review is boring to read, allow me to begin with the negative: Several characters are two-dimensional. There are more than a few pigheadedly stubborn generals on both sides, and the members of the Terraist cult are your stock manipulative shady religious order. Again, though the political systems are handled in shades of grey, a black and white contrast is sometimes used between individuals. For every handful of simply drawn figures, however, there are a plethora of excellent ones, and it is the characters along with the plot that form this anime's greatest strengths. Most notable are the two rivals Yang Wenli and Reinhard von Lohengramm, whose struggle is a driving force throughout. Both are sympathetic yet neither escape criticism - Reinhard for his dictatorial aims, Yang for depending so strongly on such a thoroughly untrustworthy government. To an extent they're guilty of the common anime flaw of informed genius - we're told rather than really convinced that they are exceptional commanders. Nonetheless, the strategies are sufficiently competent - and the characters so well written as people - that I didn't really mind. Yang offers much of the most potent commentary about war and politics, often in a wryly humorous and self-deprecating manner. Though one may criticise his strategies, Yang's personality and conversational range feels more authentically like a genius tactician than similar characters in anime. If Reinhard is less interesting, it's only because Yang shines so brightly. Still, it's easy to sympathise with his hatred of the aristocracy for making his sister the Emperor's sexual plaything. His dependence on his best friend and constant shadow, the ever moral Siegfried Kircheis, is nicely contrasted with the necessity of his Machiavellian ally Paul von Oberstein. Ultimately his character arc is arguably the most compelling. Aside from those two there are many, many other interesting and well handled characters, far too many to go into any sort of depth here. Of these several posess expertly handled character arcs. Even a minor character may be given extra facets - Heydrich Lang might be despicable politically, but he privately donates to charities and he's a good father and husband. Or, to return to the Terraist cult once more, we do see a kindly old woman undertaking a pilgrimage to Earth.OverallIf I had to imagine what the ideal anime for me would be, it'd probably be something just like this - an epic, literary space opera steeped in early modern European culture with a heavy dependence on classical music. If that very idea doesn't make your heart skip a beat, feel free to deduct a point or two from the score. Regardless I found Galactic Heroes a refreshingly intelligent, engaging series that should not just be considered a classic of anime, but of the space opera genre.


Story 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. AnimationI 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.SoundForget 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.Characters 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. OverallPowerful. 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.


Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one of the most highly rated shows by people who have seen it. As a result I had high expectations when I started the show, but ultimately dropped it about 70 episodes in. There are just too many problems with the narrative. Take, for example, the lame action. I'm sorry, but the space battles are just not interesting. There are countless logical inconsistencies (we've been cornered... IN SPACE), it's poorly animated, and the scenes tend to drag on for eons. I appreciate the effort to take WW1 tactics and implement them into space-combat, but it just doesn't do much for me when there are so many other glaring faults. Don't even get me started on the axe combat, which is some of the most aggravating bullshit I've ever voluntarily sat through. There are similar problems with the rest of the overarching plot. This narrative needs to be extremely intelligent to work, and while it has its moments (I particularly enjoy the fact that much of the series can be viewed as allegorical to famous political events in world history), there are also parts that are either ridiculous or flat-out illogical. A particular problem is that the opponents that Yang and Lohengram "outwit" tend to have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. I found it immensely frustrating to watch nearly every opponent repeatedly commit absolutely asinine acts that no experienced commander would ever even consider. Moreover, the "brilliant tactics" that Yang and Lohengram use tend to be basic stuff like "pretend to run away" or "hire competent advisers." I may finish this series someday (although I hear that it gets even weaker near the end, which is hardly encouraging), but the fact remains that this is very much a niche title for those that can enjoy a pompous, intellectual story that isn't actually that intelligent. Like Rose of Versailles, another ancient but highly liked series with some serious narrative issues, LOGH feels like epic for epic's sake.

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