Adapting the original novels by Yoshiki Tanaka and first airing 25 years ago (1988), “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” (LoGH) was never really on my anime watch list. I have heard from people that it is the anime hipster’s favourite topic of discussion, as the 110 OVAs are well made, contain amazing military tactics; politic power games and are believed to embody the best “serious anime” of all time. Even so, truthful to myself, I didn’t pick this up until only few weeks ago. Now I have enlisted to the “Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu” praise army, while still keeping myself as grounded as possible, since there is no anime that is perfect. Please kindly join me for a review of “Code Geass”’s greatest ancestor – it contains spoilers!
Character Design & Music
Beautiful and traditional. These are the exact words I would use to describe the character design and music of the “Legend of the Galactic Heroes”. Reminiscent of “Sailor Moon”, “InuYasha” and “Rose of Versailles”, the characters possess simply drawn design without much of a dimensional feeling. The sharp facial features and outlines are just one of the many things you will find either enchanting or strange, bearing in mind the contemporary striving to 3D visualisation and depart from “the drawn by hand look”. The character design itself comes from Tomonori Kogawa, who unfortunately I know very little of. Apparently, “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” remains his greatest work.
If you’re suffering from prejudice in regards to old-school animation, “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” is the best cure. Bishounen never looked so full of essence, power and suffocating charisma, nor have you seen in anime such a large number of lead characters that can make you adore or detest them by only a close-up.
I would also like to stress on the fact that this anime does not suffer from the “with-no-hair-we’re-all-the-same” syndrome that became “the new it” during the last few years. Instead, every character has distinguishing features that allow you to try and guess their intention, while listening to a conversation or watching them in action – just like if they were actual people you’re facing. I can also confirm that you can see every year on the character’s face, as their appearance slightly changes thanks to growing up/aging, sickness, stress, responsibility and all other variables life throws at every human.
As for the music, unlike the new wave in anime that seems to lean towards frequent opening and ending theme changes, LoGH has no more than 4 openings and 4 endings – i.e. a pairing for each of the 4 seasons. All musical introductions are in English, which made the listening experience a bit less enjoyable at least for me. However, the melody and text is always enchanting and illustrating in only a minute an in-depth analysis of what there is to happen in the next season. The first two openings were sung by Michiru Akiyoshi, while the other two were split between Elizabeth Sakura Narita (aka LISA) and Hitomi Konno. Interestingly enough, all 4 endings are performed by the same artist – Kei Ogura.
Introduced brilliantly, another notable musical presence is this of Richard Wagner. When listening carefully, you start discovering more and more motives that remind you of real life Germany and the composer’s works. As I cannot trace all influences myself, I would strongly suggest that you refer to Google, in case you’re particularly intrigued by this aspect of the series.
Still, I can note that all warriors of one of the main powers in the series – The Galactic Empire – bear German names and are led by a Keiser. Reminding of the well-known real-life Reich, this country often is marching with the sound of Wagner’s works. Wagner’s music inspires the names of most admiral ships (Tannhauser, Brunhild, Percival, Tristan all refer to famous operas), as well as the names of several characters (Lohengramm reminiscent of the legendary character from Wagner’s homonymous “Lohengrin”; Sigfried (Kirheis) like the character from the renown “Der Ring des Nibelungen”). The final battle of the series also takes its name from Wagner’s works of art – “Zed Blade” (referred to as “Operation Ragnarok” in Japan and in the series).
As a whole, the music manages to create the best framework for what the main spectacle represents. It is thought of so well, that I believe I didn’t manage to grasp all hidden messages and meanings. In short – I wouldn’t change a thing.
“In every time, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same…”
This quote appears in the very beginning of most of the OVA and, in my humble opinion, really represents the storyline best. Battle after battle, on and off the field, you see the rise of treachery, losses, deaths, hidden massacres and the fail of democracy…all moved by humanity. People are currently at war. The universe is split in two by neutral planet Phezzan, buffering between two power houses – the autocratic Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance, who constantly engage in enormous campaigns where millions of people die. One is bearing the flag of the Goldenbaum Dynasty, while the other claims to defend the one of democracy and freedom.
However, somewhere in the countryside, one boy would swear to seize the stars…
The story is simple, as this anime is not made by plotlines but moved by characters. As I believe one particular character to be “the lynchpin” of the series and am supported by the fact that the OVA begins with his ambition and ends with his life, I will arrange my review using him as a centrepiece. He is Reinhard von Lohengramm, so let’s start with his tale.
10 year-old impoverished aristocrat Reinhard von Musel relocates to a house in the country with his father and older sister Annerose; then meets up with Siegfried Kircheis – a boy slightly older than him who becomes his best friend. Kircheis (as Reinhard prefers calling him due to the “simplicity” of the name Siegfried) is a nice and warm-hearted child, who one day promises beautiful Annerose that he will always take care of her brother. Unfortunately, their happiness is torn apart when, barely 15 years-old, Annerose is taken by The Goldenbaum Keiser to become his concubine.
Reinhard is enraged and cannot forgive his father for selling off his sister, so he takes a gun and, dragging along his friend Kircheis, invades an elite party aiming for the kill of The Keiser. However, they are nothing but two little kids and are soon chased away by the guards. This is when Reinhard’s ambition is born – together with Kirheis, he will gain power greater than this of his adversaries and regain Annerose by ruling over all stars of the Universe:
“Constellations of stars that I am seeing for the first time… you are all only allowed to exist as objects for my conquest and rule. Just wait.”
What sounds like childish words quickly evolves into a genius plan of domination. Capable, charismatic and merely 20, prodigy Reinhard not only graduated from the military Academy but thanks to his ingenuous tactics he also managed to become the youngest Fleet Admiral in history. Called mockingly by the aristocrats “kinpatsu no kozo” or “blonde brat”, Reinhard is standing firmly on his way to fulfilling his dreams helped by one best friend – Kirheis. Later on, Yang Wenli appears and a great rivalry is born – but will this stop the dreamer from reaching his dream?
By Death Scythe