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!
Keep on reading part II of this review.
A Galaxy of Legends
What I value the most in these series is the constellation of vivid and unforgettable personalities it manages to present. The anime gives us the abundance of more than 10 fully developed main characters we all strive to learn more about. From lead characters to episodic ones, there is no fluff but brilliant psychology, directing and animation.
Seamlessly, during Reinhard’s first large battle enters the lazy “Magician”. “Miracle” Yang Wenli – part of The Empire’s worst enemy – The Free Planets Alliance and a vivid antipode of aristocratic Reinhard:
“In the galaxy filled with sparkling stars, the movement of every star is subtle. Yet, as long as a meteor appears, it is possible to change the whole system of the galaxy. Yang Wenli, are you only a star? Or a brilliant meteor?”, Von Lohenghramm wonders.
Yang is sloppy in movement and appearance. Unlike the forcefully serious face of the young Admiral, Yang is blessed with semi-closed eyes and a warm distracted smile (in fact, if I had to make an association, I would say Gintoki Sakata – the unlikely war genius).
However, when Reinhard and Yang meet for the first time in Astarte, they both acknowledge the other one’s skill and immediately recognise the beginning of a lifelong rivalry.
Soon enough we meet another man – Paul von Oberstein.
“I never liked Oberstein as a person, but it seems I have listened to his advice the most”, says Reinhard, when speaking about his genius advisor. A cunning and powerful tactician and manipulator, Von Oberstein strives to oppose the unjust nobility and side with Reinhard, at least for the time being.
With the advance of the episodes, we add more and more vivid characters like honourable admiral Wolfgang Mittermeyer, his best friend and other half of “The Twin Stars of the Galaxy” – admiral Oskar von Reuenthal, picturesque vice admiral Fritz Joseph Bittenfeld, Rosenritter and Empire exile Walter von Schenkopp, Phezzan conspirator Adrian Rubinsky, unmistakeable womaniser and “Spartanian” pilot Olivier Poplan, Yang Wenli’s wise ward Julian Mintz, dirty politician Job Trunicht and numerous others.
As we all witness how contemporary anime struggles to create credible characters even from the two leads, I cannot help but dig deeper and ask – what is LoGH’s secret? Unfortunately, the answer is simple – they were given a serious thought. No character in “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” appears out of nowhere and exists with no purpose. There are no miraculous “undead” ones that live through every attack, nor such who only live to tag along and nod (or scream). These characters are thought of as personalities and not fan service drawings with no vocabulary and purpose.
When it comes to killing main characters, this anime once again pays a tribute to the realism of warfare and politics and completely wins my respect. Please note that no one is safe and even a lead character would die no matter the season, as long as it is logical and meaningful.
The creators of “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” also do not hesitate to “get their characters dirty”. As life is not black and white, we often see the virtuous succumb to temptation in the name of getting closer to their goals. As Oberstein puts it:
“All heroes have established thrones atop not just their enemies, but a large quantity of allied corpses as well. There are no monarchs with clean hands. Their subordinates also know that.”
The good news is the recipe is simple and well known; the bad news is we now seem to lack the ingredients. Nevertheless, there is even more to it than psychology. The authors dare to cross over from military tactics to politics and manage to be just as credible.
“Our future battles will not only be on the battlefield. Political struggles, court politics. It’s not just a war of words, but also a war of blood”, says Reinhard von Lohengramm once achieving large scale success and I cannot agree more.
Just like in life, we cannot solve our problems only through head on battles, we also need politics. “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” does not fall short of giving us many brilliant examples of these “government people”. I would only mention three of them.
Job Trunicht, Adrian Rubinsky, Hildegard von Mariendorf are three people I would call The Opportunist, The Puppeteer and The Good Wife.
“Someone like me can hold power and make others live or die as he likes. If that isn’t a flaw of democracy, then what is?”
Job Trunicht is a High Council Member of the Free Planets Alliance. He always manages to stay alive and on top of the food chain when it comes to politics. His secret is his opportunism that allows him to deliver flamboyant speeches and arrange TV appearances at the perfect occasion. He also has powerful connection to underground organisations like the Patriotic Knight Corps and the well-known Earth fanatics – the Terraists.
“After we let Reinhard von Lohengramm unify the galactic system, we’ll assassinate him and deliver his legacy in our hands.”
Adrian Rubinsky is the Landesherr of Phezzan who tirelessly creates plans to manipulate governments. He is known to never face his actual enemy but rather uses money and deceit to manipulate powerful pawns.
“Your Excellency will win.”
Hildegard von Mariendorf is an aristocrat who later becomes Reinhard’s wife. She is best known for saving his life using political manipulations during the battle of Vermillion. Reinhard was about to face his honourable end, when the capital ordered Wenli a surrender, thanks to Fraulein Mariandorf’s arranged attack of the unprotected Alliance capital.
The Symbol or “If Only Kircheis Was Alive…”
Throughout the entire series exists a powerful symbol – this of Siegfried Kirheis.
Inspiring Reinhard with his last words (“Please, Lord Reinhard, promise me that you will conquer the Universe.”), his closest companion meets death at the end of Season 1.
Nonetheless, he remains omnipresent in the memories and thoughts of everyone. Numerous characters have been repeating the notable phrase “If only Kircheis was alive…” on many occasions.
This seems uncalled for at first, but proves to be an amazing decision by the creators of the anime.
In fact, Kirheis remains the only unblemished symbol of Von Lohengramm’s battle. Losing his life in the beginning of the conquest march, he has preserved himself from political games and corruption, from needless slaughter and power struggles; he has forever remained the young, ambitious bright and honourable war strategist, armed with boyish bravery and ideals. So, seamlessly we may say that in a way Kirheis replaced Reinhard as the holy symbol everyone reverts to when in doubt during the course of the series and gained his “holy” status.
Romance is Death! Long Live Romance!
Let me illustrate once again how skilfully arranged this anime actually is. Just at its very end, the night before The Keiser Lohengramm passes away, his closest admiral Mittermeyer has a dream. He is chasing his Keiser and calling him to return from his path to Valhalla. Like an Emperor, Reinhard does not turn back but rather marches greatly towards the gate of the outer world, where all lost heroes like Kirheis and Reuenthal await their ruler. Just like in the peak of his genius, The Keiser joins his faithfuls gracefully and marches away.
“The Conquest of Valhalla”, Mittermeyer awakes with a smile.
Please note I didn’t even agree to what happened in the last season of the anime. I also found some character developments repulsive and unlikely.
Even so, I would not deny how good “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” actually is. You cannot blame a creator for gifting you a universe that is too real and consecutive to allow happy endings and untarnished images; for presenting you with a world that one man, no matter how great, cannot control alone with ideals only; for having their own idea and realising it.
Right in the end of the saga, represented by the image of Mittermeyer’s baby son Felix’s reaching eagerly to the starry sky (like Reinhard did himself once), the series’ creators deliver the finest piece of romanticism – something to make us believe once again that miracles can be created by the human hands, even after the loss of one unprecedented genius.
As long as there are people, there is hope:
“That might be an action that has been repeated endlessly in any era, in any world. Humans always pursue things they cannot reach. Doesn’t it (reaching to the stars) single-heartedly symbolise such yearnings?”
Legend of the Galactic Heroes Official Website