Anime for people who hate anime: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

More travel stuff is coming soon, I promise. In the meantime…

legend-of-galatic-heroes

Wow. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Not because the 80s-early 90s anime series Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn’t good – it is extremely good. The reason for my apprehension is that it is a massive series, with 110 episodes and several hour/hour and a half-long films, at least two of which are required watching if you want to follow the main story and understand certain characters’ motivations. All of this is based on an original (and also very long) series of comics. LOGH could really have an entire blog dedicated to it alone. Instead, I’m going to try to cram all of that into one post. The reason this review is short and worthless is that it’s near impossible to describe what this behemoth is about in less than 10000 words.

LOGH is not only big in the sense of length, but also in its sheer scope. Here we have a series that deals with a galaxy-wide war between two great powers (well, not galaxy-wide really; that would be way too big. Stellar cluster-wide, maybe?) The two powers are the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, a democratic breakaway state. Right off the bat this might sound like anime Star Wars, but it isn’t. It really, really isn’t. If you’re looking for anime Star Wars, stop reading right now.

For one thing, Star Wars didn't feature long discussions between its characters about the merits of various political systems (unless you count Star Wars II, which I like to call Star Wars: C-SPAN in Space.)

For one thing, Star Wars didn’t feature long discussions between its characters about the merits of various political systems (unless you count Star Wars II, which I like to call Star Wars: C-SPAN in Space.)

How isn’t it anime Star Wars, you might be asking. LOGH turns the typical “Evil Empire working to crush Good (and Plucky and Underdog-ish) Democratic Alliance” model on its head. It does so by telling the stories of two characters, one from the Empire and one from the Alliance, and their rise through the ranks to the tops of their respective navies. This rise involves their meeting several times in battle. The trouble (?) for the audience is that there’s really nobody here you can “root against” characterwise among the main lot. Reinhard von Musel, one of the Empire’s greatest admirals, is a principled young man who believes in justice and in social reform of his stagnant homeland. Yang Wen-li, one of the Alliance’s premier tacticians, is a popular naval officer who hates war as wasteful and evil and just wants to go home to study history. Both of these men are likeable and have mutual respect for each other, and they spend a good amount of the series thinking about how to kill each other in battle.

Another relative surprise is how the respective governments act towards their citizens. The Empire early in the series is basically the old German Empire in space (think 1870s-1918 Germany, not the later Nazi one) and it’s pretty much an old ossified piece of crap that Reinhard wants to completely overturn. However, the democratic Alliance government is equally shitty – full of self-interested politicians who use their admirals’ victories to win reelection and who send their citizens off to the front lines just because they can’t look as though they’ve “failed”. The characters’ motivations make Legend of the Galactic Heroes one of the most realistic series I’ve ever seen, actually – despite the fact that it is an anime series set mostly in space. It’s not the setting that’s realistic, but the story, because you can easily imagine these characters as real people, their motives are so understandable and human.

Speaking of, Reinhard and Yang naturally aren’t the only characters in the series. LOGH boasts a massive cast of hundreds. Reinhard gains his own group of dedicated officers who join his fellow naval officer childhood friend/”sworn brother”-style character Siegfried Kircheis. Yang has his own similar circle. Both of them have to deal with the powers that be in the government, who usually have elements trying to plot their downfall (because, after all, popularity is a dangerous thing.)

Kircheis (L) and Reinhard (R).  No, they're not gay, despite how this scene looks.  At least I don't think they are.

Kircheis (L) and Reinhard (R). No, they’re not gay, despite how this scene looks. At least I don’t think they are.

The cast is so huge, in fact, that the various characters and their positions might get very confusing after a while. Fortunately, the series realizes this and often gives the viewer a subtitle with the character’s name and rank/relation to some other character on the screen when they show up for the first time or after several episodes have passed. And as spider web-like as the series’ intertwining plots and intrigues are, it handles them really well – nothing is left unresolved, and it’s generally easy to follow who’s going where or talking to whom and why. Chalk it up to good direction in the ordering of the scenes, I guess.

Those who are put off by the intensely 80s look of the animation shouldn’t worry too much – once you get absorbed in the story, you won’t notice anymore, even if you were, like me, raised on late 90s-early 2000s stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion that boasted amazing artwork and animation. Because unlike Evangelion, LOGH is a story that isn’t filled with DEEP religious imagery, creepy fanservice of 14 year-old girls and the weird sexual insecurities of its maker (don’t get me wrong; I love Eva, but it’s undoubtedly fucked up, and not in a good way.)

That’s not to say that LOGH doesn’t also have some good action scenes, however.

LOGH really gives you the whole package, because both of these characters are very interesting and have their own backstories in addition to trying to kill each other in a flashy way.

LOGH really gives you the whole package, because both of these characters are very interesting and have their own backstories in addition to trying to kill each other in a flashy way.

So, yeah. If the above sounds good to you and you have about ten free years to spare, why not watch LOGH? It’s never been licensed in the US, so you don’t even have to buy anything: you can freely torrent the series or simply watch it on Youtube (starting with the film My Conquest is the Sea of Stars [Note: there used to be a link to the film here, but there seems to have been a copyright takedown of it. Shouldn’t be too hard to find online, though.]) If you need any extra enticements to watch, here go you: if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll probably enjoy Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It shares a lot in common with Thrones, including the complex plot webs and political intrigues, the realistic character motivations and development, and the epic scale. The only differences are that LOGH is set in the “historical” future instead of an alternate reality past and that LOGH lacks all the sex of both the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series and its HBO Game of Thrones adaptation. Romance is a fairly common plot element in LOGH, but any sex that takes place in the series is fully implied. Which is just fine with me – who needs fanservice when you’ve got a good story?

P.S. This article does a great job at trying to narrow down why some people love LOGH and why other people can’t make it through a single episode. Check it out.

P.P.S. After watching most of the Chinese series Three Kingdoms and remembering reading some of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms years ago that it’s based on, I can see a lot of similarities between LoGH and RotTK.  Both have massive casts of characters, political intrigue, and whole episodes in which characters try to use deception in both diplomacy and battle to achieve victory.  I really recommend Three Kingdoms too, even though it’s also a million episodes long – the whole series is subbed in English and posted on Youtube, maybe because nobody can watch Youtube in China anyway (at least not legally.)  The guy who plays Cao Cao is really a great actor.