“In every age
In every place
The deeds of men
Remain the same.”
It’s the distant future, mankind has long since conquered space and set up shop on other planets, reducing the Earth to a distant memory. However, man has not been able to quench his thirst for war and conquest. For centuries, two superpowers, the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire, have been battling each other for universal domination.
As the war between the two factions grows more and more hostile, two leaders emerge on each side. The first one is Yang Wenli; a former history student who joined the Alliance’s fleet out of economic necessity, since it meant he wouldn’t have to pay for his studying. The other is Reinhard von Lohengramm; the young scion of a minor house who intends to climb to the top of the Empire, by any means necessary. Soon these two tactical geniuses find themselves pitted, not only against each other, but against enemies in their own midst as well.
This is the basic setup for Ginga Eiyu Densetsuu or, as it’s known in English, Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Originally a series of novels written by Yoshiki Tanaka, Legend of the Galactic Heroes (or just Legend for short) was eventually adapted into an OVA (Original Video Animation), that is, a show which is released directly on video instead of airing on TV. Legend of the Galactic Heroes was released continuingly from 1988-97, spanning 110 episodes. Making it probably the longest-running OVA in existence, so far. In addition, there are also three animated movies, so as you can understand, there is quite a lot of material out there to digest.
However, what makes Legend stand out from most animated shows (and many live-action shows for that matter) is not its length, but rather the sheer scope of it. There are over two-hundred named characters in the show, each of them with their own unique personalities. First and foremost are the two main protagonists, Yang and Reinhard. Aside from the fact that they’re both strategic geniuses who are greatly admired by their subordinates, the two men couldn’t be more different from one another. Yang is the reluctant hero who would be much happier if he could just settle down somewhere, but who nonetheless continues to fight for the people he cares about and the political system he believes in, even when it would probably be in his best interest to forsake democracy altogether.
Meanwhile, Reinhard is the complete opposite of Yang; a seemingly cold-hearted go-getter who is willing to do almost anything in order to take over the Galactic Empire. However, Reinhard’s obsession stems not from blind ambition, but rather from a wish to make the Galaxy a better place, mostly for the sake of his older sister, who was sold by their father to become the concubine of the current emperor.
The two main characters are backed up by a strong supporting cast. However, due to the sheer size of said cast, mentioning each and everyone of them would take an entire article of its own. Suffice to say that the cast is filled with complex and well-developed characters including civilians, politicians and soldiers. Even the most despicable of villains manages to be credible in their vileness.
Unfortunately, therein lies also one of the few negative things that one can say about this series. Legend, you see, has the rather annoying habit of introducing way too many characters in the early episodes and then promptly forgetting about them until much later. Yes, the series’ creators have been thoughtful enough to have each character’s name appear on screen whenever he or she is introduced. Unfortunately, that won’t stop new viewers from occasionally scratching their heads, wondering, “Wait, who’s this guy again?”
The various opening themes used for each season are all rather forgettable ballads and there’s not much to say about them (although, I’ll admit to having a certain weakness for season 3’s “Sea of the Stars”). However, the show itself utilizes classical music to great effect, something that helps reinforce the grandiose and operatic feel of the story.
As of this moment, neither the OVA, the movies, nor the original novels have been officially translated into English. Fortunately, unofficial translations, i.e. fansubs of the former are readily available on the Internet.
I hope that this article, brief though it may be, has served to convert some new fans to this series. If you like your science-fiction/space-opera filled with moral ambiguity and Byzantine plots than you owe it yourself to check Legend of the Galactic Heroes out.
Article written by Dr_Mabuse