Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Anime Review

I am aware that all my previous reviews of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes novels were videos first, but here I am. At long last, after spending over a decade slowly but surely making my way through the anime, with multiple false starts, at long last I have finished Legend of the Galactic Heroes, all 110 episodes of it – after having completed the novels. So, now it’s time to give my thoughts, with the context of having read the novels as well.

It’s interesting the ways in which Legend of the Galactic Heroes stretches, and doesn’t stretch, its budget. On the one hand, after seeing more than a few of the show’s pitched space battles, considering that generally – with a few exceptions (like the Schwartz Lancenreiter’s warships, Reinhardt Von Lohengramm’s flagship), the ships in the various navies look effectively identical to other ships in the same navy. You don’t have a variety of ship classes – battleships, frigates, carriers, etc. One ship firing beam weapons from its spinal mounted ship-to-ship weapons looks a lot like any other in the same fleet. On top of that, the show uses the kind of “Wall of Battle” tactics that, actually, would be used extensively in the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber – which came out while the series was almost complete, but which Weber likely would not have had the chance to see, outside of a fansub in a SF convention screening room.

As it is, even with the repeated use of some footage, the show never makes its space battles feel repetitive. The fights are generally very engaging, and the show makes good use of ship readouts to help keep a sense of geography and tactics. I would give a warning that at the midpoint of the series, things get a lot more bloody and gory. Character spout gallons of blood when cut, with more then a few characters killed with visible organs (often entrails or brain matter, but sometimes other organs) which – considering the somewhat bloody, but never gory violence of the first half of the series – and how little gore can be in anime these days, could be rather abrupt and shocking. This is clearly by design, but it’s something worth giving advance notice of.

Similarly, the show’s soundtrack is made up almost exclusively – outside of the opening and closing songs – of existing pieces of classical music. As someone who listens to my local classical music station quite often, I don’t really have a problem with this, and the music is incorporated into the series incredibly well. However, it’s also a really solid way to cut costs – you don’t need to pay for a composer to score the whole series, and, depending on how you negotiate your royalty deal (or if you use royalty-free recordings), it may be cheaper to use existing recordings of the music in question, instead of paying to have an orchestra record it for you. In a lot of respects, it almost makes it a true work of “Space Opera” – not only vast and sweeping in tone, but with the music of opera (even if the dialog isn’t sung), underpinning the action. I would not be shocked if, when the Takurazuka Revue did their adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes if instead of doing it as a musical, they considered dropping the spoken dialog entirely and strictly performing it as an opera.

On the other hand, however, there’s how the show handles the frequent backstory and historical infodumps from the original novels. The series spaces them out through the series much more evenly, putting them where the information is most relevant, instead of where the information appears in the source material, and all of it is presented as if we were watching historical documentaries. We get characters who are historians, like the talking heads on an old-school History Channel documentary, discussing evens, combined with photographs, “archival footage”, and “re-enactments” of events. It’s the kind of presentation you can only get by watching a lot of public broadcasting and internalizing that presentation, in order to make it look right – and they go the extra mile to get that across.

Some of the principal cast of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Now, the release that is available for streaming on HiDive is not without issues – the original releases of the show had captions to show who characters were when they were re-introduced, which is incredibly useful when the cast of the show is this goddamn big, especially on the side of the Empire. Take the admiral with the long, neck-length hair parted at the middle and a mustache. We get his name every now and then, but unless you remembered, could you tell me who he was without looking him up first? That’s Mecklinger. I had to look that up. Some of them are clear – Reuenthal’s name gets mentioned a lot, and he’s got a distinctive visual feature – his heterochromia. Same with Oberstein and his cybernetic eyes (because he was blind from birth). Kircheis is the one redhead. But other than that – at one point I confused Wahlen and Kessler.

By comparison, the Free Planets Alliance side has a wider array of character designs and body types (including two women in high-profile on-screen roles, twice as many as the Empire) – though even then, I found myself forgetting character’s names – who was Patolichev again? What about Fischer? We rarely get reminded of their names in the dialog.

On its own, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is still very much a solid series, and in terms of its narrative presentation, it frankly fixes a lot of the flaws from the books. It avoid frontloading the worldbuilding, and when it comes time to back up the worldbuilding dumptruck, it presents its information in a much less dry manner than the source material.

Currently, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is available for streaming on Hidive. There was a physical release out for the show, but it was a really fancy collectors edition that ran for $800, and was only available through Sentai Filmworks and has finally sold out after several years. At this time Sentai has not announced any plans for any less expensive releases for the show.

A new anime adaptation of the novels, subtitled Die Neue These, has been coming out, and has even received a dub, but I have yet to watch that, so I’ll have to check it out later.

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