Classic Anime in Review: “Legend of the Galactic Heroes”

Although I love the newer stuff that’s coming out these days as much as the next guy, I’ve always felt that the animes of days gone by are becoming more and more like hidden gems. Animes are labelled as “classics” but I have to wonder if people these days are actually watching these animes or just throwing these titles around to seem like anime hipsters. It’s a shame as well because I think that the longer these animes remain under the “classic” banner, the less likely it is that attention will be drawn to it, operating under the pretense of “well it’s a classic so of course people will watch it”. But this isn’t always the case because although animes such as “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Ghost in the Shell” are hailed as classics, people tend to shelve them on their “to watch later” list rather than just diving in to see what has made these shows so great. And so it is with this in mind that I will endeavour to share with others some of the classics that I’ve watched which will hopefully inspire others (as well as myself) to do go back and shake the proverbial dust off these amazing shows and enjoy the animes that inspired the creators of the mangas and shows that we enjoy today.


Now, the one thing that sort of puzzles me when it comes to Star Wars introductions is that it always starts off with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and I always wonder when was this “a long time ago” exactly? But that’s a question for a different article entirely… So let me start this review/appreciation post by saying that we are heading “a long time into the future in a galaxy far, far away” to take a look at what is arguably the best space opera of all time and a personal favourite of mine. So let me tell you about the time I had the great pleasure of watching the unforgettable “Legend of the Galactic Heroes”!


So the premise of the story, written by Yoshiki Tanaka, takes place in outer space (unsurprisingly) and revolves around two countries/states known as the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. Both of these states have been at war for around 150 years when we pick up the story of Reinhard von Lohengramm (formerly von Musel) from the Empire and Yang Wenli from the Alliance as we bear witness to their rise to power and fame through their exploits both within their respective states and at war. The story is covered from both their perspectives as these men navigate both the political and the physical battlefields in order to achieve their respective goals: Reinhard wishes to attain the universe (yes… the entire universe), whereas Yang wants the war to end so that billions of people need not die in war. At the heart of it, the concept is clear and provides a firm skeleton for the development of the story with the dual storylines of each main character and the introduction of a whole host of additional characters from each side as the story progresses.


So what is it about this anime that makes it the stuff of legends (yes, this is indeed a pun)? It’s everything! But let me break it down a little.

The storyline:

It follows the respective paths of these two men and their allies and adversaries (including each other). They are both brilliant strategists, which makes watching the dance between the two rather exciting and makes watching how they try to outmanoeuvre their opponents a truly fascinating experience. And be prepared because there will be feels.

The setting:

The Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance seem to smack of a little bit of Star Wars referencing here, but it can also be akin to our own history. The Galactic Empire runs on a monarchy system, whereby the state is ruled by a Kaiser and there is clear separation of the classes according to the commoners and the nobles. Their aim is to essentially expand the Empire and get rid of those “rebels”. The Free Planets Alliance, on the other hand, is run according to a governmental structure and rules according to democracy. Their aim is more to liberate the people from under the iron rule of those “oppressors”. The Empire has a more German-like feel to it and even though the setting is far into the future (when man has left Earth and has made his home in space) they dress like it’s the 1800s and party like it’s the Victorian era. The Alliance, on the other hand is more contemporary in their look and feel but have the issue of campaigning for elections etc. that usually has politicians being less than 100% upfront with their citizens, complete with pro-military propaganda.

The characters:

A lot of the events that occur throughout the series hinge on the nature of the characters, which is formed by their backgrounds and the bonds (bromance alert!) they share with others. We have Reinhard, a prideful sort of guy who was classed as a poor noble as a child and lived like a commoner with his sister and father. It is here though that he meets his best friend, confidant and advisor, Siegfried Kircheis, who stands with him through everything in order to help Reinhard attain his goals. Then we have Yang Wenli, a laid back sort of guy who would rather be reviewing the history of humanity while sipping on tea with brandy (made by his young charge Julian) than to be involved in these wars but he made a name for himself in the military at a young age, which earned him the nickname “Miracle Yang” and so now the military uses both his strategic mind and his “hero” appeal to further the cause of the Alliance. Even side characters are carefully considered, each with their own motives and opinions. This mix of characters sets up interesting dynamics, especially when it comes to interpersonal politics.

The animation:

It’s not unusual for viewers to be put off by the animation style of certain shows and it is duly acknowledged that perhaps 80’s animation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However this anime must be praised for its break from the normal standards of anime where the exaggeration of the eyes to convey expression is left to the wayside and the characters here are drawn in what seems to be a “normal” style, which reminds me a little of how “Monster” was animated. The battle scenes in space are done rather cleverly where you do see some of the actual exchange of fire but because the success of battles hinge on the strategies used, the focus of the battle remains more on the intellectual side of things, rather than just straightforward action.

The music:

Sticking to this sort of intellectual feel, the music used in the animation relies heavily on classical pieces – as in Wagner, Mahler, Mozart, Grieg, Handel, Beethoven and the like. And while you might think it odd for something that is futuristic as a story, it really does blend in perfectly with this anime and serves to enhance the epic feel of the show.


So this gives you a small idea of what it is about this show that makes it so appealing to watch. Respected rivalries, fierce battles, the quest for power and the strategic moves necessary to make it happen characterise this show and although the show has been criticised for its sometimes slow pacing, it must be remembered that this story covers dual storylines so it really is just a matter of being patient as things steadily progress. Believe me, the developments will sometimes leave you astounded whilst simultaneously punching you directly in the feels.

This anime is probably the longest running OVA series ever (with 110 episodes running from 1988 to 1997) and it isn’t over yet because Production IG recently made the announcement that they will be adapting new material for our anime pleasure which is due to be released, hopefully, in 2017. It won’t cover the original material so best avoid disappointment and be sure to watch the original series as well as the movies and other storylines. It will require some dedication of your time, but the rewards of enjoying an amazing anime such as this are well worth it.


Image credits: Sentai Filmworks

End: Legend of the Galactic Heroes Anime Review

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About thedigitalpen

"If you truly want to escape from everyday life, you've no other choice but to keep evolving. No matter whether you're aiming higher or lower." - Orihara Izaya ("Durarara!!") My escape from everyday life is anime, manga, Japanese music (rock, pop, hip-hop etc.), a bit of gaming and writing about those very same things that bring me so much joy... And the cherry on top? Getting to share those interests with like-minded people.. so if you're reading this, then that means you! Want to see my evolution? Then watch this space!