Legend of the Galactic Heroes
- What it’s about: Two space-faring polities – the autocratic Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance – have been at each other’s throats in an on-again off-again war for centuries. Neither is able to break the stalemate, and millions continue to die in the endless jostling for position and advantage through large-scale fleet actions. Amidst this ongoing tragedy, two military geniuses begin to make their names, each rising quickly through the ranks of their respective militaries to face off against one another. Yang Wenli of the Alliance wants nothing more than an equitable end to the conflict, but his superiors have other ideas –a noble crusade against the “Evil Empire”. Meanwhile, Count Reinhard seeks to topple that Empire from within and save his sister from her gilded cage as the Emperor’s mistress.
- Why you should watch it: Calling Legend the magnum opus of Japanese animation would not be an exaggeration. An epic space opera that sprawls over a hundred episodes, it’s an in-depth examination of war in all its hideousness and glory. Political backstabbing and manoeuvring behind the scenes, tactical space battles, personal conflicts and rivalries, and the small-scale everyday tragedies faced by the civilians – the series has it all. Despite the initial assumptions that come with an “Empire vs Republic” story, neither side is entirely in the right. There are heroes and villains on both sides. Great effort was put into establishing the characters; the series holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of voice actors, as not a single repeat performance is given despite the gigantic cast. The classical soundtrack complements the action perfectly. If you’re a fan of the medium at all, you’re going to need to explore the series at some point.
- Caveats: There is currently no legal way to watch the show unless you find an old copy of the tapes on eBay. The whole thing is, however, available on most major streaming sites. The largest caveat to the show is the sheer time commitment that it demands. Unlike typical long-running series, though, there’s very little filler in Legend. Every episode nudges the plot forward in one direction or the other, or opens up a new exploration into the characters themselves. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to start, try watching the prequel movies My Conquest is the Sea of Stars and Overture to a New War first. They’re standalone films that also serve as a good lead-in to the series itself. If you do watch Overture, you can skip the first two episodes of the series, as it covers the same material. Finally, it must be noted that the series is from the early 90s, and it shows in the animation and sound design. This is a story where you come for the plot and characters; if you’re after whizz-bang graphics, look elsewhere.
- Themes: I don’t even know how to sum this up here – you could write entire theses on the thematic development of the show. In short: rivalry, ambition, loyalty and betrayal. Power, the right-to-rule, legitimacy, the nature of peace, the nature of war, democracy, autocracy, bureaucracy.
- Similar works: The closest work I can think of is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which has the same kind of epic scope and shows protagonists on both sides of the conflict. In anime, maybe Zipang. if you want more of the same kind of rivalry that you see between Wenli and Reinhard, maybe check out Death Note or Code Geass.