The light of dawn always comes right after the deepest darkness

Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire

Writing an anime blog is frustrating. Either through lack of time or energy, I just haven’t felt the inclination to set aside an afternoon to write about something. I guess that’s more a reflection on my recent viewing habits than anything else, because since finishing with February’s Ookiku Furikabutte, I’ve not been able to immerse myself in a series to the point where I could contribute any kind of worthwhile, extended writing. Indeed, I was hoping to uncover some inspiration after catching up with two long time favourites, Naruto and One Piece, but to be honest, neither are firing on all cylinders at the moment. So, I’m sorry, dear reader, if things have seemed on the short side of late, but that I’m here now is as sure a sign as any that I’ve found something new to light the night; it’s an old flame I’ve been sheltering for too long, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Reinhard von Lohengramm enters the Royal Chamber

There’s no easy way to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It is, in many ways, the crowning achievement for an entire generation of anime creators, a nigh-on ten year production that ran from 1988 to 1997 and stretches across 110 episodes. Quite remarkably, it contains the largest voice cast for any known animated production. All these artists, directors and actors, they lived through (and even worked on) such influential space operas as Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross and Space Battleship Yamato, and before retiring, they created this as a tribute to, or culmination of, their beloved star-fairing era. Essentially, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that generation’s parting sentiment, their last, glorious hurrah, its opulent texture and poetic scope sweeping through distant stars to study man’s political, historical, romantic lust for power.

Reinhard's best friend, Kircheis, and his sister, Annerose

We have two protagonists at the heart of this story; ambitious aryan Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire (based on 19th century Prussia, hence the German names) and reluctant tactician Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance. By the time both men, notably younger than their peers, come into power, their sides have been fighting a war of attrition for over 100 years. Lohengramm’s lofty ambitions were set in stone when his beautiful older sister, Annerose, was bought (as in, with money) by the Kaiser to be his concubine. Reinhard rises through the ranks of the Empire’s military, gaining more and more power with each success, striving for the ostensible goal of winning back her freedom, though, with every passing victory; one wonders if he’s not planning to control the galaxy itself. Yang Wen-li is the exact opposite, in the sense that he isn’t driven by any lofty ambition, he doesn’t want to fight, and only does so out of loyalty to his comrades and for the sake of forging a peaceful future. Right from the start, there’s no real enemy to speak of, simply these two men on opposite sides of the fence, arch-rivals, geniuses, as fate would have it, striving for a better tomorrow.

Iserlohn about to fire the Thor Hammer

Their characterisation sets in motion this massive struggle for power engulfing man’s last frontier. So far, I’ve only seen up to episode 10, but during the first two episodes alone, over one million lives are sacrificed in battle. Much like Word War I, people are lost in their thousands, like pawns on a chess board at the hands of incompetent, pig-headed commanders too proud to quit. Also, there is a big Star Wars vibe, not least of all from the Empire’s gigantic fortress Iserlohn and it’s likeliness to the Death Star; the structure’s super-weapon, aptly named the “Thor Hammer”, can scythe through surrounding space-fleets with lightning force.

Yang Wen-li

I don’t want to write much more for fear of never ending; ultimately, this is a mere introduction to a series that’s all about social and political commentary, it’s so thought provoking that only a detailed, blow-by-blow study would suffice. Maybe that sounds intense? You’d be quite right; Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a concentrated, hard science fiction story heavy on philosophical dialogue (though not exactly at the level of Mamoru Oshii), military tactics and political manoeuvring. It has a wonderful, emotional score; rousing, soul-searching theatrical orchestra, utterly befitting for a story set within the Sea of Stars, where the whims of a select few carry the ideals and hopes of an entire generation.

You get the feeling that this is it, this is why I watch anime.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

17 thoughts on “The light of dawn always comes right after the deepest darkness”

  1. I got through all 110 eps a few months ago and always find it hard to put into words how great LoGH is, so many factions, great characters (my faves being a tie between Oskar von Reuental, commander of the Reuental Fleet and Walter von Schenkopp, commander of the awesome Rosen Ritter, which I just realised both have illigitimet children), so many memorable moments, memorable deaths (being forced to drink poison wine being 1 of my fave methods).

    My only negative opinion of LoGH was that there never seemed to be a point where someone wasn’t talking, the narrator probably got more lines than anyone else through out the show, which made watching more than a few eps at a time very taxing on my brain.

    So far the Gaiden side story eps have been great too, looking forward to more of those in the future, always good to see the many characters that died in the main show get more screen time in the prequel.

  2. @IKnight: Do it now, and blog it too. We might build up some momentum in the community.

    @Necromancer: I know what you mean about finding it difficult to put into words your feelings about LotGH. There’s so much to say about it that I felt kind of overwhelmed trying to write this one article, started at 1PM, finished at 8PM. Also, I love the Rosen Ritter too, you know you have to be some crazy bastards to storm into a fortress like that and capture it from the inside. They remind me of characters from 80s adventure stories like Indiana Jones!

    Also, I love the episodic side stories, like the one you mentioned concerning the poison, but there’s also that early one where the disgraced noble tries to assassinate the king by placing an exploding cane at a party! Each of the stories work well as stand-alone pieces yet add layers of corruption to the overall plot.

    Most of all, LotGH gets me thinking. I really want to plan out some structured articles discussing its many comments on politics, society and the nature of man. If the word wasn’t already horribly overused, I’d call it ‘epic’, but given people use that word to describe just about anything these days, it doesn’t come close to expressing the depth and distance covered in this story.

    @qwertypoiuy: It’s on my list :) I promise, I’ll watch it sooner or later, I’m also certain I’ll love it.

  3. Um, IKnight pretty much sums up my current stance on this show. After KT blogged and waxed lyrical about it I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge…I’m in need of some epic sci-fi right now!

  4. Yeah, LotGH is one of the anime greats. I do have to temper my praise of the series due to the final stretch of the series. I take it you’ve watched the entire series now? It’s, what, around episode 80 when THAT happens? I do think the series loses a lot of momentum thereafter. Of course, it’s a very gutsy decision, and it’s interesting to see how the series continues from that point… But I do believe the final “season” is the weakest part of the series. The very final episodes of the series are oddly rushed, for LotGH anyway, too.

    But I nitpick. LotGH remains great. The battles are truly epic, the characters great, and the politics equal to them too (loved Yang’s court martial).

  5. I have been read the novel already. I this the novels are even better.

    I love it, and every year, on June 1, I will make a cup of black tea for Yang.

  6. @Martin: It’s epic, alright. It’s very political too. Cross Star Wars with 1900-era European politics and you’ll be some way to understanding what you’re in for.

    @Equitan: Nope, I haven’t seen it all. Last night I finished episode 15, which just goes to show much more I’ve got to watch. That said, it’s an Easter bank holiday this weekend, so I think I shall be gorging on this and chocolate eggs for a few days! Also, sorry to hear the last section was disappointing for you. Still, I’ll try to approach it in the hope you’re just a one-off.

    @subaruhloic: You put rum in the tea, right? Come to think of it, the secret of Yang’s genius has to be that he’s blind drunk most of the time! :)

  7. I actually just started watching this in earnest as well. I’m on episode 18 right now. I downloaded it (all of it… all the movies and newer OVAs and the 21-disc soundtrack included) some time last year, but decided to sit down and start it this week while I was on vacation. And I’m really glad I did.

    In episode 15, at about 16:50. Yang Wen Li says something about dropping fusion bombs on the planet, to pay Reinhard back for ‘that other time’. So I’m like, ‘what is he talking about? Nothing like that happened before.’ I actually skimmed through all the previous episodes looking for something like that, but couldn’t find it. It really bothered me that this story, that has been so tight up until this point, made a referential remark such as that with nothing to reference it to!
    So I did some research, and learned about the movie: ‘My Conquest Is The Sea of Stars’. I mentioned before that I’d already downloaded ‘everything’, so I already had the movie and watched it right away. It’s about an hour long, and it actually takes place *before* the 110 episodes. And in the movie, you do see the event that Yang is referring to in episode 15.

    This is a great show, but I wonder how more casual anime fans would receive it. I have a friend who is more-than-casual, but he doesn’t even watch Ghost in the Shell because they talk too much. This show has no chance for people like him. This is probably something that would be easier to show to hard sci-fi fans rather than an anime fan since it’s so different from most of what’s out there.

  8. @JKTrix: It’s funny you should mention Yang’s comment on “fusion bombs”, I also puzzled over it for a few moments and put it down to something that happened in the first couple of episodes, but I guess not! I’ll have to take a look at that film, it has such an awesome name. Also, I think you’re bang on with regards to the appeal of LotGH, which is probably why it’s never been released in the US/UK. To get it to sell, you’d have to attract the hardcore Star Trek/Battlestar Galactica fans because I can’t see thousands of otaku going out to buy it. I wonder what German people would make of it? This and Monster seem tailor made for the German public!

  9. Have you ever try to drink like that?^_^

    I remember Yang always drink black tea with Brandy wine, is it the same in the movie you saw?

    I’m not sure about that because what I read is all in Chinese or Japanese, I havn’t seen LoGH in English, may be the translation is a little different from each other.

    No matter in what language, I love LoGH forever~

    I’m not old enough to drink wine, and it is not what Yang drink make me love thid kind of person, but what he think and what he do attrack me.

    Nice to meet you~

  10. If you’re going to watch the “Conquest is a Sea of Stars” movie, you should watch “Prelude to a New War” movie too. It is very much a retelling and expansion of the first two episodes of LoGH, with alot of focus on what happened just before the battle of Astate, which is good since it further expands on Jessica Edwards and Robert Lap’s story.

  11. This is one of my all time favorite, like subaruholic, I’ve read the original novel in Chinese and it is consider the greatest Asian Sci-Fi work. The anime follows the novel pretty faithfully. some comments 4th season is the weakest, which I agree, but that more because there are more self reflect/thinking scenes that really don’t translate well on screen and is much better represented in the original novel. While Reinhart and Young are the main characters, I personally think it’s Kirkis that steal the show despise his early exit. He was so influential to Reihart and is the “hidden genius” that might be the only one who can equal or even best Young in the tactical front. and he is such an impactful character in the series that you have to wonder the “what if…” secnario if he had stayed alive.

    Overall this is by far my favorite dramatic series and my favorite sci-fi anime even more so than the two great franchises that I also liked in Gundam and Macross.

  12. Well, the anime is good, especilly the music and cast. Despite some small bugs.
    Siegfried Kircheis, the name, soft, kind, the color of his blue eyes are just like the clear sky, but I doubt if he can win Yang if the condition is exactly equal.
    GUNDAM and Macross, also very good, if I havn’t read LoGH, I will love them best.

  13. Hi. I am glad to see people on the other side of the pacific enjoying this wonderful piece of anime. I read the novel first in Korean, and the anime was even greater, trully!

    But hardcore ‘SF’ fans in Korea looks down upon this anime because theythink legen d of galactic heroes is a soft space-opera. I think theyr’e missing the whole point! But perhaps the American SF manias who watch ‘Battlestar Galactica’ could feel the same with LOGH… Which would make this anime unappreciated by both Otakus and SF buffs.

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