Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988-1997) anime thoughts

Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu

Rated: 2.5 / 5

銀河英雄伝説 = Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu = Legend of the Galactic Heroes

銀 = ぎん = gin = silver

河 = カ = ka = river

Ginga: Galaxy, Milky Way

英 = エイ = ei = hero, outstanding

雄 = ユウ = yuu = masculine, male, leader, hero, superiority, excellence

Eiyuu: Hero, Great Man

伝 = デン = den = walk along, communicate, legend, tradition

説 = セツ = setsu = opinion, theory, explanation

Densetsu: Legend, Tradition, Folklore

I was interested in this show for a long while, knowing of its cult reputation for (possibly) being the greatest anime of all time. A space opera epic showcasing the pros and cons of democracy and dictatorship, political philosophy, intelligent battle tactics, art of war strategy, if a dictatorship can be better for a civilization than a democracy, etc. Attempting to encompass a lot with regard to galactic civilizations, from the struggles of nobility, to that of the common citizen. From tactics in battle, to strategies of rule and law. The morality of personal actions, to the morality of maintaining governments. A great many characters are introduced throughout the series to highlight as many of these points to a significant degree as possible.

The thing is, this show requires a great deal of investment, running at 110 episodes overall (across 4 seasons / arcs). Which is unheard of for an OVA. It better live up to that reputation if it’s going to be running for that long. Because the longer a show is, the more picky about it I get. And, unfortunately, problems I had with it initially got amplified the further along it went. I just couldn’t bring myself to finish this thing. I got 70 episodes in before I called it quits. The fact that it kept me on for that long says a lot. It had some great stuff in it.

Every other episode seemed to have a great (timeless) quote regarding politics and civilization in some aspect. Like how religious fanatacism is used as a tool by manipulative organizations to get what they want. How a dictatorship isn’t necessarily bad depending on the dictator, but what follows after his life (and thus his rule) ends may ruin everything good built up before if the next leader to come to power (assuming there isn’t a civil war between power hungry factions) isn’t as good or sincere, let alone intelligent. The constant risk of corruption for those in power (regardless of what form of government is instituted). A lot of great thought-provoking lines and dialogue about all this stuff and more can be found sprinkled throughout the series, even to the point where it’s more relevant today than it was back then (even going so far as to have eerie parallels with ANTIFA, the browncoats, among other fanatical factions intended to intimidate for the benefit of some faction).

So what caused me to stop watching if it had such good stuff in it? Pretty much everyone in the democratic faction. In particular, Yang Wenli, and his sidekick Julian. Fucking Gary Stu’s, the both of them. Fuckers who can do no wrong, incorruptible, and are as good as they are in combat simply by making the opponents (on the dictatorship faction, led by Reinhardt) as fucking incompetent as they can. Because that’s the only way them and their resistance has any fighting chance against those odds, by making them dumb as fuck (to the point where it’s out of character and incredulous) whenever they meet on the battlefield. They use tactics that shouldn’t be possible to pull off in these futuristic sci-fi scenarios.

Some examples:

  • Using asteroids to smash up an armada. Which is a trick that could only be pulled off if zooming in isn’t a thing, let alone having sensors that can indicate the difference between a ship and an inanimate object with no energy in it. Let alone being far enough away to not see them dragging asteroids (the fact that those fucking ships even come with cables allowing them to even do that), but not far enough to where they can’t dodge them once they are flung at them.
  • Simply taking over a ship by pretending to be hostages. Obviously the enemy, in all their centuries of fighting, wouldn’t consider that scenario.
  • Every battle is fought using tactics from the ancient to medieval ages. Rarely, if ever, is the 3rd dimension of movement ever used.
  • Why the fuck are their corridors that limit where space flight can be done? It doesn’t make any sense, which makes the existence of places like the Iserlon Fortress impractical at best.
  • Those serving under the Empire never seem to improve with the battle capabilities, while the Democracy/Resistance always improves and always seems to be better than the opposition. Which is the only way they have a fighting chance, which is probably why the show does this.
  • No one can ever think the way Wenli does, or anticipate how he will react to anything on the battlefield.
  • Wenli and Julian’s strategies always rely on the Imperials making a dumb rash maneuver, which they always do. While Wenli and Julian never make those mistakes, ever.
  • Julian should’ve died during that cave-in on Earth. Along with his friends that were with him.
  • The Rosen Ritter are the most overpowered force in the entire fucking show. The plot armor is strong with them. They are a ground/infantry force that wears bulky armor, wields axes, and no one can hit them when they shoot at them with lasers or crossbows (I shit you not, crossbows are used). And that’s assuming the opposition isn’t also using melee weapons against them, at which point their skills are just as bad (if not more-so) than when they are using ranged weapons. And that little fag-and-a-half Julian is immediately top-tier skilled at fighting alongside these guys in this armor and getup the first time we see him use this stuff (fuck you Wesley Crusher). Aside from a couple very brief and minor instances, the Rosen Ritter are untouchable, unbeatable, borderline invincible. Because obviously the Empire/Imperium can’t have their own equivalent with skills that are at least on-par. In spite of the main skills utilized being just running forward in a straight line, yelling, hoping all incoming enemy fire misses, and then slicing everyone to pieces.

In spite of all that bullshit, the Imperials do manage to come out on top in the long run with these situations. But it’s all so stupid. They could’ve just had the Imperials managing to outwit the Free Planets a couple times to achieve the same result and make things more fair. But no, it’s this standard anime logic (which in all fairness applies to most, if not all, animated shows back then) that requires the characters the series deems to be the main protagonists, in spite of the slight favoritism it has for Reinhardt’s dictatorship position, to always have this edge in spite of the odds and opposition. That’s partly what kept me going when I wanted to stop sooner, that these “good guys” experienced some form of loss. The way they go about taking a loss is cheap, and more of a, “we didn’t really lose, it was just on a technicality,” kind of way. By the time I got 70 episodes in, I couldn’t take it anymore.

It frustrates me too, because I can see all the reasons why this show has fans proclaiming this to be the greatest thing ever. And it could’ve been the greatest thing ever, if it had some fine-tuning. Some complain about the art style and the choice of music, but I was fine with all of that. My chagrin is more with characters and specific plot events that involve plot armor with said characters. Because the only way this show could make these “heroes” stand out and be as inspirational as they are is by dumbing down their opposition when appropriate. That’s a trope I fucking despise. That’s like having a fight scene where this guy is dodging and weaving and hiding behind cover when this woman with a gun is shooting at him, and then he knocks her down, lifts her up, does an evil laugh and declares his victory, all the while forgetting she still has the gun on her which she then turns on him and blasts him at point blank range killing him. That would be laughable if it was in a show/film that is less ambitious and impossible to take as seriously (which it is; that scenario exists in another anime). The problem is that this show has several moments that are practically the equivalent to that.

The Free Plants characters didn’t have to be such insufferable holier-than-art-though do-gooders either. The show tempted me with instances that dared to imply there were faults with them. For example, Yang Wenli is someone who is a history buff, who is fascinated with and studies history in-depth. Which makes sense to me, as that indicates how he learned to be good at battle tactics, as he studied them from prior historical events. It’s still stupid the kind of tactics that are used in the show (on both sides), but at least it’s an explanation as to why he’s better than average (let alone a prodigy) with turning battles in his favor in spite of the odds. Plus there’s indications that, when he’s not being a history buff and a military leader, he’s socially awkward and not very good at taking care of himself in his private life and in a regular citizen environment. Plus there’s the indication that he’s becoming an alcoholic; that’s one of those instances where the show taunted me with a hint of there being a serious character fault with him that would come around to wrought destruction upon him in some way. But it doesn’t happen. And alleged faults end up just being minor endearing quirks. Bullshit, and loads of it.

Because of bullshit reasons that defy the laws of science and space travel.

The other thing that managed to keep me going is when the episodes focused on the other side. The Imperial side. The side with Reinhardt and his friends and enemies. That is when the show is at its absolute best. Because we see inner turmoil with Reinhardt. We see him making mistakes and trying to correct them. We see him intelligently manipulating and perceiving political attacks, assassination attempts, inner-fighting within the Empire, and strong effort made to keep his discipline and temper in check. His faults of rash behavior balanced by his ability to strategize and predict what others will do, how to manage both the empire itself and the battlefield. His constant struggles not to become another dictator who wields his power without concern for others he should be concerned about (including the people he rules over), and the moments where he’s tempted to do so. How those around him try to help or hinder him for one reason or another.

Being with Reinhardt and the struggles and espionage attempts constantly surrounding him is easily when the show is at its peak (though Wenli and the Free Planets have their moments too, mainly when it comes to certain political philosophy points and speeches).

Not to mention the shadow tactics of Phezzan, a faction that I’m quite frankly amazed was in this show. It’s like they represent the Zionists who are great at moneymaking and blackmailing, among other ways of influence without putting themselves directly in the spotlight. Plus how they’re directly linked with a fanatical religious organization. What’s unfortunate is that the series couldn’t maintain this threatening aura about them. It was always tense when they were on-screen, as you knew they were pulling some strings to make things happen, but you weren’t always sure how they were going to do things even when you catch glimpses of their plans and when they get set into motion. But by the last quarter of the show (or so), they became more of an afterthought that was dealt with way too easily. Its like the writers didn’t know how to keep them as a legit threat. Which is a pity, because they were an integral part of making this show well-rounded in regards with what it wanted to achieve as a space opera.

The series is good, but very flawed. It’s possible the flaws won’t annoy you as much as they did me, to the point where you may even want to finish the entire show. It just didn’t seem worth the effort to me if these bullshit shenanigans were going to keep happening. In spite of all that, I can recommend it. If nothing else, it’s a show that at least deserves one try from any respectable anime fan. Even if I find it overrated.

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