#1 Space politics
In a distant era, mankind has united as one empire. Brought together by a fierce and competent dictator, humanity thrived and expanded across the stars. However, this newfound unity came at the cost of the undesirables within society, who were slaughtered, imprisoned, and forced to work on distant colonies. Then, when The Empire failed to keep a grip on these people, they set off to forge their own future and, in time, their descendants would become the democratic Free Planets Alliance.
Years later, The Empire and The Alliance would be plunged into all-out war. The Empire believing all of mankind should be ruled by its emperor, and the Free Planets Alliance lusting for vengeance and ready to uphold its ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a space opera with many enormous battles and heroic commanders, but at its heart, it is a commentary on the respective political ideologies of these two different nations. The Empire is ruled by a bloodline of emperors, the latest of which have not lived up to the greatness of their ancestors. Now, internal rebellion threatens to replace this long-stood dynasty, installing a new emperor and abandoning generations of tradition and pride. Will the people of this Empire accept that?
And, while the Free Planets are framed as the good guys of the story, they themselves are not living up to their democratic ideals. Sure, their rulers are elected, but political apathy and extremist views have long since pushed the people into putting manipulative incompetents at the wheel of their intergalactic union. The system is corrupt and so fundamentally troubled that some people have been beginning to beg for a military junta to seize control so they can at least win the war without politicians hamstringing the Alliance’s brilliant fleet commanders.
#2 Beautiful character designs
When you are dealing with a plot that counts hundreds of characters, many of which are at least semi-recurring, it becomes a big hurdle to remember who all of these people are. Galactic Heroes doesn’t have the benefit of something like Naruto where every character is a colorful ninja with special powers; these are regular people who all wear the same military outfits.
Without being flashy about it, Galactic Heroes still manages to have a large cast of characters that become instantly recognizable through their designs. You won’t remember the likes of Ernest Meckligner or Admiral Attemborough by name at first, but one look at their designs and you’ll remember who they were and what they were all about. In a show where screen-time is contested and characters might disappear for many episodes at a time, this is vital.
I am also just really fond of the old-school look to them. It brings back pleasant memories of the ’80s anime scene and it’s way more stylish than the modernized look given to these same characters in the recent remake by Production I.G.
110 episodes and several movies tell the core of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes storyline, which is further backed up by a long-running series of side-stories. This is a massive franchise and probably the most elaborate, intricately-written sci-fi series in anime.
What’s truly shocking is that none of these 110 episodes feel like they are being wasted. Every episode has memorable moments and advances several of the many story threads that are formed. There is no filler, and even if there was, I’d be inclined to watch it just to see this elaborate cast of characters interact with each other for a while and maybe build-up their relationships some more. I bet there is enough time to get to know somebody when you spend years of your life on a spaceship with the same hundred-or-so people.
Getting back on topic: I just feel such a thrill watching through Galactic Heroes. It takes some commitment to start on it, but it was exciting to know that I was going to be able to enjoy this interesting world and the characters within it for dozens upon dozens of episodes.
#4 The rivalry between Yang and Reinhard
At the core of this massive space opera lie the two brilliant strategists Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-Li. Reinhard is a minor noble within The Empire, a competent ruler who can see the true talent in people and is gathering a loyal core of followers around him to help overthrow the current emperor. Meanwhile, Yang is a humble soldier and unrelenting defender of the principles of democracy, whose career is given a boost when people begin to realize that he is an unrivaled strategist.
The two of them soon become aware of each other and their names become feared across the other’s faction. From this, one of anime’s most amazing rivalries is born.
The show allows us to follow both their stories without clear bias, leaving it up to the viewer to decide who is the true protagonist of the story. Is Reinhard a man pushing humanity into a new age of greatness or is he an unpleasable conqueror slowly falling apart as success remains just barely out of reach? Is Yang Wen-Li a staunch defender of justice against a fascist threat or a stubborn pawn holding humanity back by trying to protect a failing institution.
Clashes between Reinhard and Yang, even outside of combat, are some of the most intense moments of the series. There is mutual respect between these two legendary heroes, but their respective paths will inevitably force them into conflict.
#5 Impactful deaths
Many an episode takes time out of the fighting and politicking to show us bits and pieces of the lives of these commanders and politicians. A good chunk of one memorable episode is dedicated to one officer’s love for painting and the arts, just to name an example. We get to learn more about their hobbies, their troubles and ambitions, their love life. This leads to interesting storylines, like one officer ending up on the same ship as his daughter, born from a short-lived romance with a woman he abandoned after a mere 3 days.
When millions of lives are at stake in every battle, I appreciate that the show develops these side-characters so well. It makes you want to root for them and hope for their survival, even as a few thousand others get casually blown to bits with every salvo. And while Galactic Heroes isn’t too kill-crazy, it does not do plot armor. A lot of characters die throughout the story; some of these deaths are sign-posted way ahead of time, others can just suddenly happen, even to the most likable of characters and even to those considered part of the main cast.
And those deaths really hurt because I found myself getting really attached to these characters; my companion and I were constantly joking about them, discussing their arcs and wondering where the story would lead them. Would Bittenfeld ever truly gain control of his temper? Will the elderly Bewcock and Merkatz live to see the end of the war? Is Oberstein truly to blame for everything that ever goes wrong or is he grossly misunderstood? Is there a limit to how often Kircheis can be promoted? When are Greenhill and Yang finally going to admit that they are in love with each other? Hell, when are Poplan and Dusty just going to admit it?