Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest Is the Sea of Stars (1988 IMDb)

Categorization

All-human space opera. A one-hour pilot of sorts, based on a brief episode from Tanaka Yoshiki's novels (1982-1987).

Subject

A representative democracy now known as the Free Planets Alliance long ago split off from a larger political entity and took up residence in a different spiral arm of the Milky Way. The larger entity is the Galactic Empire, an autocratic juggernaut founded by a racist who worked to resurrect the culture of 18th-century Prussian aristocracy. In the 35th century, two talented naval officers, whose fates are intertwined, affect each other for the first time. They're on opposite sides of an altercation in fusile terrain.

Commentary

Nice use of Ravel's Bolero. Uncomfortably bellocentric view of history, more so than in the massive series that followed.

Japanese production animation movie

Sequel:

Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988 IMDb)

Viewing

It took me approximately five years to get from beginning to end.

Categorization

Probably the longest OVA (direct-to-video) series ever, at 110 episodes released and supported by its audience from 1988 to 1997, amounting to some 36 hours of animation, none of it episodic in the sense of plot continuity: It is all one completely coherent narrative, told almost entirely in sequence, with hundreds of characters and directed by Ishiguro Noboru (Yamato, Macross). The dramatis personae ranges in influence from fighter pilots, waiters and clerks, all the way up to Imperial Kaisers, albeit with the typical focus on elites.

Subject

Separated by the gap between their spiral arms, the Alliance and the Empire have only two swiftly navigable paths between them, after having been at war on and off for 150 years. To any brilliant tactician rising through the ranks, the balance seems delicate. Having conquered his reputation of being sheltered by the skirts of the Kaiser's concubine who is his sister, Reinhard von Müsel is one such tactician, who dreams of conquering known space completely, and overthrowing the corrupt aristocracy of which he is a part. On the other side, Yang Wen-li is equally gifted, but has no taste for war. Like Shiro's boss in Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force (1987), what he really wants is to be a historian, and he doesn't like what he sees in history. They will meet again, during four years of upheaval.

Commentary

Epic in scale and able to deliver on its ambitions. It takes production guts to fill episode after episode with scenes of plain men doing lengthy planning together in their uniforms, punctuated by equally lengthy pitched battles that are far more sedate than their equivalents in sillier franchises like Star Trek (1966) or Star Wars (1977). While the battles are less energetic, violence is paradoxically more real in LoGH: At long intervals, anyone can die or be horribly wounded (e.g. episode 63), just as well as they can find love, crack jokes or play with their children.

The author shows an unfortunate bias in the consistent underlying conflict of republicanism versus hereditary autocracy. He clearly loved his Japanese Prussians in space. The title card is German: “Heldensagen vom Kosmosinsel”. Reinhard's is the smarter-looking, more charismatic lot. Those who point a gun at Reinhard himself do so in awe of his magnificence. Maybe that's because Reinhard's quest to destroy the aristocracy from within is an echo of Japanese Meiji history. Maybe it's a Shōwa universe that runs on notions of destiny and loves a good-looking dictator, haunted though he may be by the cost of revolution. Corruption seems equal in either system, surpassed only by Fezzan, with no viable alternative presented.

As pleasant as it is to see the horrors of war lamented, war is meant as an attraction of the show. This is virtually always the case in space opera, and LoGH is certainly space opera, with FTL and beam weapons everywhere, even if the “galactic heroes” are less prominent than the title implies. War as entertainment exacerbates the slightly creepy ideological bias.

The technology of the far future is badly dated (lol DOS) and fallaciously implemented. Asteroids can be accelerated for use as weapons, but only once. Space is underutilized (fleets just line up head to head), there is very little cultural or other broadly based change or variety visible in the universe, and women are stereotyped. The variety of characters is good as far as the males go, and the casting very impressive, including a magnetic Wakamoto Norio as the complicated Oskar von Reuenthal.

Hirasawa Suzumu may have been referring to the occasional faction-appropriate foreign dialogue in the refrain of Sign (“Prosit!” is Reinhard's toast of choice), and the series itself produced some good songs, including the uneven but strangely haunting anthem of the democrats at their nadir: “Oh hail, Liberty Bell, true freedom for all men!”

Japanese production animation series

Prequoff:

Golden Wings (1992 IMDb)

Categorization

One-hour film made between the 3rd and 4th seasons of the main series. It is a prequel, having a basic story continuity with the ongoing OVA, but it is also a spin-off, because it was based on a 1986 manga title commissioned by the author of the novels but created by Michihara Katsumi. The mechanical and clothing design are inherited from that spin-off, not the main branch of the anime, and even Iserlohn looks very different as a result: closer to the novels, if I'm reading ja.wikipedia.org correctly. Different actors too, and it skips the classical themes.

Subject

Siegfried meets the orphaned “penniless aristocrat” Reinhard, when he moves in next door. They... go to school.

Commentary

New title card with another German version of the franchise title, “Die Legende der Sternhelden”. Technological stagnation is explained as a consequence of the war, which doesn't really make sense. The Empire guys are oddly colourful in this continuity, and I don't like the design of the young Yang. The bombing of Iserlohn by Spartan(ian!) fighter craft, clearly inspired by Star Wars (1977), is also pretty gratuitous. Overall, a lot of coincidences and shounen-style fisticuffs, in the tradition of inferior prequels.

Japanese production animation movie

Premake:

Overture to a New War (1993 IMDb)

Categorization

Hour-and-a-half feature remake of the first two episodes of the main series, with added twists.

Subject

The tragic fate of Jean-Robert Lappe, a lovely ride in a non-horseless (horseful?) carriage, and all the rest.

Commentary

Another German title presented on screen: “Die Ouvertüre eines neuen Krieges”. The budget is spent on nice lighting and lovely people-scale details in the pitched battle, and Jessica in a military graveyard. Nice music, particularly Annerose von Grünewald gazing up at the stars from a balcony, to the second-movement allegretto from Beethoven's 7th. The film as a whole adds practically nothing to the franchise.

Japanese production animation movie

Pre-premake:

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: A Hundred Billion Stars, A Hundred Billion Lights (1998)

Categorization

Dry seinen.

Subject

A few clearly delineated episodes from the lives of boon companions Siegfried and Reinhard up to the age of 18, and a little Schenkopp, already a boringly unkillable man's man. Ground engagements on an icy world in the Iserlohn corridor, a murder investigation, cracking a drug ring, and other boyhood frolics.

Commentary

Episode 20 carries this whole series. Siegfried returns alone to his childhood home, where his mother, who hasn't seen him for years, gives him a look that says she doesn't share his faith in a swift defeat of the rebels, or his interest in it. He goes next door, to where Reinhard and Annerose used to live. The “untidy” family that lives there now, the Beckmans, have portraits of their three sons on the wall, all of them killed in the war. Siegfried reflects on the distance from everyday life at which he's living, and meets a scholarly old friend named Martin, who quietly resents the interference of the military with academic freedom and learning, and whom the narrator describes as starving to death after an arrest 6 months later, on suspicion of support for a campus anti-war group. In the very same episode, the petulant young Reinhard openly wishes for a great offensive, so he can be promoted yet again. If it wasn't for this great episode, the glamourization of war would be a notch worse than in the original series.

Japanese production animation

Sequel:

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Spiral Labyrinth (1999)

Viewing

Review refers to very poor HK subtitles.

Categorization

Dry seinen.

Subject

The first half tells Wenli's story up to My Conquest Is the Sea of Stars. The second half brings Siegfried and Reinhard to the same point, ending with them seeing the Brünhilde for the first time, which the narrator reflects may be their happiest moment.

Commentary

A fair amount of filler and unnecessary anticipatory coincidences; adds practically nothing to the franchise. Very nice and clean computer graphics for in-universe computer displays though, which is surprisingly beneficial. Probably the strongest homoerotic undertone of all the franchise anime.

Japanese production animation