Legend of Galactic Heroes (Ginga Eiyu Densetsu, also known as Heldensagen vom Kosmosinsel and Les Heros de la Galaxie) is one of the most important anime series to emerge from that vintage year, 1988. (The year when Akira, My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies hit the cinema screen can fairly claim vintage status.) Over 85 hours of animation make it one of the longest series made solely for video release, and a script which does justice to Yoshiki Tanaka’s original novels make it one of the most intelligent.
With some episodes already out in France and false hope of a complete French-language release in four DVD box sets by the end of this year, this seems like a good time to give you five of the myriad reasons why I love Legend of Galactic Heroes.
1) It’s BIG. You know that riff in The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about our inability to imagine the scale of space? Well, this show redefines scale. Everything about it is immense. There are 162 made-for-video episodes plus spinoff movies, games and manga. There’s a cast so huge that only Yoshiki Tanaka, Japan’s leading pulp scifi novelist and LoGH creator, really knows them all; an Empire that both spans space and shares it, reluctantly, with other political bodies; starfleets so mighty that all those Imperial battlestations from other space operas look like wasps’ nests full of annoying little insects to be crushed with a swat of their great gun turrets; a Wagnerian score that pushes every atom of the story’s intensity into the music; but most of all, there are wild, enormous, uncontrollable emotions: villainy and loyalty and love and hate and fear and greed and pounding passion with shades of grey not yet invented – the kind of emotions people live for, or die for, or kill for, with absolutely no holding back.
2) It’s COMPLICATED in ways no mere online description could ever encompass. Too big for plot threads, it has whole plot tapestries hanging one behind the other like the trappings of some Baroque ritual. With the characters as guides, you navigate your way through the dense, rich, complex folds and layers that wrap their lives. You’ll probably get lost. You may never emerge.
3) It’s ROMANTIC, in all the old-fashioned senses of the word. Look at the online Oxford Dictionaries and you’ll see that beneath the modern notion of romance as a love story, there’s an older meaning: “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life; wild exaggeration; picturesque falsehood; a work of fiction dealing with events remote from real life.” Before that, a romance was “a medieval tale dealing with a hero of chivalry, of the kind common in the Romance languages”. And before that, it was the legacy of Rome, embedded in the languages and culture Rome influenced across Europe: order, learning, Empire, the basic tension between freedom and control, anarchy and discipline, war and peace.
Yes, there are love stories too. No space opera is complete without them.
4) It’s BELOVED by an underground army of devoted fans. How else could they have sold 162 episodes without TV release or promotion? Becoming an LoGH fan is entering a secret society for people with highly refined tastes: people who like huge, slow, real-time space battles with more tension than any modern CGI-blast can deliver, people who like careful character development that makes a cast of thousands individually engaging, people who like intelligent political background to their action-adventure, people who like stories that don’t pretend our problems are anyone’s fault but our own. Oh, and people who like pretty, deadly blond megalomaniacs in shiny uniforms. (That’s me sorted, then.)
It’s also inspired spinoffs both fan and pro, the latest being this rather nifty-looking Takarazuka stage musical in which all the men are played by singing and dancing girls, taking the term “space opera” at its word. (Why didn’t George Lucas think of that?)
5) It provides EYE-CANDY for just about everyone: pretty boys, pretty girls, scheming women, evil masterminds, dictators both benign and greedy. For those who like harder candy there are military treats galore – huge arsenals both tech and trad, fleets of battlecruisers, gigantic wargames on the solar-system scale. If pulp is nougat and fudge for the mind, Legend of Galactic Heroes is the best, richest, sweetest, purest sugar rush you can buy.
It’s a source of constant frustration to me that this big, complicated slab of anime storytelling, one of the finest works by the late, great Noboru Ishiguro, has never had a Western release. So, although there’s nothing in prospect, I’m dusting off my schoolgirl French and keeping my eye on Amazon.fr in the hope of stuffing some future year’s Christmas stocking with a long-awaited treat.
Added Jean Reno would make it even better, but I’ll take Legend of Galactic Heroes as it comes, heavy weaponry, emotional intensity, eye-candy and all.