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The release of Legend of Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These comes in the 30th anniversary year of the original movie and OVA series, as well as just over 35 years after the publication of the first novel. This series covers roughly the first 15 episodes that the OVA covered, with some details altered presumably to be more in line with the original novel series.
One advantage of this change in form is simply that each side gets more even screentime. The OVA episodes sometimes gave the bulk of the time and development to the Imperial characters, and it's good to see more of the origin stories of the Alliance characters. Another is that CG and modern production techniques—which are well-integrated and fluid here—make the battles feel greater in scale and more frantic due to CGI effects. Some of the mechanics are largely reinterpretations of the designs from the OVA blended with some increased flair, too, which is quite nice.
The downside of a modern, 12-episode format is that, despite the time to tell the story only being reduced by 20% that the pacing is rather dodgy. These episodes really don't feel as if they breathe as well as those in the OVA, and certain details and events don't have quite the gravity that they did there. Also, the dialogue suffers from very stiff, matter-of-fact translations at points, so I don't get as much of a sense of charisma from these characters.
Also, the incidental music is pretty generic synth-orchestral stuff now, which dampens the sense of atmosphere that the old series had.
The character designs also are crisp if a bit generic but, as an aside, I think it's interesting that the more temperate Fahrenheit gets a more defined design, while each side's consummate womanizers, Reuenthal and Schoenkopf, are now bishounen, probably reflecting differences in the way male characters are portrayed in the past 30 years.
Despite these complaints, though, I liked the show, and Tanaka's story still shines through this retelling. I have a feeling that both my own aging and a more arc-based American TV landscape probably also play a hand in me not heaping the same effusive praise on this adaptation that I heaped on the OVAs 7 years ago. With all that said, though, I'd recommend this series to new fans who want to get into the franchise; it's a good story and its presentation alone makes it that much more accessible.
The final spate of sidestories cover a number of topics: Wen-Li Yang finally gets to play historian and uncover more about an Alliance war hero, and Reinhard and Kircheis's get to show more of their trademark ingenuity as they fight the Alliance forces and handle yet another one of Beenemunde's schemes.
I have only two complaints about the 2nd Gaiden series; the first is about the digital ink and paint. While it makes the characters and scenes look bright and lively, it makes things such as scene transitions and starships moving and fighting look cheap and flat. The second is that we see far too much of Reinhard in this OVA, considering he got Gaiden Series I all to himself. The main series was pretty good at giving even character focus, even if he was a living god. Yang's oft-mentioned heroics at the El Facil system get a mere episode, even though we see a lot of him in Spiral Labyrinth.
I wrote my initial review after episode 26 of the main series, with few changes. After having watched all 162 episodes and 3 films, I can't heap enough praise on this series; this was an anime journey like no other. It explored themes such as realism vs liberalism, religious terrorism, political ethics and comparitive politics. It took the scale and maturity of its source material and used it to its full advantage, using slow but deliberate pacing and effective tropes that few other works would be comfortable trying. It used efficient music direction to enhance the tension and themes of scenes and get around the limitations of Stock Footage. It eschewed many common gags and character archetypes as well as a heavy love story, which helped avoid plot baggage. It was full of engaging characters who had brains, and despite being larger than life they felt like people you could actually get along with. It was also extremely versatile; whether it wanted to be a political/foreign policy thriller, a war film, a gritty action flick, a Hitler Channel-style documentary, or a Shakespearean tragedy it always succeeded and never felt awkward. Finally, it embraced Zeerust fully to ironically end up creating a largely time-independent aesthetic (except for some dated 80s tech). It's quite a tragedy that LoGH will remain an extremely niche franchise; it more than deserves to be compared with the works of Tezuka, Miyazaki, and Kon.
In 1998, after the end of the main OVA, the LoGH sidestories were adapted and released as their own OVA. The first 3 stories focus more on mystery and ground combat, and it's actually quite refreshing to have a break from the space battles. Although an episode or two from the mystery arcs feel a bit unnecessary, it retains the high quality of the original. The only strike against this series is that it shares the late 80s/early 90s-era animation of its predecessor which, while of good quality, may be jarring for some.
Overall, this OVA does a much better job of exploring Reinhard and Kirchieis's character arcs than Golden Wings did. Not only do we get to see Reinhard's tactical skill on display—in ground combat no less (!)—as well as the conflicts he faces with his superiors, but we also get to see a different side of Reinhard; sometimes he shows a softer side that contrasts a lot with the brooding, contemplative personality he had in the main series. Kircheis also gets more screentime in this OVA, and it's good that we get to learn more about him given the comparitively limited exploration of his character in previous stories.
The space battle sidestory stays faithful to the aesthetics of the main series, and does a pretty good job of showing the fruits of Reinhard's meteoric rise. Most of the main Alliance characters get scenes too, and even though Reinhard steals the show it's good to see them in action again.
Sound and voice direction is just as good as in the main series. The Public Domain Soundtrack is again used skillfully, and fits the situations it's played in just as well as before. There is one change in the voices, though: Hozumi Gouda was cast as then-CAPT Wen-Li Yang, following Kei Tomiyama's unfortunate death from pancreatic cancer. Even though a lot of the time he sounds like he's channeling the stoic Chirico Cuvie, he's mostly competent at capturing the essence of our favorite heroic slacker and adds a unique take on Yang's character.
Overall, the story is accessible and doesn't spoil people who haven't seen the main series. The touches that made the main series so wonderful are on display here as well, though, and the series doesn't try to run away from them. If you're in either camp, there's no reason not to give this series a try.
Following the first two OVA series, the film Golden Wings was released in the early '90s. The reasoning for this film is obvious: to make the Legend accessible to an audience who hadn't seen the novels or 4 years of OVAs, or to refresh the memories of current viewers before the next series. I think this film is passable, but not without flaws.
If you remember the first few episodes of the OVA, you'll immediately note that Reinhard and Kircheis's teenage character arc is completely mirrored with no substantive additions in the first half of the film; all the development-heavy scenes are practically the same. The second half follows them leading the defence of Iserlohn during one of the FPA's many attempted sieges, as well as a mysterious-bad-guy-from-Internal-Affairs subplot; both plots feel rather generic and lack the complexity and introspection of the series and the first film.
Visually, one couldn't be blamed for calling this low-rent Star Wars. The ostentatious uniforms are done away with, taking a bit of the Galactic Reich's classical German aesthetic with them. The mechanics are also changed to resemble more generic sci-fi designs; Fortress Iserlohn, whose silvery-black metal ocean made it resemble a pearl floating in space, now looks like a near-clone of the Death Star inside and out. The Spartanian fighters attacking it look like any other sci-fi plane. A young LCDR Wen-Li Yang even gets a small role, but he somewhat lacks the nonchalant attitude we're acquainted with...and also has been redrawn with really creepy-looking hazel eyes.
The emphasis on tactics is also less on display when the camera's on the Reich; we don't get to see much of Reinhard's tactical brain in action because a lot of time is wasted focusing on the conflict with Internal Affairs. And in some of those scenes, you've really got to wonder how that man turned from a young upstart who punched everybody for badmouthing his sister into a living god; unfortunately, a deeper exploration of his past would not come until Gaiden 5 years later.
As a recap of Reinhard's past, this film serves its purpose. As a piece to increase access, it's a valiant effort. But by discarding its predecessors' innovative narrative and stylistic touches, it unfortunately falls short of the standards set by those two series.
Ever wanted a series that contains all the action and epic scale of Star Wars, the quiet philosophy of Star Trek, and the complex politics of a Gundam series rolled into one? Then I think you'll enjoy The Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
What's striking is just how versatile this series is; it can be an action show, a tragedy, or a documentary and succeed at all three, and I don't think that there is a more masterfully crafted political thriller in all of anime. The pacing of the episodes is slow; unlike many other long anime, however, the length serves not to pad but to allow for introspection and deep analysis of the key players and events. And considering how complex the Gunpowder Age politics of the Reich and the politics of the U.S.-like FPA are, you really need that time to sort everything out. The theatrical nature of the characters' interactions and conflicts, contrasted with the documentary/action style coverage of battles and tactics grants the series a unique aesthetic that so far doesn't seem to exist in many other series. It wouldn't be a stretch to call this the Epic of Gilgamesh of anime, especially when you look at how paralells can be drawn between Reinhard von Lohengramm and larger-than-life men like Gilgamesh.
The space battle visuals aren't that detailed, and they rely on stock footage; this is excusable though, as this series focuses more on grand strategy. What they lack in originality, however, they more than make up for with their massive scale; 3 million people and thousands of ships can be lost in a single battle, and this level of carnage is par for the course. Despite the lesser emphasis on battles over the course of the story, this massive scale turns them into very gripping and tense affairs that can span more than one episode. Also, fans of gritty, tense melee combat will walk away very pleased. The sound design augments the tension; even though it's a Public Domain Soundtrack, the music is always situation-appropriate and really complements the series' best moments.
If you are mainly used to stories that start and finish in 26 episodes, this might not be the series for you. However, if you're a fan of politics, great battles, interesting characters, and don't mind a pace that's about like a Sunday drive you'll definitely enjoy this series.
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