Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Studio: Kitty Films (Ranma 1/2)
Based on the novels by Yoshiki Tanaka
Genre: Sci Fi, Military, Space Opera
First complete run: 1988-1997
Regular episodes: 110
Throughout this 110 episode odyssey, my opinion of the show (and the grade that I was planning on giving LOGH) fluctuated wildly. At times, the anime was a lightning fast thriller -- blending military fiction, sharp political commentary, and an unparalleled cast of characters. At others, Legend felt more like a documentary than a show designed to entertain. LOGH tells the story of a distant future in which the known universe has been divvied up into two nation-states: the Free Planets Alliance and the Reich Empire. The majority of the anime chronicles the gradual takeover of the universe by the Emperor Reinhard over the Alliance's strategist Yang Wenli.
Stylistically, the anime is a character study. Think There Will Be Blood. Throughout the anime's duration, the universe faces complete upheaval, but the plot developments move far too slowly to form the show's focus. Far more important are the developments in the incredibly large, diverse, and highly detailed set of characters on both sides of the battle. Watching LOGH entails watching its characters mature, and in their maturation the show's thematic purpose comes to the surface.
In terms of theme, LOGH is all about historicity. The show is almost viewed in retrospective. Each decision the main characters make affect millions of lives and can change the course of the intergalactic battle. The cast is acutely aware that their decisions are going to be viewed in historical perspective. The gap between the characters' experience of the present tense and how they imagine themselves in past tense is omnipresent throughout. Thus, the show's engagement with historiography constantly raises questions of what precisely the characters are fighting for, what they are accomplishing, and what is lost through the passage of time. LOGH's heavy use of military protocol serves to situate its characters within this pseudo historical fiction which is thematically interesting.
In the interest of full disclosure: the anime is ninety percent dialogue. War never really ceases during the show, but it is usually in the background. Even the actual battle scenes rarely involve action, instead relying on the individual characters' decision-making as the basis for its excitement. At times, particularly when there are lulls in the warfare, the show's plot can slow to a near halt. Viewers must have ample patience and try to genuinely engage with the characters, their hopes and ambitions, and their incredibly lifelike emotional composition. This show is a true animated masterpiece when understood in that light. But on the whole...a little boring at times.