If you were to ask someone in the Anime community what the “best Anime” is, chances are you’re bound to get a different answer depending on who you ask. It’s only natural after all. Everyone has their own idea of what the greatest thing in any medium is, whether many people agree with them or not.
But if there’s one Anime that I always see getting brought into the discussion of the “best Anime” at some point or another, it’s the 1988 OVA series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
Consisting of 110 main series episodes, 3 movies and 52 side story episodes, the Legend boasts one of the most grandiose and ambitious narratives in the medium, and is considered by many Anime fans as one of the best, if not the best, Anime ever created.
And, to be completely honest, that’s something I’ve always struggled to get behind.
I like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I don’t think it’s a bad show at all. I think it’s pretty good and that it’s worth watching. However, I don’t think it’s the stuff of legends that most of its die hard fans would have you believe, nor do I think it’s even remotely close to being the best series this medium has to offer.
Because despite what people will tell you, this show is far from perfect and is riddled with tiny faults that unfortunately ruined the overall experience for me.
The most obvious issue with Legend of the Galactic Heroes is its age. The show started airing in 1988, and like it or not, its age shows in just about every part of its production. In a lot of ways, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a product of its time, and while one could argue that it’s a solid effort for the era it came out, that doesn’t stop the show from feeling horrendously dated.
The most dated aspect of the show is its visuals. They aren’t completely awful, and the character designs are relatively good for the most part, but some of the shows scenes are just badly handled. I’ve seen many people praise the shows intellectual battles and skirmishes, but despite being pretty impressed with the tactics used by each side, the battles themselves just look… Terrible. Heck, most of the time it’s pretty incomprehensible. Stuff is barely moving most of the time and I had a hard time getting engaged as much as I’d wanted to, because, visually, it just looked so bland and uninteresting.
And it’s not as if shows from this era can’t look appealing by today’s standards. The original Dragon Ball series debuted two years before Legend of the Galactic Heroes. And despite looking fairly dated compared to the series of today, it still holds up relatively well and there are plenty of scenes that look fantastic, particularly the action scenes which are full of energy and flair.
And unfortunately that’s two things that most of the major and action-packed scenes in Legend of the Galactic Heroes are, for the most part, lacking. What should be visually engaging scenes that have you on the edge of your seat are instead poorly animated slideshows of ships shooting lines at one another, or poorly animated scenes of characters firing guns and swinging battle axes.
That’s not to say there aren’t any scenes that make an impact, there’s lots, but they aren’t as impactful as they should be and it’s a damn shame because it puts a downer on what could have otherwise been some of the greatest and most memorable scenes in Anime. There’s a particular scene, about a quarter of the way through the series, where a key character is killed off and their death is supposed to be a major turning point in the storyline, as well as an incredibly emotional moment for the characters closest comrade. And while the scene was definitely moving, it was so poorly directed and severely lacking in its visual presentation, that it just didn’t hit as heavy as it could have, and it’s just a real shame.
Unfortunately, this is the case for many of the series most dramatic and important scenes.
But my issues with Legend of the Galactic Heroes aren’t solely dedicated to its visuals. I have plenty of issues with its narrative and characters as well.
Despite what many would have you believe, the story of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is far from flawless. It’s certainly a well written story and the script is very solid, especially when compared to that of most other Anime series, but unfortunately this fantastic script suffers due to its overall execution.
You see, while the Legend is well written, the delivery of its tightly composed narrative often left little to be desired for me. My biggest problem is the shows constant reliance on narration at the beginning and end of episodes, or when providing the audience with an infodump about something related to the characters or history of the world. And I hate it. It feels out of place and forced. Why not have the characters explain it in world or, better yet, show us these things happening instead of having some guys voice narrate it for 5 minutes?
It’s not like having a nameless narrator giving the details about certain events or a characters thoughts is inherently bad. The Chimera Ant arc in Hunter x Hunter is notorious for its use of narration during its second half. However, Hunter x Hunter used its narration to explore the psychology of its characters and give the audience a deeper look into how they were reacting to several situations in a small period of time. The use of the narrator was justified because there would have been no other way to present the information otherwise.
But with Legend of the Galactic Heroes, much of the narrated information could have easily been presented through the story itself, without the need for these narrated sequences. It doesn’t help that they’re also pretty lengthy at times. It breaks the narrative flow of the series, and feels very intrusive. And I get it, the series is based on a series of novels, where such narration is natural, but this is an Anime, not a book.
And while we’re on the subject of the series’ flow, my biggest issue with Legend of the Galactic Heroes is its pacing. The series is 110 episodes in length, yet the amount of ground covered in that span hardly warrants such a high episode count. There are a lot of scenes that add very little to the overarching story that I feel could have been left out entirely, particularly in the early parts of the series, which is full of episodic stories that have no real relevance to anything, villains of the week and all. For all the snide remarks that many of the Legends die hard fans give other shows for having an episodic formula, I was surprised to see so many standalone stories and characters that added nothing to the larger narrative and were forgotten about entirely.
Even if one were to discount the episodic storylines, the larger narrative also suffers in terms of pacing. There are so many scenes that just feel drawn out and slow, with far more dialogue and exposition than is necessary, to the point I honestly feel that around 10 whole episodes worth of run time could have been cut from the final product. Possibly more. The series moves at such a glacial pace that it often feels like a chore to get through, and that’s not even including the 50+ episodes of side stories you’re expected to watch to get the full experience.
But then we get to my biggest gripe with the series narrative: I found its use of tactics disappointing. I was told to expect mind games and smart psychological battles, and while I did get plenty of it, I felt that in a lot of cases, the enemy being outsmarted were either just incompetent or plain stupid. Most of the time, the commanders being bested are just simply people who aren’t cut out to lead an army in the first place or suffer from a severe lack of understanding when it comes to military tactics when compared to their smarter and more refined opposition. And sure, one could argue that this is a realistic portrayal of actual military leaders, but that’s… Kinda lame…
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Every time Yang would go up against Reinhard, the amount of tactical genius displayed was the stuff of legends, providing some of the best psychological warfare to ever come from the medium. But why couldn’t we have this all the time?
And to top it all off, despite being lauded as one of the most logical Anime of all time, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is full of illogical nonsense, such as characters using medieval weaponry for close combat, in a setting where such weaponry should be obsolete and having ghosts of deceased characters appear and have conversations with people that are still alive. I personally have no issues with these things, but I figured I’d raise them anyway because the series isn’t this completely logical series it’s being made out to be. It’s full of illogical stuff, just as much as every other Anime.
And for the record: it is a Light Novel adaptation. The best of the best mind you, but it is one.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a good show. It’s a fantastic space opera and is most definitely worth your time. Despite my many gripes with it, I really like the show and writing this post has even encouraged me to go and watch it all over again.
But, to me at least, it’s far from perfect, and I feel the fanbase need to get off their high horse a little.
It may be your favourite, but don’t act like you’re better than everyone else because of it. It’s just as flawed as every other Anime series out there.
Like I’ve said before, no show is perfect.
Not even a legend.
What are your thoughts on Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Did you find it to be a tad overrated? Or do you disagree with my take on the show? Be sure to let me know below!