Reinhard and Yang’s Rivalry Provides Hours of Intrigue
One of the most celebrated anime series among “serious” anime consumers is Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This century-spanning story takes place in the far future between two spacefaring factions of humans. The series itself has been around for several years, and as such, there is quite a lot of material if one is picking up the series for the first time.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes Spans Centuries and is Full of Lore
Similar to the Gundam series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is set more or less in the current world, but far enough in the future that humanity has seen fit to begin an entirely new calendar/era. In AD 2801, the Space Era is announced, marking the beginning of SE 1.
After roughly 300 years a dictatorial ruler establishes the Galactic Empire, and along with it a new Imperial Calendar in SE 310/AD 3110. So with three different methods of timekeeping in place, a group of workers escapes the Galactic Empire and creates the Free Planets Alliance in an area of the galaxy outside the reach of the Empire in IC 218/SE 527/AD 3327.
The Free Planets Alliance naturally prefers to use the Space Era calendar, and lives in peace for roughly 100 years until the first battle between the Empire and the Alliance takes place.
Between these two alliances there’s another faction, a planet-nation (The space equivalent of a city-state) known as the Dominion of Phezzan. Phezzan is technically part of the Empire and pays tribute to them, but gains their own power by also dealing with the Alliance and playing the two factions against each other. Phezzan is also the former home of a mysterious cult known as The Terraist Church. Terraism is dedicated to returning humanity to Earth, and throughout the course of the series attacks various leaders on both sides in order to attain that goal.
Because there’s so much material written about Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a series that has been producing new works since 1988, there are many characters and plotlines the story focuses on. The original concerns the rivalry between Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen-Li, two brilliant tacticians on opposite sides of the conflict. Reinhard is a member of the Galactic Empire, while Yang is with the Free Planets Alliance.
The Galactic Empire, in a similar style to the Principality of Zeon in the Gundam series, seems to be modeled heavily after 19th century Prussia, with each of the officers having Germanic names and specially-decorated uniforms and coats of arms.
Reinhard von Lohengramm is an incredibly gifted admiral, and the first episode sees him outwitting the other older admirals in his fleet. He attained admiralty at the age of 21 and his flagship is the Brunhild, noted for hardly ever receiving damage despite spearheading many battles. Reinhard was born into a noble family, his original name being von Musel.
His family was looked down upon because of their relative lack of wealth and he was given the name von Lohengramm after distinguishing himself in combat. He is cold and calculating, quick to use his enemies’ weaknesses against them, but secretly looks to overthrow the current Emperor.
Yang Wen-Li is comparatively more humble than Reinhard, and only joined the military in order to get a free education. His passion lies more in history, and often quotes historical facts and famous sayings.
Yang ascended to power after he successfully prevented an Imperial incursion after they had gained the upper hand during the battle of Astarte. He comes across as more tragic throughout the series, as he is a genuine match for Reinhard and could turn the tide of the war if he was willing to seize power as Reinhard does.
Yang is a defender of the Free Planets’ democracy, and refuses to accept more power and humbles himself in order to prevent that sense of democracy from becoming corrupted. He even seems somewhat receptive to their ideology (Outside of their insistence that the strong should exterminate the weak) but values the freedom of the Free Planets above all.
Because of the sheer volume of material, Legend of the Galactic Heroes has quite a few different anime series, OVAs, and animated features that go into the lives of the various players. There’s quite a lot that can be done with a series with centuries of history and lore. In fact, quite a bit has been released that goes into the backstory of the larger conflict.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These Takes Fans Back into Space
More recently, however, Production I.G. has remade the original series from 1988. Entitled Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (The New Thesis), this series was released in 2018 and is a full-on remake of the original series with a few slight differences, largely in terms of pacing. A second season, Die Neue These: Seiran (The New Thesis: Stellar War) was released in 2019 as three separate films that consisted of four episodes each.
While decidedly more sober than other anime, except for the space battles, anime fans hold Legend of the Galactic Heroes and its spin-offs in high regard. The stories of Reinhard and Yang are excellent character arcs, and the amount of intrigue and politics in the background rivals that of modern series like Game of Thrones. It gives viewers all the escapism of anime with the grounding effect of classic war films.