Anime Alphabet - G is for Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu
The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the most epic story that anime has to offer, about the largest war in human history, fought on the battleground of the galaxy.
(This post was written as a script for the edited video above, which provides a more complete experience of the post’s subject. The text version below is just for easier reference and comprehension for anyone in need.)
Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, known in English as The Legend of the Galactic Heroes, is an animated home video series which holds a reputation as one of anime's most ambitious and impressive storytelling endeavors. Based on the eponymous ten-volume novel series written by Tanaka Yoshiki-san and published over the course of five years starting in 1982, the first anime adaptation, produced by Kitty Film, was released through home video across every couple of years from 1988 to 1997; in the end totalling 110 episodes. (That is, before including the 50+ episodes of side-stories which were also adapted by the end of the 90s--and the trio of films expanding on parts of the story which also dropped along the way.) With consistently high review scores and regular placement in top spots on sites which rank anime by aggregated user ratings, Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, or Ginei for short, is a contender to the throne of being considered the outright greatest anime of all time--and in this video I'm going to explain why it deserves that consideration. I am Trixie the Golden Witch--you can find my writing on goldenwitch.substack.com--and this is another part of my series of in-depth retrospectives about anime classics, Anime Alphabet.
G is for Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu
In spite of its sterling reputation, Ginei has never been one of the most popular Japanese animated shows, though it has continued growing in worldwide acclaim through word of mouth and increasing availability over the decades. Each episode of Ginei was released on VHS weekly via subscription service, in twenty-six to thirty-seven episode bursts across every couple of years; and it was then compiled into still very massive collections. It would have been fairly expensive to engage with in its original release, and word of mouth about the series didn’t reach Western audiences enough for any attempts at official localization to take off until the late 2010s, when Sentai Filmworks finally made the series available for streaming on their HiDive platform to viewers in the US. Complete fansubs of the series in English have been online since 2005, and with most illegal streaming sites housing as much anime as they can possibly get their hands on, the availability of the series to curious English-speaking fans had first exploded in the late 2000s, leading quickly to its overtaking of the top-ranked spots on sites like AniDB and MyAnimeList, and eventually developing a reputation just by sitting in that visible position.
Ginei has struggled to reach the higher echelons of popularity enjoyed by so many of the other most-beloved anime thanks to its reputation as being somewhat daunting. With over a hundred episodes and a hundred named characters introduced therein, the show is powerfully dense with narrative, and is an epic military and social political drama set across the vastness of space. Its characters, while handsome, are realistically stylized, and there aren’t a whole lot of women or young people in the cast. The dialog is extremely formal, with most of the interactions taking place between active military personnel--and the show’s extremely frank and cynical portrayal of the horrors of war can weight heavy on the mind and heart. It is, by some descriptions, depressing--and by some, boring. However, the story is nonetheless extremely compelling for the majority of its runtime--and without getting into any spoilers, I will explain some of the storytelling mechanics which allowed someone like me, that mostly watches shows about cute girls drinking tea, or getting naked and beating the shit out of each-other, to understand and appreciate what’s going on in this bleakly dramatic space war.
When I started up the first episode of Ginei for the first time almost thirteen years ago, I remember immediately feeling overwhelmed by the introduction of four similar-looking frumpy middle-aged military dudes with complicated German names getting introduced along with rank at the very beginning--especially since I had no idea what any of those ranks meant. However, the scene that follows involves these four men coming to argue strategy against the person currently in command--the beautiful blonde wonderkind whom most of this story is going to be about, Reinhard von Lohengramm. Everything I really need to know about any of these characters is established in this interaction--all of their mindsets toward one-another and ideas about the best ways to approach the battle they are about to start are laid out; but more importantly, Reinhard spends this whole conversation shouting down all these old men and telling them to stop questioning his orders. Actually understanding the system of rank wouldn’t make the power dynamics between these characters nearly as clear as what both the visual staging of the scene and the dialog accomplish.
Ginei will throw a lot of stuff at you sometimes, but it will usually catch you up to speed pretty quickly; and anything that’s important to know is going to be repeated several times by different characters, or re-explained when it becomes relevant again. Just in the first two episodes, which start off in the middle of a particular battle between the space-spanning superpowers of the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire, we meet a considerable number of characters and have a lot of foundational worldbuilding established--but the biggest focus of these episodes is introducing us to the two most important characters in the show--Yang Wenli, working for the FPA, and Reinhard von Lohengramm, working for the Empire. Most of that characterization comes by way of the focus which everyone else places on them over the course of the episode. We immediately know that Reinhard and his right-hand man Kircheis are more important to the story than the four old generals not only because of their more distinctive designs, but also because all of those men’s dialog centers around Reinhard’s actions. The more Reinhard is built up as a badass both by the men on his ship, and by the FPA’s only sane man, Yang Wenli, the more impressive it is in kind that Reinhard has taken notice of Yang.
The reason for that notice becomes clear as their tactical battle ensues, as does what I would consider the framework of Ginei’s first arc. I don’t think it has an official name, but I like to think of the first 26 episodes as the “Changing of the Guard Arc.” Most of its stories show us the incompetence and arrogance of the people in prominent positions on both sides of the conflict, which get them killed when hyper-talented newcomers start rising up the ranks and posing a threat to the stability of the conflict. The first episode’s most bitter story is that of Yang’s good friend, Jean Robert Lap, whom Yang regards as essentially equal to himself as a reasonable mind amid the ineptitude of the FPA military. Considering how important Yang will quickly become to said military, it’s insane to think what could’ve been had Jean not lost his life thanks to his commanding officer’s refusal to listen to his advice right in the first episode. Yang, on the other hand, only loses his commander, promoting him into the position to start making the tactical decisions which will allow him to subvert a total victory on the part of the Empire.
Yang’s ability to make great tactical decisions comes from his instinct in predicting his enemy’s tactics. Because Reinhard is a perfect warrior, and Yang knows his own military’s obvious weaknesses, he can predict what Reinhard is going to exploit and try to prevent him from being able to exploit it fully. We see this working when Reinhard’s plan to drill through the center of the Alliance forces is subverted by Yang predicting it and commanding the fleet to split and encircle the enemy instead, forcing them to continue out of the encirclement. Setting up Yang vs. Reinhard as the rivalry compelling the series from its core right from the beginning was an excellent move, and grounds the first arc in our desire to see them overcome the problems each of them faces within their own team until they are powerful enough to face one-another on their own terms.
These first two episodes immediately and spectacularly display the scale of Ginei’s conflict by way of gargantuan fleet illustrations, painstakingly composed to fit as many battleships into each frame of animation as possible while retaining formation. That particular saturation of detail is crucial to Ginei’s magic--everything is so thoroughly thought through that the story is able to fulfillingly reflect on human nature through the perspective of history, and to present the ebb and flow of war and civilization. With many conflicts and battles based on real historical events, Ginei proposes a future which it suggests to be inevitable on the basis of what has come before.
You will notice that even though Ginei is a science-fiction series spanning an entire galaxy in scope, it does not contain any presence or discovery of extraterrestrial life. Futuristic technologies that make its premise possible include artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel (here made possible through the discovery of subspace). Basically, you can generate a distortion in space-time to pass an object instantly across hundreds of light-years through subspace--a discovery which allowed humanity to colonize as much as they could of the entire 100,000 lightyears of the Milky Way galaxy hundreds of years into our future, and hundreds before the start of Ginei’s story. A history lesson bridging the history from our time to that of the story is given in brief across the Prologue chapter of the first book, and adapted later in the anime as a historical documentary being viewed by one of the characters. This is appropriate, given that the prologue is written in the exact same way, whereas the show in its entirety is written like a dramatic retelling of a real period in human history, with a narrator not only helping us to keep track of our place in the story, sometimes summarizing the ramifications which have rippled out over the galaxy as a result of the story’s events, but also commenting sometimes about the opinions of historians who have studied this period in time after it passed. It isn’t so much a historical record, since we witness events in real-time and get to hear the characters’ thoughts which they never transcribed anywhere; but we are nonetheless to consider that all of the events on-screen factually transpired in the history on which the narrator is reflecting in his summary of the story.
Specifically, Ginei is the legend of the largest military conflict in human history. It transpires over the largest imaginable distance of human occupation within a time period that it’s reasonable for people of our time to even consider imagining--and at the largest scale which is physically possible inside of that space. What Ginei’s history led to was the existence of two galactic superpowers defined by the shape of the galaxy itself. In order to maintain supply lines, starships usually need to remain within relatively short distance of occupied planets and supply stations that side with them. However, there is one part of space that’s extremely difficult to get from one side to the other of, except by way of two spacial corridors--one of which has only a single inhabited planet in the middle of it to make travel possible, and the other which was artificially made traversable when the Galactic Empire stuck a moon-sized fortress in the middle of it when they eventually had to deal with the emergence of a competitive nation-state in the form of the Free Planets Alliance (formed by those who fled the Empire in its fledgling state, and eventually colonized the other side of the galaxy).
In-between the two Galactic powers sits the planet Phezzan, which is nominally controlled by the Galactic Empire, but has been allowed to self-govern so that they can have a trade relationship with the FPA as well, and essentially act as a backend for both sides’ attempts to have dealings with one-another. As such, Phezzan’s existence is made possible by the continued state of conflict between the superpowers; and its flexibility in dealing with them is extremely lucrative to the people in charge of the place, so they try to keep that conflict going by stoking the fires on both sides wherever they can get away with it.
Meanwhile, the Iserlohn Corridor, wherein resides the Empire’s Iserlohn Fortress, is where the bulk of the fighting has taken place across the 150 years of this war’s ongoing stalemate. Every attempt the FPA has made to take the fortress has failed thanks to its massive laser cannon called Thor’s Hammer, and the Empire would lose too much trying to just ram all the way through Alliance territory, so both sides continue staging futile operations largely for the sake of justifying the existence of their own political structures, at the behest of the people who want to stay in charge of them. Something had to give eventually, and when the insurmountable genius of Reinhard von Lohengramm starts charging up the ranks of the Galactic Empire’s military, and Yang Wenli in kind has to be driven to deal with him, the conflict becomes deadly enough to begin a cultural upheaval that can finally break the stalemate in the bloodiest fashion that humanity might ever be able to see.
Watching these first episodes, I thought it was funny at first that fleet battles among spaceships essentially amount to three-dimensional versions of fleet battles among regular ships. But it makes sense that when you get to the point in mass production where you’ve literally saturated space with ships, and with all of them designed to be as fast and as deadly as possible, designed aerodynamically and with directionally-controlled laser canons, it does kind of feel like this is inevitably what space combat would have to look like. It’s not too dissimilar from the way that space combat is portrayed in director Ishiguro Noboru-san’s previous and equally seminal work, Superdimensional Fortress Macross, although instead of featuring transforming mecha called valkyries to perform the smaller aerial battle functions, it features… well, basically transforming mecha called Valkyrie that seem a little more down to Earth compared to anime’s usual fantasies. Whereas Macross was aiming to be a love story on the backdrop of great battles, Ginei is a story of great battles on the backdrop of greater battles.
There is clearly some level of fantasy to Ginei’s story, as it imagines hundreds of years of humanity’s unpredictable future by supposing yet-unproven scientific concepts to be discovered--but it tries its damndest not to overstate the impressiveness of humanity’s ingenuity. There is medical prosthetic technology, self-driving vehicles, terraforming, and other stuff which is already either becoming possible, or easy to predict is coming--but that’s pretty much it. Most of the stuff that humanity has perfected is that which is used to wage war. My favorite new discovery is the nigh-undetectable and highly explosive Zephyr particle, so often released onto battlefields that ground combat has returned to hand-to-hand, with warriors preferring axes in order to chop through the armored space suits that they fight in. Honestly, I’m willing to accept the extreme number of insane axe deaths as a fair trade for the lack of Gundams in this show as a concession to the rule of cool.
Still, it’s the meticulous attention to historically-influenced, romanticized realism which makes Ginei so noteworthy--and you’ll find it in every avenue of the show’s design. Most notable to me, as first pointed out by fellow anime youtuber Baka-Raptor, is that none of the characters has hair in front of their eyes or ridiculous hairstyles, because they are all dressed to military protocol. I have always found it strange and unfortunate how the anime adaptation of Tytania, based on a novel series from the same author as Ginei and directed once more by Ishiguro Noboru-san, opted for designs which make it much harder to take the story seriously with the immediacy that I did Ginei.
It actually gets pretty funny at times, going from an epic sci-fi space battle set to soaring classical compositions, straight into a completely normal-looking office full of guys in suits having conversations; or seeing characters sit around at home getting their news from the television; but that’s just how much Ginei remains grounded to the present to keep its story from getting too fantastical. Given its accurate perspective on human history as an endlessly repetitive cycle of political upheaval and war, it is interested less in imagining a future that transcends the past, and more in imagining a future that follows from it logically in the most predictable way that can still be simplified down into a compelling story over the course of what, for the scale of what it is attempting to imagine, is actually a pretty small amount of time.
There is so much tiny detail packed into making this future feel tangible and its characters and their conflicts believable so that it really feels like history in the making. You’ll gradually notice things like how guys in the FPA are always drinking tea and spiking it with Brandy, while the Empire’s admirals really like to down a wine glass and slam it on the ground. That’s going way beyond the obvious stuff you’ll notice immediately, like how the FPA is founded in Western democratic politics and socially resembles a miasma of the USA, UK, and modern Japan, whereas the Empire has been founded on iconography not dissimilar to the WW2 axis powers and an elite class pulled out of Revolutionary-era France, that worships Nordic Gods. FPA cities are bricked with unfathomably massive skyscraper blocks, and people mostly live in austere metallic apartments; meanwhile, commoners of the Empire mostly live on farms and are kept to simple lives while the elites eat through their taxes to live like pompous assholes.
Even more interesting are the ways the superpowers resemble one-another. Most of their technology is practically identical, as well as the tactics available to them in combat. Their militaries have similar cultures of viewing battle and death as glorious. Both governments are rife with corruption, and have tossed away countless lives to their careless commands. In neither culture is the study of history given great importance, and so Yang’s unique understanding of it is one of the biggest advantages he has in being able to tell what’s going on in the complicated political landscape surrounding him.
The third episode shows us the depth of the corruption in Yang’s society when he returns to his home planet of Heinessen to hang out with his adoptive son, Julian, and his military buddy, Dusty Attenborough. He is upset to see the FPA’s secretary of defence, Job Trunicht, who never appears on the frontlines of battle, giving a speech to glorify those who gave their lives, in the name of stoking the fires of war even further. Jessica Edwards, the wife of Jean Robert Lap, whom we saw dying with her picture in-hand in the first episode, arrives at the ceremony to ask Job where he was when her husband was giving his life for democracy. She is removed from the premises, and then attacked in the streets by a gang of zealous nationalist terrorists until Yang shows up to rescue and bring her home. This leads to a tactical battle between Yang’s friends and the Patriotic Knight Corp., up until Yang, who is acutely aware of Job Truhnit’s personal parental involvement in the PKC, calls on him directly to ensure Jessica’s safety or else incur his wrath. Afterward, as a result of his prowess during the opening battle, Yang is also given a promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral, and command of a small misfit fleet with which he is expected to produce a miracle by unexpectedly taking Iserlohn Fortress.
Episode four then explores the corruption in the Empire through showing the backstory of Reinhard and Kircheis’ childhood. Coming from a broke noble family, Reinhard enjoyed a humble middle-class upbringing as the nextdoor neighbor of Kircheis. Meeting Reinhard’s sister for the first time, Kircheis is instantly infatuated with her; and Annerose, seeing the slightly older and larger boy, asks him to take care of her younger brother--unwittingly defining the trajectory of the rest of that boy’s life as Reinhard’s second half. We are shown how Reinhard is not in need of protection in the literal sense, since he is more than willing to end any conflict that his bullies try to start by way of immediate retaliation. Really, Kircheis has to keep Reinhard from going too far and losing his humanity in psychopathic rage.
Reinhard’s mentality only gets worse when the sleazy Kaiser in charge of the Galactic Empire happens to see his older sister on the street one day and decides to take her as a concubine. His father sells out his own daughter to the Kaiser for the sake of status, and Annerose accepts her fate on the premise that Reinhard will have a better future. Really they have all put the future into the hands of the unimaginable rage of a young genius, who almost goes too far and gets himself in trouble trying to take immediate, violent retribution on the nobles that took his sister away, before escaping with Kircheis and making a vow to accumulate not only enough power to get his sister back, but also to ensure that no one could ever take anything from him ever again. Kircheis agrees to follow him in this ambition, and we have already seen the progress that each of them has made by only age twenty at the beginning of the show. It won’t be long before we see Reinhard give a similar speech again, this time outright declaring his intention to seize the entire Galaxy.
With that pack of introductory episodes, the stage has been set for the Chess Game of the Universe to play out--which was actually the original name of the first novel before it was published. It’s not a meme to say that this entire show is a game of 3D chess--besides the fact that characters are shown literally playing 3D chess in-universe multiple times. The whole thing plays out move by move; but we get a lot more context into what those moves actually look like beyond the abstraction of the game board by way of all that established worldbuilding and character motivation. After all, these pieces have a will of their own--and if Reinhard and Yang really had just been players sitting at a table against one-another, the battle wouldn’t have taken nearly as long or have told us nearly as much about the human condition. Instead, they are also pieces on the board--and none of the pieces is assigned permanently to any particular “side.” It is appropriate that Adrian Rubinsky, the Landlord of Phezzan and Lex Luthor type of the Ginei universe, is not talked about by other characters and involved in as many dramas as Yang or Reinhard. His manipulations often tip the balance of conflict so that it continues on, even at points when a power imbalance could’ve allowed one side the push to victory. Rubinsky is a shadowy figure lurking behind the scenes, always scheming a way to keep living like a kingpin and staying relevant to history, even if only a few people know his role in it.
Ginei strikes an excellent balance in how it paces its characterization, with some characters undergoing arcs across the first season, others being established just enough to catch our attention and hoping to see them fleshed out more in later seasons, and some whose stories are told in just one or two episodes, or who are killed off before the season is over. Some characters sort of come and go without really becoming likable or all that memorable, but serve important functions in operating the scale of the story. If I watched this show a few times, I would probably start paying more attention to minor bit characters whose stories didn’t last as long as the guys that end up sticking around to the end, but still did something interesting while they were around that made something else that was cool possible. Some of the most interesting episodes in the first season come as a result of cutting away to new characters that will only be around for an episode or two just to show us the ground-level effects of broadly sweeping tactical commands given by Reinhard. In this regard, the first season is perhaps the most chaotic--after all, the number of living souls in the universe is only to be reduced in massive chunks continually as the show presses on, while later seasons buckle down to get more involved in the intricacies of the conflicts between now better-established characters whom we really care about and want to see how long they can survive this bleak setting.
Reinhard von Lohengramm makes the most sense to consider the protagonist of Ginei because his ambition to seize the universe is the driving force behind all of the changes that ripple out through the story’s setting. Yang Wenli may be even more important to the heart and soul of the story, however, as he is painted as its moral center by his complete lack of desire to fight, distaste for war, and absolute belief in upholding democracy. Yang is always put into a reactive position because his only personal ambitions are to get to retirement as quickly as possible and continue studying history. Having grown up poor and lost both of his parents early, Yang joined the military because it was the only clear way towards any kind of livelihood, and because the military offered the only free ride to college which would allow him to study history. Ironically, the history program would be cut after just his first two years in school, so he ended up studying tactics for the next two years instead--and thus became the only person in the entire FPA with a firm understanding of the relationship between those two subjects, and how they should be definitional in the approach one takes to actually winning a war.
It’s hard to blame Yang for not wanting to push himself fighting for a government as corrupt and awful as the Free Planets Alliance has become by the start of the story. In spite of the military having practically swallowed the entire culture of the FPA, it is run incompetently at the behest of politicians who can’t imagine another solution to their crumbling economy and increasing debt to Phezzan other than continuing to try and beat back the Empire. At the very least, any minor victories they can rack up in this effort tend to spur the populace into jingoistic war support, and allow the politicians who encouraged those war efforts to keep their positions.
Yang doesn’t want to play ball with those kinds of people, but his ability to save the military from total humiliation time and again with his tactical acumen makes him very popular with those kinds of people; and so he is pushed into the role again and again in spite of his own protests and desire for other solutions. All of this is witnessed by the people directly surrounding him, who grow to share his indignation and exasperation with the ways of the state--and also to understand his viewpoint that leads him to his own decisionmaking. His adoptive son, Julian, is heavily inspired by Yang and wants to follow in his footsteps by joining the military; but also offers a somewhat harsher and less-nuanced perspective that Yang often hopes to course correct through his lectures. Frederica Greenhill is assigned to Yang’s fleet as his second in command, essentially as a way of keeping tabs on him as she is the daughter of his boss, and known for her perfect memory. She has a very positive opinion of Yang anyways from having been helped by him in the past, and continues following in his footsteps going forward.
Dusty Attenborough is one of Yang’s wise-cracking friends who knows how bad things are and isn’t trying to be quite as crushed about it as Yang. One of the great parts of Ginei is how in-between the uptight co-ordinated military discussions and climactic scenes of noble people totally losing their shit before getting killed, there are also quiet scenes of smart people having quippy conversations reflecting on what the events of the story have to say about human nature. If you’ve ever seen memes from this show, a lot of them come from these pithy conversations, such as the most famous one where Yang explains that he drinks because alcohol has been a friend to humanity for thousands of years, and he cannot abandon a friend.
Walter von Schenkopft is introduced clowning on some of douchebag Secretary of Defence Job Truniht’s friends, and therefore instant earns Yang Wenli’s respect, before we find out that he’s the captain of the Rozen Ritter--a group of badass foot soldiers that defected from the Empire to become the Alliance’s deadliest fighting force. Thanks to Schenkopft’s drawing suspicion from other people in the military, and Yang’s confidence that they will find trust in one-another, he ends up becoming a part of Yang’s fleet and one of his closest associates.
Jessica Edwards, the wife of Yang’s deceased best friend who also had feelings for Yang before she ended up with Jean, ends up getting further and further involved with politics--first leading a protest movement, and then a political party, and eventually even getting elected to office--though everything she does is constantly jeapordized and surrounded with violence thanks to its opposition to the political structure of the Alliance, and the extreme pull that Job Truniht has in mobilizing fanatics to silence his opposition.
On the Imperial side, Kircheis is fleshed out beyond his role as Reinhard’s right-hand man to become a representative of his conscience--especially when he becomes pitted against the second most-powerful voice influencing Reinhard’s decision-making, Paul von Oberstein. These two are like the angel and devil on Reinhard’s shoulders, compelling him through the arc that he will undertake over the first season.
Kircheis is established through his own mission in episode five as the galaxy’s kindest admiral, whose tactic is to swiftly overwhelm and disarm his opponents and then offer surrender. If he doesn’t have to, he would prefer not to kill anyone at all, and will always chose the tactic most capable of protecting life first. Oberstein, meanwhile, is only concerned with effectiveness. If the path to victory can be most quickly tread through a wall of human flesh, then he would tear through it without question. In this way, he is even more ruthless than Reinhard by nature, and naturally finds himself experiencing friction with the good-natured Kircheis.
Being that Reinhard’s true specialty may very well be his skill in accruing military talent to his side, we are introduced to a lot of strong admirals under his command over the course of the story. The two that get the most focus from the start are the good friends Oskar von Reuenthal and Wolfgang Mittermeier, who exist at first primarily to have pithy and fun conversations about the goings-on in the story from the perspective of working directly under Reinhard. As they continue to establish themselves as Reinhard’s most capable admirals, they will only grow in importance and rack up their own slew of noteworthy accomplishments over the course of the series, and are already noticeably fun characters within the span of the first arc.
Later into the arc, we will also meet my favorite woman in the Ginei universe, Hildegard von Mariendorf, who is as adept as Yang is at surveying the complications of her culture, and seeing how Reinhard is going to rise through all the crap and reset the state of the galaxy; but she is looking at it from inside the Empire as the daughter of a noble, and has the chance to tell Reinhard to his face just how sure she is of how his ambitions will play out, entertaining him to the point of deciding to consult with her from then on.
While I’m talking about each of the main characters individually, I’d also like to point out some of the stellar voice work that brings this show to life. Ginei is a playground for gruff old male voices of course, but it gets to explore a lot of nuance in that range by giving such particular roles to such interesting voice talent. Wakamoto Norio-san has long been one of my favorite Japanese voice actors, best known for his over-the-top comedic and villainous roles in more recent decades; but fans of Ginei will know that he can also be a subtle and simmering sober kind of strange from his performance of Oskar von Reuenthal. Shiozawa Kaneto-san’s chillingly hollow performance of Paul von Oberstein is so critical to the feel of the character that I couldn’t imagine him with another voice at all. Tomiyama Kei-san plays admiral Yang like a young dad whose voice has just started making him suddenly feel much older than his tender thirty-three years, before he’s ready. I’m just scratching the surface of all the great acting in the show, but these were some of my favorite performances that really defined its feel to me.
There are plenty of other interesting characters introduced in this arc, but I am by no means trying to make a definitive commentary on everything great about Ginei with this video. We will get into a marked spoiler section eventually so I can talk about some of the later character arcs and the themes that are explored by the story’s later twists and turns, but my foremost purpose with this video is to strongly recommend that you take the time to experience this series and to have it in your life. Like any other classic show that I know is worth returning to and continuing to discuss, I have every expectation that I will end up wanting to watch this show again in the future, and to be able to continue thinking about it and presenting those thoughts for the sake of discussion. There is no way that less is deserving to be said about Ginei than continues to be said about Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, or Dragon Ball Z as classics of its era.
Ginei’s impact on storytelling in Japanese fiction isn’t easy to trace, but there are shades of its execution in political sci-fi stories featuring tactical battles like the more popular Code Geass, and the not so popular short series, Starship Operators. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the story had also been an inspiration for Berserk author Miura Kentaro-san, as he cited science-fiction light novels such as the long-running Guin Saga as an influence as well, and the court scenes from Berserk as well as aspects of Griffith’s personality bear a striking resemblance to similar scenes from Ginei and the personality of Reinhard--though the setting and story of Berserk are vastly more romanticized for a fantasy context. Wikipedia tells me that Ginei apparently has been said to have had a huge influence on Chinese online literature, but doesn’t elaborate, and I have no more information about it. Aside from adaptations of Yoshiki Tanaka’s other work in the form of his military fantasy epic, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, which had an incomplete but absolutely gorgeous OVA adaptation in the 90s, and then a manga adaptation by Fullmetal Alchemist author Arakawa Hiromu-san which later got its own longer TV anime adaptation in the 2010s, as well as the aforementioned Tytania, which bears a stronger resemblance to Ginei that unfortunately makes comparison to it unfavorable, I think the story with the most thematic and presentational similarity to Ginei is probably Mobile Suit Gundam. They’re both about how war is hell and everyone is likely to die horribly thanks to their side’s corrupt intent, told from a historically recollective perspective; but Gundam is a lot messier and more fantastical about it, while Ginei tries to play things with as straight a face as it possibly can.
Crest of the Stars is another more quietly conversational science fiction novel adaptation, with a lot more focus on the two main characters and their relationship as the driving force of the narrative--but it still makes a sensical follow-up for straight-faced space politics. If you don’t want it so straight-faced, Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a sci-fi novel series adaptation with a much sillier protagonist that doesn’t take itself so seriously. I also have to recommend Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which is the most committed to just being a compelling and entertaining drama out of all of these space war epics. Bear in mind though that there is absolutely nothing quite like the experience of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
When I say absolutely nothing I am even including the more recent anime adaptation which has been undertaken by Production I.G., called Die Neue These. Starting with a twelve-episode TV anime which was recut into four short movies, which is the format that the series has gone forward with since, Die Neue These plays to design trends and uses animation techniques which sap the timeless feeling from the presentation. Everyone looks like a pretty anime boy even more so than before, with hair in front of their eyes and much simpler detail. While the CGi doesn’t look terrible, it dates the series more than the style of the original did, and doesn’t have the same aesthetic cohesion of the original’s unified media presentation. It doesn’t use classical music, either, which was integral to conveying the historical scale of Ginei by tying it, along with the visual design, to deep parts of humanity’s past.
Like all science fiction, there is a limit to how long Ginei’s story will keep making sense as a vision of the future--but much more captivating is the way it comments on the present. You will almost definitely find yourself drawing parallels between characters and events in this series and real-world politicians and events that you’ve witnessed within your lifetime, even if, like myself, you were born after the original novels were already complete. It is precisely because history repeats itself that Ginei is able to predict things that will almost certainly remain true of humanity’s present forever.
When I say that I consider Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu to be a 10/10 animated series, I want to clarify that it isn’t because it meets any kind of standard for perfection, as I don’t have one of those. I think audiences will likely find certain writing and presentation decisions awkward when watching the show, and maybe even disagree with its worldview in places, or find some of its characterization stilted. On some level, I think it’s challenging to find any of the characters truly lovable, considering that all of them are personally responsible for large amounts of death.
It isn’t just the scale of the series that makes it fantastic--actually, compared to the complexity of One Piece at this point, Ginei is almost simplistic--although it has a bigger weight on its shoulders narratively in that it has to preserve a sense of realism across the whole shaping of its universe. How well it accomplishes this may be a matter of debate, but the worldliness of its approach, with its deep grasp of history and extremely complex tactical and political scenarios, is almost unmatched in storytelling. Game of Thrones was never as compelling or complex in its political machinations, and ends up feeling like it has to sell itself on grimdarkness like a half-baked Berserk by the end, in comparison to how Ginei holds up all the way through. The scale and complexity is one thing, but the height of Ginei’s consistency is almost without compare. It might not be the prettiest anime ever made, but it gets the job done where it counts, and the art design is spectacularly tailored to telling the story most effectively. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine pulling off the same concept better than how this story did it, or adapting that story to animation more fulfilling than Kitty Film did. I think there is at least as much to love about this series as there is to love about my other favorite long-form anime stories, like Hunter X Hunter, Yuu Yuu Hakusho and Log Horizon; as well as more densely-packed favorites like Evangelion, Kill la Kill, K-On or Shirobako. In a way, it’s made it easier for me to draw a line in my list of favorite anime, because the only things I can think of that I know I could spend even more time loving and dissecting are Sangatsu no Lion or Gintama. I don’t know that I can come to love Ginei in the same personal way that I love some of those other shows, but I can still confidently call it a favorite.
I cannot say much more about the show’s themes and characters without getting into spoilers, so this is as far as the recommendation part of this video goes. If you’ve been sold on the show, I recommend watching it in its entirety as soon as possible. Wether you marathon ten episodes a day for eleven days, or take your time with two episodes a week for an entire year, it’s a journey that’s worth your time and will almost certainly give you food for thought about the world you live in, and present you with stories and characters that will inspire you, lingering in your mind and keep you coming back to the series for decades to come. If nothing I’ve said about the series yet makes you think that you’d be interested in watching it, then you probably won’t be; but if this seems like a show you’d enjoy on any level, you almost certainly will.
Spoilers can be difficult to avoid for this series, as it almost seems intent on even spoiling itself. Episode titles, next-episode previews, and even the narrator just telling us after certain conversations that these were the last ones the characters would ever have almost seem to be making fun of us--but even knowing a couple of major key spoilers going into the series, I was still surprised consistently with how those events actually played out, and impressed with how much the show kept me guessing down to the wire with red herrings and misdirects. It is a very cleverly written show that knows how to hit heavy every single time it needs to--and that great storytelling instinct keeps it compelling from start to finish. This is the last time I will urge you to watch the entirety of Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu before continuing with this video, as I will be spoiling the series in its entirety from this point forward. If you just want to know what the next episode of Anime Alphabet is about, H is going to be for Haibane Renmei.
To me it didn’t seem like Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu ever wanted its audience to believe that Reinhard would stop short of seizing the entire cosmos. All of the iconography, from the opening themes to the show’s posters make it pretty clear that watching Reinhard accomplish exactly what he says he’s going to do is exactly the point of the show--and the intrigue is entirely in watching how the journey from points A to B plays out. Ginei is the story of a generational shift that causes the total upheaval of a longstanding social stasis, which involves the largest loss of human life in all of the species’ history, as well as the biggest requisition of power ever attained at the hands of an individual person. Beyond just that it is a chess game or imagining the inevitability of humanity’s biggest war, it is most particularly the story of the foundation of humanity’s greatest empire.
The writing on the wall that the Alliance is going to lose horribly to the Empire is written right from the start of the show. Yang’s existence only barely gives the Alliance enough edge not to get instantly overtaken by Reinhard’s determination; and it’s immediately obvious that the Alliance just doesn’t have the power structure to deal with Reinhard after he seizes control over the Empire at the end of the first season. The only way that Yang could’ve competed with Reinhard directly would’ve been to copy his autocratic tactics and, even if only briefly, acted as the supreme commander of mankind until its unification. To do this would be to disobey the fundamental principles guiding Yang’s behavior, and so of course he never seizes the opportunity, even after the collapse of the Alliance. If he was ever going to just succumb and work for Reinhard, he would’ve done so by defecting right at the beginning of the story to join the team that he predicted was going to win the entire time. Instead, Yang’s existence is representative of the ideological heart which will keep humanity from ever totally accepting even the most effective autocratic rule except by force.
Over the course of the first season we witness the total upending of power structures governing both superpowers as their conflict escalates. Reinhard roots out the malefactors in his own society by process of elimination, until he rises through a lucky power vacuum and inspires the largest civil war in human history when other factions of nobility foolishly attempt to thwart his reign to continue the lives they’re used to. The Alliance, meanwhile, is upended by its own idiocy--its last-ditch efforts to keep the war politically popular backfiring, and Reinhard’s manipulations easily sparking a rebellion amid their ranks led by Frederica Greenhill’s father, just for the sake of keeping the Alliance busy while he handles his own civil war.
How Reinhard ends his civil war and his power sweep afterward ends up being the defining show of his character that puts him on the tragic course to the end of the universe. When his opponent, Prince Braunschweig, decides to nuke a planet under his control completely off the map for disobeying him, Reinhard has the opportunity to stop him. However, Oberstein proposes that they allow the attack to happen, as it will turn the rest of the planets against Braunschweig and make it easy to finish him off. Reinhard is disgusted at the thought, and knows in his heart that if Kircheis had been there to help him think about it, he would’ve began from the position of dismissing the thought outright and looking for the best alternative solution. Instead, Reinhard decides to sleep on it, based on Oberstein’s statement that the attack is to take place in six hours--however, when he wakes up four hours later, the attack has already occurred. Oberstein claims that he sent a fleet to intercept the attack anyways which didn’t make it in time, but he was able to get a camera drone there in time to capture footage of the attack and broadcast it through the Empire, so Reinhard concludes that Oberstein must have lied to him about when the attack was going to happen. Nonetheless, he considers this only to have been possible because of his indecision on resolving the matter, and blames himself.
When Kircheis approaches Reinhard about this decision, Reinhard does not attempt to apologize for his responsibility in the matter, but instead defends the reasoning by which it happened, and reminds Kircheis of his place as Reinhard’s underling--ultimately fracturing their friendship upon which Reinhard has always relied for strength. It isn’t long after this that Kircheis is killed protecting Reinhard from an assassination attempt, and the sense that Reinhard is never going to really be the same is immediately palpable to anyone. In this moment, his emotional defeat is as cemented in place as his inevitable victory over the universe. No matter how far he goes in realizing his ambition for the sake of the ideals it was founded on, he will never be able to know happiness in the universe which he conquers without his best friend to share it with. Even his sister, who has now lost the man she secretly reciprocated love for to her brother’s ambition, decides that she can no longer live under his direct supervision, and Reinhard resolves not to see her at all until after he has seized the universe.
I think it’s definitely true that history became worse than it would’ve been after the death of Kircheis, although it also causes Reinhard to become more hastily rounded as a person. One of my favorite parts of Reinhard’s character is how he’s so resistant to disagreeable information that he will refuse to look at people when they say things he doesn’t want to hear. This behavior holds up over the whole series, but we will never see him so willing to suffer someone’s words as he’d been with Kircheis. Even when he eventually finds love with Mariendorf, it is after having asked her in a fury why she is allowed to have brought him as much news that he didn’t want to hear as she has by that point in the series. Reinhard at once becomes darker and more ruthless in his tactics without Kircheis, but also softer and more protective toward the people around him, with more and more value put into his other subordinates, like Oberstein always felt there should have been--and even a great deal of affection poured into a young man that reminds him of Kircheis and ends up working as his doctor.
With Reinhard in emotional shambles, and the FPA reeling from its own idiocy as it just barely keeps empire invasion at bay at Iserlohn Fortress, it is time for Rubinsky to be doing the winning for a while--and whenever Rubinsky is winning is when Ginei is at its most necessarily frustrating. Watching Yang, whom the FPA is practically solely reliant on for its continued existence at this point, kidnapped and forced to undergo days of idiotic hearings thanks to Rubinsky’s manipulations leaves us feeling little need for the FPA to go on existing as it is, and turns all of Yang’s direct backers pretty firmly out of love with their government. All of this, only for the hearings to be put to a stop and Yang begged back into his position as soon as Reinhard takes control of the game board again by setting off one of the show’s most satisfying battles between a pair of planet-sized fortresses.
For the rest of this season, which I will call the “Ending of the Great War Arc,” we are practically just watching the death spiral of the Free Planets Alliance in excruciating detail. There is no real hope for victory on the part of the FPA--at best, they might hope to broker some kind of peace (and Yang Wenli is sure that if Kircheis were still alive then that’s exactly what they would be attempting)--but with Job Truniht having taken control of the government thanks to opposing the military operation that he knew the FPA was going to lose earlier, there is little chance of the FPA making any kind of peaceful decisions; and soon enough they have teamed up with remnants of the nobility that have kidnapped the seven year-old Kaiser-in-name-only that Reinhard technically rules under to show Reinhard’s supposedly lacking moral character; all of which is only happening because Rubinsky is trying to create an excuse for the Galactic Empire to put an end to the Alliance once and for all, and allow Phezzan to continue to exist as the financial operations base of the Empire.
A bulk of this arc is dedicated to showcasing the ironic contrast of history’s best-run autocracy versus its worst-run republican democracy. Reinhard is so capable of popular reform and has so much trust from his constituency that the population is legitimately happy to be under his rule; but to be satisfied with allowing the reign of any autocratic power is unacceptable to the idealists of democracy such as Yang and the Alliance’s oldest trusted admiral, Bucock. No matter how great a ruler Reinhard himself may be, the systems he governs by will still lead to problems as soon as he isn’t in charge. Yang’s commitment to enacting the will of democracy is such that he even accepts how the results are often foolish. (Better to have been hoist by the foolishness of a majority than by the will of an individual, I suppose?)
Personally, I am inclined to disagree with Yang that the FPA is even truly democratic to begin with. Considering how much the political class is capable of exterminating competition and manipulating the populace, it seems more fair to consider them an autocratic government with a step or two removed. I think Julian’s perspective later on, that democracy will eventually make sense again after Reinhard’s era is over, ends up being a more responsible mentality than dying on the hill of absolute loyalty to democracy as Yang ends up doing.
I don’t want to describe all the complications in how the power struggle between Phezzan, the FPA, and the Empire play out, but I do want to summarize a few of my favorite moments along the way there. Ginei is crammed with such a huge number of characters so that none of them can be tasked to have done an unreasonable amount of awesome things. Rank and reputation do a lot to signify us of the greatness of certain characters, but there are only so many things that anyone could accomplish of true impressiveness in the course of the show--and no one comes close to achieving as much of that as Yang Wenli, including Reinhard himself in terms of impressive tactical maneuvers on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, there are characters like Schenkopft who are awesome to watch in action, and geniuses like Oskar von Ruenthal who comes close to conquering Yang’s Iserlohn fortress--only to be fended off in a knife fight against Schenkopft. This was one of my favorite action scenes in the show, because it was the first time that two proven badasses with lots of buildup behind them came into a one-on-one clash; and I was tense with excitement over the thought that either of them was satisfyingly awesome to be the person that killed the other--but I was also relieved not only that both combatants survived this encounter, but that they would continue to be fleshed out so heavily over the rest of the show.
One of the things I find most genius about Ginei is how it deliberately sets up situations that are meant to create mixed feelings in the viewer by seeming more satisfyingly historical than satisfyingly dramatic. During the one clash between Reinhard and Yang at full power, Yang has Reinhard’s life within his hands, and narrowly misses the chance to likely end the Galactic Empire then and there because of the last-minute arrival of other admirals thanks to the advice of Mariendorf leading them ahead. Reinhard lives in the shadow of having spiritually lost to Yang and never truly gotten the chance for revenge for the rest of the series; and the way that Yang eventually dies couldn’t have even made sense as anything other than a way to blueball Reinhard even worse; but I think it all shakes out as fair in the grand scheme of what this conflict really always was. If the Free Planets Alliance had ever been a well-organized government that listened to Yang the way that the Empire listens to Reinhard, then he probably could have won the war years ago. Yang would have to seize autocratic decisionmaking to make this happen as Reinhard did, and his unwillingness to have done that is what allowed the Empire to ever stand a chance against him in the first place. Yang was never going to lose the tactical battle to Reinhard--it was always an ideological battle he was fighting against himself that guided his actions.
Reinhard’s greatest skill was always the acquisition of power by way of talent, which he managed by rewarding only loyalty and merit, and harshly penalizing faults in either. Yang was always stuck with whatever he could get, while Reinhard was always taking whatever he wanted--and what he wanted most was anyone that could come close to doing the exact same thing that he was doing, and who only submitted to him because he was clearly the best person to lead the operation. Past Yang, Bucock, and Attenborough, as well as Merkatz for the period when he is an admiral in Yang’s fleet--all of whom could be considered among the ranks of the best admirals alongside the most heralded of Reinhard’s command--there is no one else in the FPA that compares to the next ten or fifteen or Reinhard’s best guys.
Even if she can’t truly replace Kircheis, being as she never ends up commanding troops herself, Mariendorf reaches a point of understanding and effect on Reinhard that she can start to act as the brighter part of his conscience, and to fill in the gaps of his reasoning as Kircheis did. As much as he may hate to hear disagreement, Reinhard loves to fill his world with people that disagree with him, or even go behind his back to ensure that his will is protected. Whereas the people around Yang Wenli are desperately trying to soak up as much of his wisdom as possible so they can step into helpful roles themselves, the people around Reinhard are pushing him to ever-greater heights by actively trying to outwit him and improve his decision-making. It is not really a surprise, then, that even when he loses the close-range tactical space battle to Yang, he ultimately wins the broader meta-battle by way of the protection he has all the way across the vastness of space. In this way, I think Reinhard’s victory is only as unfair as the fact that he and Yang were never really playing the same game in the first place.
Season three, which I will call the “Unification of the Universe Arc,” is the longest of the series, and even more saturated in the tone of inevitability than the last two. At this point, Reinhard practically has seized the universe--it is only a matter of ironing out exactly what that looks like for everyone that’s still around living inside of it. The FPA doesn’t want to stop existing, so they agree to continue operation under the Empire’s rule, which it seems like the Empire mostly allows so they don’t have to immediately have to set up new governing bodies. Yang is content to fuck off and retire now that the Alliance military shouldn’t have a purpose, so he marries Frederica and settles down for a while before inevitably becoming the target of everyone in the universe’s desires as one of the few people effective at getting anything done therein. The more he doesn’t want to do what anyone else wants him to do, the more they see fit to just start forcing him into position, until he’s got no choice but to either fight off basically everyone and start his own society, or let himself get killed.
In the end, he kind of does both--but it’s a long tease. Even if you aren’t spoiled for the fact of Yang’s death like I was, you’re likely to sense it coming from much earlier in the story just by the nature of its conflict; and Ginei takes advantage of that to keep planting red herrings and twists in-between Yang’s marriage at the start of the season and his death towards its end.
By this point in the story, enough of the universe is already dead that we have more time to hone in on the main characters and really start fleshing them out through more interactions. Julian is the main operative for this to occur on the Alliance side, as the older men on his team are always looking to pour their influence into the promising young man; and in soaking in all of their personalities through the lens of his loyalty to Yang’s ideals, he starts to become his own interesting thinker and leader that will obviously be tasked to take Yang’s place.
Oskar von Reuenthal’s bizarre and somewhat troubling relationship with the woman whom he trapped in his house after she tried to kill him makes for a fascinating background narrative in how it showcases his eccentricity and peculiar relationship toward women. He insists throughout her pregnancy that he will have the child aborted, but never does. At every turn in his journey, he finds himself pondering the fact that no one would be better suited to turn on Reinhard at any moment--even though he always finds himself convinced that he probably wouldn’t do such a thing. It’s almost as if the law of attraction pulled him to that fate, as he would eventually get set up in such a way that seeming guilty of rebellion gives him the excuse to finally lean in and just go for it in the final season.
Oberstein doesn’t change much over the course of the show, but it’s interesting to see the way that other admirals grow in contempt for him over time, suspecting his pulling the strings that lead to the death of Kircheis. Whether Oberstein really did even think that getting Kircheis killed was a good idea or not, the most astute observation someone makes about him is that he seems willing to take on all of the most hateable roles and positions, as though he is preventing anyone else from having to do the same. Considering his introduction to Reinhard, Oberstein seems to see himself as someone only granted the opportunity to even exist by having been born in a more liberal era; and therefore lucky in every moment he gets to keep surviving. To him, being despised is a step up from the natural genetic destiny considered for someone like him; and therefore he will take on the responsibility of being the most hated person in the Empire, so that Reinhard can be the most loved. I don’t think he truly views himself as belonging to a lower position then Reinhard, but rather as the other side of that great power’s coin. In this way, I think that for all of his seedy tactics, Oberstein truly wants what is best for Reinhard more than anyone, and probably didn’t actually intend for Kircheis to be killed in such a way, or even for Reuenthal to be put into the position that he is during the final season. I think it’s more fair to say that Oberstein’s existence contributed to the ability for those things to happen, even if they weren’t his exact intent--and that it’s understandable to heap some responsibility for those things onto him for the same reason that it’s okay to heap responsibility for things which he did intend to let happen, like the Westerland incident, onto Reinhard.
The series of battles leading up to Yang’s death are epic and awesome, as we truly see the depth of the Iserlohn Corridor’s tactical usefulness; but are also tinged as always with knowing that Yang is only giving Reinhard what he would describe as a “less-complete” victory. I kept thinking from the second season on, that the Empire surely has enough raw military force that if they just kept sending wave after wave of them at the Alliance, they would eventually win--it would just leave them with such a dwindled military and reduced population that it wouldn’t be worth doing. Still, no matter how costly Yang can make it to take him out, it’s pretty clear within a few episodes of this season that the universe will stop at nothing to kill this man, because the concept of his existence is both too precious and too dangerous to continue. It’s not even fair to say that Yang had to die because of his ideals, because as soon as he’s gone, Reinhard allows the people of Iserlohn to go on existing and trying to plan their own independent government, because Reinhard just doesn’t care anymore. Yang’s existence as the greatest tactical genius in the galaxy meant that anyone with intent on ruling the galaxy needed him either on their side, or dead--and Yang didn’t want to be on anyone’s side.
There’s a great scene in the first season in which Frederica and Julian discuss her first meeting with Yang, when he organized the evacuation of millions of citizens and first earned his reputation as a hero. Julian wonders if Yang’s life would’ve been easier if he hadn’t lead that cause in the first place and developed that reputation, which Frederica refutes by pointing out that he most likely would’ve been a prisoner of war instead. Everything in the setting really follows from this principle to some degree--no one necessarily wanted to be fighting in this war, so much as that they found themselves involved in it because of the totality of its effect on society. It’s hard to say what Yang would’ve ended up doing if he never joined the military, because we don’t learn much in the show about what life is like for civilians on either side of the conflict; but the only reason he did so was because he didn’t have any other opportunities, and wanted the chance to study history. Every step of the way, everyone in this conflict is stepping into the shoes that fit them--and in Yang’s case, those just happened to be massive shoes that he didn’t want to wear.
Yang was never really in a fair fight against anyone because of the misfortune of his birth; but he also ultimately went down for the preservation of his ideals. I do find him kind of selfish in that he drags his entire crew into this losing battle over ideals which many of them feel much less strongly about, and would rather encourage him to try taking control and putting up more of a fight even though they end up making the decision to obey their loyalty to him anyways. I think the story lets everyone else and even Yang’s soul off easy by only killing him, and then letting his ideals potentially live on with the people that he inspired. Or maybe it’s fair to say that his ideals were so inspiring in how they led him to greatness, even in the eyes of his enemies, that they couldn’t truly bring themselves to let those die out. Either way, the death of Yang casts an enormous shadow over the whole rest of the story, and once more cements Reinhard into the pit of misery that one of the people who made his living worthwhile has been erased again.
Ginei’s final arc is the only one in which true dramatic surprises occur, and feels less inevitable than what came before. I think its desire to give strong dramatic closure to all of its most interesting characters is a noble one, and it preserves a sense of tragic historicity in how these events are portrayed even if I also get the feeling that Tanaka Yoshiki-san was trying to tie as big of a bow on the series as he could so it could have a sense of real closure. As much as I would enjoy a sequel following Felix Mittermeyer and Alexander Siegfried von Lohengramm into adulthood, in a world wherein Julian has become a more legendary figure than Yang ever was, it’s hard to imagine accomplishing this without treading too much of the same ground that the first series already did. I do find the ending of the series to have been immensely satisfying, even if I don’t think all of what happens in the final arc felt as necessary to the story’s foundational communication as what had came before.
Much of the drama in the final arc is created by the Church of Terra, which goes to show just how much easier it is to create destruction and chaos than to be the genius that can bring the whole universe together. The insane cultists, willing to make life difficult for anyone they’re told to by their nonsense-spouting leaders, make a convenient political tool for both sides at various points; and so it might be that everyone deserved to be undone by them that was, bastardly as the cult truly is. Much of what they instigate throughout this arc is mostly done to frustrate the viewer, but also create the context for a bunch of characters to make badass final stands that we are likely to always remember them for, even if they never should’ve been in those positions--but then, none of what happened here really should have happened, I suppose.
If Reuenthal was always fated to die, then it was for the same reason as Yang Wenli--there just can’t be this many people with this much power running around inside the universe. Even Oskar himself realized this over and over again, almost like he’s accidentally activating the law of attraction to pull a reason for his rebellion into his life. He is so easily set up that it’s hard to imagine he could’ve made it too long without someone trying to do it; and since he’s a completely insane person, he just kind of runs with it to the end. For us, this means getting to see one of the wildest tactical space battles involving some of the greatest tacticians performing at their heights, as well as one of the coolest dragged-out deaths in anime history; and yet all of it is bitterly frustrating to have to watch happen to one of the show’s best characters at the behest of its most hateable.
At the very least, Oskar uses his impending death to commit an act of absolute necessary good in murdering Job Truniht. I think it tells us a lot about the feelings of Ginei as a story overall that Truniht is one of the only characters whose head we’re never really allowed inside of. We don’t hear his thoughts, and his expression is perpetually inscrutable. It’s almost as if Tanaka Yoshiki-san was saying that he knows this kind of hyper-politician exists, but doesn’t understand how someone can think like them enough to even write about it. Everyone in the show hates Truniht from the beginning, except for himself--and we eventually learn that the feelings are mutual. When he finally monologues to Reuenthal, he reveals such an active contempt for everyone that isn’t himself that it disgusts Reuenthal to the point of murdering him on the spot, just to ensure that his rot cannot infest the new reich.
Reuenthal’s rebellion doesn’t feel necessary, strictly speaking, from a narrative standpoint, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanaka-san had planned for him to have to fight his best friend Mittermeyer and then leave him to care for his newborn son from as far back as when he first introduced the woman that would birth his child and the fact that Mittermeyer’s happy marriage hadn’t produced any offspring. It is such a dramatically satisfying arc that even though it can’t possibly be as “good,” in the sense of fulfilling a sort of storytelling necessity in the world, like how the first three seasons did, it is still one of the most memorable and emotionally effecting parts of the whole show just because of how much Tanaka-san understands how to give fittingly characteristic endings to his characters’ lives--as is pointed out a few times by survivors.
Likewise, I still haven’t completely understood how it was necessary for Julian to end up fighting against the Empire at the end, and it seems almost preposterous that Iserlohn’s forces weren’t completely wiped out, except that the story is anticipating its own trajectory towards ending. With the passing of Merkatz and Shenkopft, one can’t help but think that these men, like Reinhard, just couldn’t really have existed in an era that wasn’t defined by warfare, and were bound to find a place to die before this whole affair was over. Still, the feeling that the show was just giving a last round of characters a chance to die in the final stretch of episodes was sitting with me as I watched Julian’s team getting picked off on his way to confronting the kaiser, only for Reinhard to be an audience to Julian’s peace talks that I feel like he probably would’ve been willing to hear out in another non-violent context regardless.
It is the impending death of Reinhard which casts the biggest shadow over the show’s final episodes, leading into one of the finest ending episodes of a TV show I have ever seen. Every stage of Reinhard’s lengthy and strangely serene death is gripping, and there is this palpable sense that this man who existed for no purpose but to do what he has already accomplished simply perished by way of lack of needing to exist anymore. His inability to raise his son hardly even seems tragic when we consider that his only relationship to his own parents had ever been the hatred of his father, and that he never really knew how to live any kind of lifestyle beyond the battlefield. Maybe his child won’t take after him at all, and will be just the ruler that a time of peace needs--or maybe he’ll be assassinated before his first birthday; we will never know.
That Reinhard is in the middle of dying when Oberstein tricks the last of the Earth Cult into coming to his house so everyone there can make a go of finally wiping them out is the ultimate Oberstein moment; and it wouldn’t be right if a battle wasn’t happening just outside of the room that Reinhard was dying in. It also wouldn’t be right if the surprising satisfaction of getting to watch Julian gun down the leader of the Terra Cult in the name of vengeance for Yang wasn’t immediately followed by the sorrowful realization of Oberstein’s mortal wounding. My favorite heartfelt moment in the entire series is when Mariendorf tells Reinhard that Oberstein is too tied up to come see him, and Reinhard remarks how that man does always have a reason to be somewhere. It’s strangely adorable to think that Reinhard went to death believing that at least Mittermeyer and Oberstein were still around to protect his legacy, and that he went out thinking fondly of Oberstein without ever knowing that he died first. The softer Reinhard that we see at the end of his life couldn’t have existed in this world for long; but I found him to be a pleasure to watch, as we can really feel the sense of how Reinhard, while he may always have chosen to be who he was so that he could've have the effect that he did, never truly wanted to be that guy, and could’ve been a much gentler and kinder soul if he didn’t have the role to fill that he did.
Before I am done speaking about this series for now, I have to give thanks to former anime bloggers Ghostlightning and Thaliarchus, whose writing on the show from over a decade ago first introduced me to and prepared me for how to think about it, and which I just revisited and enjoyed again finally knowing what they were talking about. I also have to thank Baron J for the most complete effort in describing what happens in every episode, which I could refer back to for help in finishing this video. Any of them would agree with me that there is way, way, way more to be said about Ginei than any of us have managed or than I’ve seen in discussion online, and that’s kind of a shame. It’s only because the show is so big and so daunting that not only is there little discussion of it in the first place, but even those of us who have seen it all feel like we have only scratched the surface of getting all we can out of it on just one viewing.
Ginei’s straight-facedness and historicity give it a special feeling as a narrative experience, and especially as an animated series. I can’t think of another story that feels as well-considered or as understanding of human nature and history, even if it is maybe somewhat standoffish on the emotional level. I can’t think of another anime I would describe as being more mature than this one, even if there might be shows that have a more mature understandings of certain subjects or experiences and communicate more precisely. There is a stiltedness that can’t help but come from a straight-faced animated epic political space drama--but it is less so even than the stilted cheesiness of Star Trek or Mass Effect or anything else that tries to be serious about thinking through a future for humanity--and it is certainly more bleak in its predictions than those. Great as its characters are, and impressive as it is to witness the breadth of the story’s ambition, I really do think that the palpable feeling of realness is what makes the series most unique and noteworthy and compels so many to consider it as one of the greatest shows of all time. It just nails that combination of classily worldly storytelling and brutally heart-killing drama in a way that even the best HBO shows only pretend to on their way to middling conclusions.
I mentioned before that there are three films and more than fifty episodes of side-stories for Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, though most of it seems pretty fanservicey and unnecessary from what I’ve read as compared to the original story. Nonetheless, I will make another video convering all of that content as soon as this video reaches fifty thousand views; and provided this video doesn’t completely bomb, I’d love to keep revisiting Ginei in the future. Even though it took me more than a decade from when I first checked out an episode of the series to when I finished it, I feel as though my relationship to this anime has only just begun and like I haven’t been able to find yet the surely unfathomable number of words I could spill about it. There is so much packed in here that it deserves a surgical dissection--and that isn’t so easy to perform on such a massive body. Nevertheless, I think this show can still be more interesting to talk about today or tomorrow than most of what will newly be released in that time.