Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn
by Yoshiki Tanaka
Translated by Daniel Huddleston
Originally published in Japanese by Tokuma Shoten (1982)
Published in English by Haikasoru (2016)
In the far future, the monarchy of the Galactic Empire and the democracy of the Free Planets Alliance clash in deep space, fighting for ultimate supremacy in a great war that has lasted centuries. Evenly matched, neither side can gain ground against the other. However, two great commanders arise for each side: Reinhard von Lohengramm, born to an irresponsible father and forced t work his way up the ranks of the Imperial military, and Yang Wen-li, a middle-class boy who only wanted to study history, but got pushed into the Alliance military because it was the only way to pay for his education. As the two commanders battle each other in the depths of space, they develop a rivalry that will decide the future fate of their respective nations.
This is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a fine political drama.
Note that last sentence. Despite the story’s title, this is a political drama more akin to The West Wing than a slam-bang zap-pow adventure like Star Wars. The way in which battle and non-battle scenes are written makes this clear; the political fate of a character is made every bit as dramatic as their physical fate in battle. The universe is drawn in excessive detail, and the political subject matter is handled with great maturity — despite it being about a war between a Space Empire and a Space Democracy, there is no cheap virtue signalling or holier-than-thou attempts by the author to make himself seem more enlightened, though there is some chest-thumping about liberty and one dismissive reference to “white men of Germanic stock.” (On top of that, the Imperial characters are never made out to be Chaotic Evil monsters — the Free Planets Alliance, by contrast, actually comes off pretty badly.) Furthermore, the story has a large, epic scope that lends a sense of grandeur to the setting. Overall, the story has a calming effect that leaves the mind with much to think on.
However, in spite of these strengths, Galactic Heroes has significant weaknesses that drag it down. Despite the author’s knowledgeable discussion of tactics, battle is not the author’s strong suit; it comes off like cold oatmeal most of the time. Even the better-written political scenes do not have enough emotion in them; they talk, but they do not feel. Nobody gets in anyone’s face, shouts them down, or slugs someone in a fit of anger even though lives are at stake. For a war story, it lacks grit and grime; everything’s too pretty and proper, and this extends to battles. While the story in and of itself is interesting, the execution could use some serious work.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an interesting political drama with great ideas and much food for thought about politics, war, and peace. However, its thorough lack of emotion holds it back from being truly great. At best, the book is an acquired taste. However, I highly recommend it to fans of the animated adaptation.
You may purchase this work on Amazon.
EDIT (8/3/2017): Removed dead link and lyrics.