Legend of the Galactic Differences

by Christopher Farris,

In adapting any work, changes and concessions must be made - it's the nature of different mediums to have different storytelling priorities. In the case of a massive work like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the choices for what to adapt and how to go about it are wide-open, endlessly remixable according to the whims of those working on it. The original novels comprise a rich and expansive sci-fi world ripe for adaptation, and the original OVA series set a standard by which all future adaptations would be judged. In this current season, Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These ambitiously puts forward a brand-new take on the material. How the different versions of the story go about adapting it reflect their different choices in sensibilities. As an example, we can analyze how all the versions of this story interpret its opening chapter: The Battle of Astarte.

Aside from a prologue section in the book (represented by brief explanatory voice-overs in the anime versions) and the prequel movie My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, LOGH's story doesn't start at the beginning of the conflict between the Free Planets Alliance and the Galactic Empire. Rather, we join this war 150 years in-progress at the Battle of Astarte because it represents the first meeting of the story's two central characters: The Alliance's Yang Wen-Li and the Empire's Reinhard von Lohengramm. This is the story that sparks the rivalry of these two strategists, and it plays out basically the same across all versions.

The Galactic Empire is making moves to invade the Astarte system, and an Alliance fleet has been dispatched to intercept and stop them. The Alliance fleet outnumbers the Imperials two-to-one, and Commander Reinhard's older subordinates believe themselves outmatched, suggesting he retreat. Reinhard however pushes through with a seemingly daring plan to race to the divided thirds of the Alliance fleets before they can group up and surround them, using the individual numerical advantage to pick them off one-by-one. He is successful with this plan against the first two fleets, but after an attack on the Alliance Second Fleet incapacitates their commanding officer, the level-headed Commodore Yang Wen-Li is placed in charge. Yang successfully leverages a last-minute maneuver against Reinhard's intended spindle-formation finish to come around behind the Imperial fleet, forcing them into an outrageous circular battle formation. Facing nothing more than a battle of attrition, Reinhard orders his fleet to pull off, just as Yang has the Alliance do the same. The Empire is fended off from their invasion of Astarte for the time, and though the Alliance suffered ten times their enemy's losses, they ‘succeed’ by not falling in the face of that.

For what it's worth, the strategic soundness of the tactics deployed in this fantasy battle are often debated. However, as much as LOGH often attempts to make a spectacle of its wide-ranging games of spaceship chess, the real point of this story is to establish the characters and tone as they will be presented moving forward. Reinhard's daring command style, and how it contrasts with his stuffy older colleagues, is the reason his strategy is laid out the way it is. Yang, meanwhile, is shown to have his ideas outright disregarded by his superiors until they have no choice but to follow them, after which he is proven right. The way the battle plays out puts a heavy emphasis on the numbers involved, with each side jockeying for numerical advantage; whoever initiates a confrontation with such an advantage wins. It drives home the ‘realistic’ manner of war conflict this series presents: No Newtypes in ace custom units are going to be able to single-handedly turn the tide of battle in this setting. These are the basics of Legend of the Galactic Heroes across all versions of its framework. When it comes to their specific storytelling goals, the devil is of course in the details.

The most immediately-obvious difference between how the books, the OVA, and new anime present these events is the order in which they are shown. In the original novel, the first of two chapters ostensibly set in this conflict spends a meager amount of time introducing Reinhard and his battle plan as well as Yang, before repeatedly diving into backstory content for the both of them. These digressions are covered in degrees in later episodes of the different anime adaptations, and could merit their own discussion in how they adapt and alter the material. But with respect to the story of the Battle of Astarte being told here, their mere inclusion immediately sets the novel apart from its successors.

Right away, this difference indicates the novel leveraging its medium for the story. The LOGH novels don't have quite as much of a ‘History Book’ feel as you might expect, but from the extended prologue through these detours into character backstory, author Yoshiki Tanaka is clearly aware of the space he has in the writing to do such things. Editorial mandates and basic pacing aside, there is no hard space or time-limit to fill with text fiction, so if a lengthy section introducing us to the characters is deemed necessary, it can be inserted with little issue. As a result, by the end of the first proper chapter of the story, we as readers already have a fairly detailed picture of who Reinhard and Yang are as they prepare to face each other.

By cutting these flashbacks out for the sake of the pacing, both LOGH anime find themselves working with the characters in a more limited capacity. This is particularly apparent in Die Neue These: Its first episode focuses almost entirely on Reinhard, with little introduction to him aside from showcasing his supposed tactical genius and the old commanders who initially don't believe in it. Reinhard does at least have a built-in sounding board from the source material in Siegfried Kircheis, his right-hand-man with whom he discusses his ideas and feelings. Amusingly, the books specify that Reinhard and Kircheis actually carry on their more casual conversations within a sound-proof field on the bridge. In a similarly silly manner, Die Neue These's penchant for increased drama slips in a line from Kircheis where he's explicitly concerned the Alliance may have a commander as brilliant as Reinhard, before Yang is properly introduced.

In the case of Yang, the anime adaptations have to get a bit more creative when trying to define his character within the constraints of the medium. The Yang of the book, aside from the aforementioned flashbacks, only engages in relatively short strategic discussions with his commanders while the rest of his character is communicated via musing internal monologues. This works fine in text (and highlights Yang's somewhat withdrawn nature) but wouldn't make for particularly thrilling storytelling. Both anime solve this by adding characters. In the OVA, Yang's friend Attenborough is present at the battle with him, while in Die Neue These he meets Lao early on, a bit character from late in the book's version of the event. Both of these characters fulfill the same role Kierchies does for Reinhard, giving Yang someone to interact with on friendly terms so we can get a handle on his character without straight monologues or backstory dives. These friends he banters with have the side-effect of making Yang a bit more socially likable than his novel version, who came off as reclusive in the early going.

Those added characters aren't the only thing they added to make Yang a little less withdrawn. The section detailing the fall of the Alliance's Sixth Fleet in the books is told through the eyes of an officer named Jean Robert Lapp, showing the prideful incompetence of his commanders and how he and the rest of the group are led to their deaths as a result. Lapp is later revealed to be a classmate and acquaintance of Yang, engaged to their mutual friend Jessica, and this is brought up much more quickly in the anime versions. Die Neue These even adds a scene where Lapp patches through a call to Yang as his ship is being destroyed, more clearly marking them as close friends, and making early mention of Jessica at the same time. This helps foreshadow her later appearance (where in the OVA she becomes an even more important character) as well as humanizing Yang through the people around him.

There are differences in other small details, too. The OVA actually adds several little world-building details via scenes of lower-deck crew members. One piece that originates in the novels includes an explanation of onboard resting pods that allow crewmen to get eight hours' worth of rest in only an hour of sleep. Die Neue These glosses over a lot of these elements, but restores a detail from the book removed in the OVA version, showing that Yang's plan for evading Reinhard's spindle formation went through because he anticipated the maneuver and uploaded the plans to the fleet's strategy database ahead of time. The OVA instead plays this off as more of a snap decision, making Yang's strategy come across like more standard showy tactical leadership.

All these changes also add up to a difference in tone between these versions. The original novels, as already mentioned, are not as focused on being rote historical accounts. Tanaka is rather interested in the personal matters of the main players, and uses the breathing room afforded by the text format to dive into their personal histories early on, giving us time inside Reinhard and Yang's heads to get a feel for them in a way that doesn't have to be spelled out by adjacent characters. The OVA series, meanwhile, is quite focused on the big picture of the war its series covers, and this is reflected just in these first two episodes. Many more details unrelated to Yang and Reinhard are explored – we spend time with other characters, other crews, even some time inside the Dominion of Fezzan, which is only alluded to at this point otherwise. Yang and Reinhard are still ostensibly the main characters of LOGH in the OVA, but it happily makes time in the freedom of its sprawling format for many of the other people in the picture, which continues to branch out as the series goes on.

Finally, Die Neue These reduces the scope down even further than the novels, concentrating only on the major plays by our two main actors to fit within its shorter, more focused format. It leverages that focus when it can, however, for a bit more narrative creativity: It devotes the whole first episode to only Reinhard's parts of the battle, skipping purposefully over Yang's actions until the second episode, when it rewinds the clock and shows it from Yang's perspective, before their storylines converge at the end. As alluded to, this makes that first episode somewhat dry on its own, but taken as a whole, these two become surprisingly engaging by that ending, successfully selling the new show's cinematic ambitions. In an interview (http://gineiden-anime.com/special-interview4.html) DNT director Tada Shunsuke indicates that the ‘atmosphere’ of scenes, even simple conversations or shots of people standing alone, is an element he takes seriously, and the moody, cinematic results speak for themselves.

As a ‘Legend’, this story is one that could be eternally retold. It speaks to the faux-historical style of LOGH's narrative that it supports various interpretations of the events it purports to show. These seemingly disparate adaptations present roughly the same content, but in tonally distinct ways that highlight different strengths and weaknesses. In the above interview, Tada mentions that he took care to make sure his new series did not reproduce too many adaptive choices from the original OVA, particularly since DNT is intended as a new adaptation of the novels, rather than an anime remake. Referring to the differences pointed out here in just the first story, it seems he's been quite successful. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, like any history lesson, can vary in ways subtle and severe, depending on who is telling it to you.

discuss this in the forum (13 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Interview homepage / archives