Legends of the Galactic Heroes (LotGH) is not an elitist anime, it’s ‘thee’ elitist anime. But despite it critical acclaim and devoted fanbase, one thing is for certain: this new iteration falls short of its formers grace. Not so short that this reviewer would call it ‘bad,’ yet its faults are glaring.
‘Stellar Wars’ pacing feels rushed, enough so that events fly by without proper development. Yang and Reinhard, as a consequence, are relatively flat as characters and seem to be missing something vital to their respective personalities. Granted, they were a tad idyllic in the original version, but they felt genuine, nonetheless. ‘Stellar Wars,’ however, gleans past pivotal moments of characterization, in exchange for a brisk, ‘highly-polished’ retelling of an old classic.
But the problem with 3D action sequences — and CGI, in general — is that there is no ‘life’ in the final product. It cannot be stressed enough that numerous shots looked awkward, and in some instances, downright awful. Sure. The vibrant color looked ‘pretty’ and the character designs were ‘flawless,’ but that same flawless is a hindrance in and of itself. As it prevents the characters from portraying certain emotions that would otherwise be captured from a hand-drawn image. Emotions that are vital in tapping into the character’s psyche; thus, allowing the viewer to understand and empathize with said character(s).
The original LotGH may have had clunky sequences with an abundance of reused scenes and backdrops — but it stayed with the viewer long after the viewing experience. The same cannot be said for ‘Stellar Wars’ or its 12 episode predecessor. Probably because 3D animation makes most scenes blend together, without creating something of true artistic brilliance. Simply put: ‘Stellar Wars’ is dull, lifeless, and uninspired; whereas as the original is visceral, impactful, and resplendent.
While the original LotGH may have ‘dragged’ at times, it was necessary in telling a richer story. A story that felt like a docudrama on the human species itself (economically, socially, politically, and historically). In contrast, ‘Stellar Wars’ feels like a plot-based affair that jumps from point-to-point to complete a preset checklist — hence, why remakes are inherently flawed. ‘Stellar Wars,’ in summation, is not a terrible anime, despite the various criticisms presented; however, it is not the stuff of legends, as the narrator would have you believe.
This movie (or rather the four episodes that constitute it because that is the format I was watching) sets the stage for future events, but most of the payoff will have to wait until future instalments, such as the next two movies. This obviously applies to the plot, with the political schemes and such, but also to the thematic elements like the political philosophy. It is playing the long game, the very long game.
That said, the weak points of democracy and its slide onto a dark path are still very visible here. It is also a prologue of how heavy-handed attempts to fix it may result in even worse consequences. Those who fanatically believe in their own righteousness may end up committing deeds that betray their alleged values. The real-world relevance is obvious enough, and there is little attempt to hide it.
There are small differences to the OVA, but the main substance is more or less the same. True, some plot points are dealt with fairly quickly, but I refreshed my memory by re-watching the corresponding episodes, and the differences seemed pretty minor. Actually, the original novel also skims through some scenes pretty quickly in these parts, so it is a problem for all of them, not just this incarnation of the story. They all rush through some details, very often the same ones. There is also a need for the plot to move on though, so there are limits to how much can be done. Sitting here for decades would be problematic too.
The characters are their own individual people with distinct personalities, and it shows. I like that even Arthur Lynch, while portrayed as cowardly, receives just enough humanity to make him relatable to a degree. And that is really one of the strong points of the whole series: that not everything has to be clear-cut, black-and-white good vs evil. Still, it deserves to be said that some of the morally dodgier characters tend to have more cunning-looking portraits, for instance in the ending. In the case of Rubinsky, it kind of suits him though. Some characters are recruited suspiciously easily by other factions even though they were fighting just a moment ago. You'd think people would be more cautious. Of course, if you are familiar with this series, you also know that these recruitment events won't always pay off, so it is not as though it always works. As always, with a cast the size of a phone book, not everyone can get enough screen-time, but many of them will eventually.
"2D" space war tactics of the day: Why would you try to siege the enemy fleet by setting a circular formation around them? Why wouldn't the enemy simply turn their ships up or down to leave? To be fair, a sharp turn upwards or downwards would expose their weaker sides to enemy fire from all directions. In previous battles, this has been shown to be a bad idea. Also, your main guns would point in a direction without enemy ships, so you wouldn't be able to use them. Keeping that in mind, for similar reasons the enemy ships would be reluctant to do sudden turns to the sides either, so there is no need for a complete circle. A loose semicircle should suffice, and they use them now and then in the series, so why not here? Come to think of it, I wonder if there would be any way to redesign the ships to better respond to attacks from all sides, but there might be some in-universe technical limitations.
The visual production budget must have been ‒ if not galaxy-sized ‒ at least pretty decent for this one. This also includes the CGI, which is thankfully not on the cheaper side. Some of the backgrounds look pretty nice. For instance, I like Heinessen at night, and they show enough background characters so that it doesn't look barren. The reflective surface of Iserlohn also makes a brief appearance again. In general, the locations look relatively realistic but still with enough character not to make them overly bland.
The characters look pretty detailed and distinct, and it looks like some effort has gone into their designs. The ending also goes out of its way to display the large number of characters, just like in season 1. They went to the trouble of drawing a distinct look for so many, so might as well use them, right? The voice acting is on point. Apparently, some people think that Hilda's voice actor does not fit the role, but I didn't find her voice particularly annoying.
For a patient viewer, the movie delivers a steady package that is proceeding on rails. The pieces are there, the foreshadowing is there. The political philosophy is there, though it also takes its time to build up alongside the plot. There is very little outright filler. Events seem to happen for a reason. It is hard to even identify any major side-paths from the main plot and the main substance. The movie does not commit any outrageous mistakes or resort to the cheapest forms of sensationalism. The subdued approach can itself be divisive among the audience though.