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In the year a.d. 3597, a hundred and fifty years into the conflict between the Alliance of Independent Worlds and the Galactic Empire, both forces claim victory at the Battle of Astarte. On the Alliance side, the strategic genius Yang Wenli, a former historian dragged into a military life. Fighting for the empire, Reinhardt von Lohengramm, the estranged son of a provincial nobleman, determined to rise through the ranks until he can overthrow the ruling dynasty, whose kaiser bought Reinhardt's sister, Annerose, as a concubine from his dishonorable father. Lohengramm's childhood friend, Kircheis, loves Annerose in a different way.
Yoshiki Tanaka's magnum opus, the 18 novels of LGH are far superior to his other works, which include Appleland Story, Heroic Legend of Arslan, and Legend of the Four Kings. LGH is a tragic far-future epic, in which two heroes, who would probably have been the best of friends, find themselves on opposing sides in a galactic war. LGH has a pathos redolent of Leiji Matsu-moto's Cockpit or Captain Harlock, and a sympathetic treatment of both sides-though it is also renowned for truly vast space battles with thousands of ships, set to classical music. The imperial forces are part-Nazi, part-stuffy, decadent European aristocracy, while the Alliance is an American-style melting pot. As in WWII itself, which inspires much of the sci-fi, the imperial forces have the best uniforms and the nastiest schemers, but the other side has its fair share of machinations behind the scenes.
The first two episodes were screened as a movie-edit in theaters, with the grossly inferior Ultimate Teacher on the same double bill. Released in TV-episodic form but straight to video, LGH is one of anime's silent successes, sold chiefly by mail order to a dedicated audience large enough to keep the series running for a whole decade. Ishiguro shoots the anime version like a disaster movie or a Kihachi Okamoto war film (see Evangelion), retaining the novel's cast of thousands and many onscreen titles to remind us who is who. Though the sci-fi trappings are occasionally halfhearted and hokey (there are, mercifully, no transforming robots, although there are hackneyed hovercars and similarly redressed contemporary technology), the execution is still brilliant. If Fist of the North Star was animation taken in interesting directions by lack of time and budget, then LGH's need to continuously find new ways to depress its audience has encouraged some masterful writing, most notable in the early episodes. In a scene in which Jessica Edwards is elated to hear of her fiancé's promotion, it takes several seconds for her to register the implication of posthumous. But despite the stirring music, gripping plots, and doomed pretty-boy heroes, LGH can be too smart for its own good-whereas the anime Lensman chose the pulp, kiddified sci-fi route, LGH keeps to cerebral plotting likely to doom it in the modern anime market.
Another film, LGH: Overture for a New Conflict (1993), flashed back to Reinhardt's first great victory at Astarte during the Tiamat War. Promoted to senior admiral, he decides to accept the Lohengramm family title of Count and retire from the military, but he is thwarted by the actions of other officers, who redeploy his efficient subordinates. Sent to Astarte in the company of his adjutant Kircheis, Reinhardt proves himself against the odds.
As befits a series whose sprawling plot makes Dune look like The Cat in the Hat, there are plenty of other opportunities for video spin-offs. LGH: Golden Wings (1992) is adapted from one of the eight flashback novels set apart from the main series continuity, set four years before the beginning of the story proper. Reinhardt and Annerose meet Kircheis for the first time and fight off a group of assassins sent by the court. Similar intrigues await in LGH: Valley of White Silver (1997), depicting Reinhardt and Kircheis's first mission after leaving the military academy. They are sent to the front line on the icy planet of Kapturanka and placed under a commander who hates Annerose because she is favored by the kaiser. Once again, they must deal with assassins without upsetting the status quo. LGH: Dream of the Morning, Song of the Night (1997) finds Reinhardt seconded to the military police and sent to investigate a murder at his old school. He undertakes the job, though he is fully aware that he is being framed. The focus shifts to Kircheis for LGH: Disgrace (1997), in which the vacationing adjutant rescues an old man, who turns out to be a retired general, forced out of military service after losing a battle. Alliance hero Yang Wenli features in LGH: A Trillion Stars, A Trillion Points of Light (1997), in which Schoenkopp, the new commander of the Rosenritter regiment (Knights of the Rose), leads his forces into battle against Runeberg, the old commander and his former boss, who has defected to the imperial side and been made a commodore. In the most recent video series to date, LBH: Spiral Labyrinth (1999), young Lieutenant Yang Wenli saves the lives of millions of people from an imperial attack and becomes a hero. Soon afterward, he is sent to investigate the murder of Ashby, a retired general. One more tape, the LGH: Season Four Preview (1996), is a "making-of . . ." documentary featuring shots of the crew at work and interviews with the voice actors.