The Gundam franchise is one of the biggest names in anime, and is rightfully seen as both the Star Wars and to some extent the Star Trek of Japan. It's the face of the Real Robot mecha genre, as well as one of the best known space opera anime. Gundam has many contemporaries and comparisons, but few are typically mentioned in the same sentence.
One exception is the equally iconic Legend of the Galactic Heroes. What sounds like a superhero series is actually a strategically written space opera featuring a gruesome war between two colonies. The premise bears quite a resemblance to the Gundam story, but it actually does some things better. Fans of the iconic Real Robot genre progenitor should definitely check out Legend of the Galactic Heroes for a quality series that takes Gundam's themes even further.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is set in the distant future and focuses on the embittered battles between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. The chief protagonists are Reinhard von Lohengramm and his rival Yang Wen-Li, who represent the opposing sides. Reinhard seeks to overthrow the dictatorial rule of his side and unite both sides, while also finding his long-lost sister.
Yang, on the other hand, is a historian with more interest in academics than warfare and was consistently promoted due to his tactical intellect. His knowledge of key historical battles helps him guide his side to several underdog victories, earning him a fierce but respected rivalry with Reinhard. Both sides feature several other well-developed characters, including both military personnel and everyday people. This character development for even the smallest roles makes much of the drama extremely harrowing, while also showing the shades of grey and humanity on all sides.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes began as a series of novels written by Yoshiki Tanaka, which were subsequently adapted into a long-winded series of OVAs. The longest and best known of these ran from 1988 to 1997. More recently, a newer adaptation from Production I. G began in 2017 and was followed up by a film trilogy. Another sequel season is in the works, and the series has finally been brought to the West via Sentai Filmworks and HiDive.
Why Gundam Fans Should Check It Out
Though there are some key differences, there are also many similarities between Gundam and Legend of the Galactic Heroes that would attract fans of the former. Unlike Gundam, LotGH is much less action and mech-focused, instead putting more emphasis on politics. Also notable is how strategic the battles in Galactic Heroes are, similar to how the mobile suit fights aren't nearly as cartoony as in Super Robot shows.
The focus on politics and the grim realities of war are still very much part of Gundam, however, and make up a key element that made the original Universal Century continuity so popular. Legend of the Galactic Heroes shares a space opera setting involving a war between colonies, with story focus being given to both sides. Showcasing the war's effect on the average person is another similarity, but these bystanders don't come out unscathed. Many times, characters are introduced and developed simply to be killed off, further driving home the grim reality of being caught in war's crossfires. This recalls the "kill em all" mentality present in many Gundam shows. The exploits of the lesser military personnel are particularly analogous to entries such as The 08th MS Team.
The greater emphasis on the "villains" in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a key difference, however. While villains like Char Aznable in the various Gundam shows might be developed and even given some semblance of sympathy, Gundam typically focuses more on a side of unambiguous heroes. For as complex as that series' morality can be, the shades are that much greyer in Galactic Heroes.
One benefit of Legend of the Galactic Heroes' extravagant length is that the series has a signature continuity and timeline, unlike the sometimes-confusing number of Gundam shows and timelines. Now that Galactic Heroes is available to watch in the West, it's a better time than ever for fans of Gundam, sci-fi and anime in general to check it out.