Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 1 – Review

This week I got around to the first volume of Legend of the Galactic Heroes! I enjoyed the book overall, though the prose was anything but graceful. The series’ best qualities are likely its scope and its anger – Legend of the Galactic Heroes tackles war and governance on a massive scale, and there is not one hint of glamour in its portrayal of combat. People die senselessly and in large numbers, and that’s just how war is. I appreciate that; plenty of stories in anime and elsewhere tend to make halfhearted gestures towards condemning violence while actually celebrating it, but Legend of the Galactic Heroes doesn’t indulge in any of that. It’s a very angry book.

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my notes below!

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

The writing is very stiff, and when it tries to get into evocative metaphors, it gets even more labored than that

It frankly doesn’t sound natural in English – it sounds translated from a language with very different assumptions of sentence structure

However, the ideas are sharp as hell, and the bluntness of the style actually kinda helps them land

We live in a time where authoritarianism isn’t at all an abstract thing – all of this book’s concerns are relevant right now

Yeah, the writing is remarkably stiff all through the prologue, and stuff like the “this quotation describes the tone of the times” is very awkward

Certainly not a book you read for the beauty or personality of the prose, even when it gets into the book proper

And it just explains the entire setup through twenty pages of direct exposition to the audience. Definitely a choice!

Though I do like that the complexity of both sides is already clear

Reinhard is absolutely confident and annoyed with the incompetence of the older officers. The writing still isn’t graceful, in terms of either dialogue or description. And plenty is over-explained

“He could smell the stench of men who had become arrogant in their privilege.” The writing is so damn on-the-nose

Reinhard admits his desire to become emperor at the end of the second chapter

Gotta quote the really awkward passages at the end of the first segment of the second chapter, to demonstrate how stilted the prose is

And the internal monologue of Reinhard’s friend which follows, which demonstrates the lack of character voice, and how people just describe the obvious events that are happening

Yang Wen-li’s character is very engaging, though

That “war is about effectively spending the lives of your companions” line

And the story has both historical sharpness and very brisk pacing. Its weaknesses as prose end up translating into very high speed of action – it jumps quickly to what many people would consider the “good stuff”

“Well, let’s see what happens.” Yang’s attitude is so great

And so Yang turns a total rout into a mere loss, and actually pushes the Empire back

War is not glamorous here. It’s thankless and stupid and full of death even when it’s pursued with total intelligence

“It was an age where the use of people to perform easily automated tasks proved the height of one’s position and the greatness of one’s authority.” Immediately followed by a decree about the emperor “standing on his own two feet.” LoGH has a great black sense of humor regarding war and power

“Along with fire, humanity’s great friend down through the ages had been gossip.” Okay, now we’re getting a better voice. The book has this prim, sardonic wit to it. Very dry, but also playful

Reinhard gets his promotion, and visits Annerose with Kircheis. Kircheis helps this half of the narrative – Reinhard is distant, but Kircheis is relatable

Yang getting annoyed by the flowery speech about dead soldiers from the man gunning for the supreme council seat. What good are high ideals and honor? Those soldiers are dead because of poor tactical decisions

Yang versus all the forces of self-satisfied, well-protected patriotism

Julian Mintz, Yang’s ward, who takes care of his home because obviously Yang isn’t going to take care of himself

The “Patriotic Knights” come to terrorize Yang. The natural result of angry jingoist rhetoric, and of course, the police admire their spirit

Yang is offered half a fleet, along with the appointment to take Iserlohn Fortress

Yang’s plan is obvious, but his enemies are overconfident – he sneaks a team onto the fortress and takes it hostage

In a very Yang move, his operation requires no casualties

“It’s because of men like this that the war can’t end.” The Empire general’s “honor” demands he die gloriously in battle, taking all of his subordinates with him

Oberstein’s quite the slippery character

Yang’s victory sickens him. He had to butcher thousands to achieve this victory

Oberstein marches into Reinhard’s office and basically says “I’m an evil dude who can handle your evil dude stuff. Hire me.” Not the most graceful sequence

A lot of the plotting is really broad-strokes stuff like that

The Alliance council meets, and decides to push forward with war to save their own council seats. The book is incredibly blunt, but that’s what allows it to directly lay out its arguments

An older military official treating the Patriotic Knights as a joke, and Yang wondering if that’s a good idea. Pretty much echoing our current issues

Alliance civilian infrastructure is breaking down due to brain drain from the huge military. Touching on everything

Both sides are using the hopes of military victories to shore up their popularity with the common people

“We’ll be embraced as liberators by the people.” You’d think it was absurd if historical precedent didn’t support it

Sitolet urges Yang to eventually take over the military, fix it internally

“Before you promise freedom and equality, can you promise bread and milk?”

Caselnes: “This is way too stupid a fight to get killed in.” Perfect

Reinhard lets the Alliance burn itself out trying to feed the occupied territories. Supply lines again

Caselnes takes the fall for the supply line issues. Wonderful

Yang is buried in medals. Meanwhile, the emperor dies

Reinahrd maneuvers to become head of the military

3 thoughts on “Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 1 – Review

  1. Now the anime is what you should really be watching. 110 episodes. 110 episode writeup. Oh god.

  2. I’m really sad to hear that the translation is so stiff and unnatural. Having read it in Japanese, the style is definitely not stiff or painful – rather, it’s detached and dry. The narration often reads like a history documentary with a personality (the anime takes this approach and pretty much runs with it).

    It’s very unfortunate that the translator couldn’t adapt the style to sound natural English. Maybe more thought should have been put into choosing the translator, or there should have been someone to adapt the translation. Previous Haikasoru novels usually had decent-to-good translations (my favorite being Summer of the Ubume, adapting that into natural-sounding English was a great feat), so I’m really disappointed. Especially since this is a series…

  3. By the way, as for this:
    “Oberstein marches into Reinhard’s office and basically says ‘I’m an evil dude who can handle your evil dude stuff. Hire me.’ Not the most graceful sequence”

    I don’t know how this came across in the translation (haven’t read it yet) but for me Oberstein’s bluntness was the point of the entire scene. This is the kind of character he is: he’s not trying to sugarcoat of what he is and what he wants. He’s the very first person to acknowledge Reinhard’s ambitions as being what they are, to voice the thoughts that even Reinhard is not quite comfortable voicing.

    Oberstein is not supposed to be a very sympathetic character, but he’s not evil and he’s not supposed to come across as such. He’s Machiavellian and a pragmatist. His role early in the series (volumes 1-2) is basically to shape Reinhard into the figure that he needs to be in order to achieve his goals – to constantly remind Reinhard of the qualities he must cultivate, the lines he has to cross, the uncomfortable things that Reinhard can’t turn his eyes away from. This will come into full force in volume 2, and it will do both the story and Oberstein’s and Reinhard’s character a great injustice if Oberstein is being treated as evil.

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