You would have had a hard time finding a series with a more, well, legendary aura about it than Legend of the Galactic Heroes, one enhanced all the more by its sheer unapproachability. Neither the original novel series nor the anime derived from it — both accorded classic status in Japan — had ever made it to English-speaking shores. Consequently, you would have had an even harder time finding an announcement capable of rattling more eyeteeth than the news that not only had VIZ's Haikasoru imprint licensed the rights to the first three novels, but that Sentail Filmworks had also picked up the TV series. Cue permafrost forming in hell.
But with this undeniably great news came, for me, a troubling realization: How to talk about something of this stature without wearing the blinders of fandom — in short, how to talk about the material itself, and not the hagiographic version of it carried around in the head after decades of hearing about it? I'll figure out the details as I go, but I do know it has to be done.
This is not a new problem; it's something I've faced with other properties that have thrown a long shadow. It happened when I looked at Osamu Tezuka's work, as issued in English by VIZ and Vertical; it happened when I encountered the earlier Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki titles in their first uncut domestic appearances. After all that, I looked back and saw how I'd fallen victim to the need to speak uncritically about "classic" titles as a way to do two things:
- Signal the seriousness of one's intentions (because only a Philistine would have anything negative to say about such wonderful work).
- Find a way to say what seems like insightful things about a title without actually being all that insightful.
To say something meaningful about a piece of work, you have to be willing to not simply flatter it, or its prospective audience. I did indeed have many good things to say about Princess Mononoke* when I circled back to it after its recent reissue, but I was all the more conscious of how I could give myself permission to be critical without feeling like I'd be breaking rank or stabbing fellow fans in the back.
Some of this, I suspect, is a leftover feeling from when I still believed one was obliged to support one's chosen field of fandom by not being too critical of it. If you had negative things to say about a given title, you kept them between friends, lest strangers (read: potential future fans) heard about them and took them the wrong way. Whatever truth there might have been to this line of thinking was minimal at best. Now, it makes no sense at all.
Galactic Heroes needs to be approached all the more without kid gloves by critics, because the vast majority of people who will be reading or watching it for the first time will be doing so out of skeptical curiosity, not automatic reverence. Otherwise, we do them a disservice: we sell audiences on the property's aura and reputation, not its substance.
If there was ever a property that deserved not to be oversold, that deserved to be appreciated precisely for what it is — product of its era, warts, and all — Galactic Heroes is it. It's lived for too long as a legend. It's time for it to finally become a real thing that people can experience, and discuss, and disagree over, and cherish — all without blinders on.