Galaxy Railways Vol. #5 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, February 27, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 28, 2006



What They Say
Sometime in the distant future, humans crisscross the cosmos on an unusual transportation system comprised of flying trains and protected by an elite guard known as the Space Defense Force (SDF). The SDF's newest recruit is Manabu Yuuki, a brash teenager who finds himself going against his mother's wishes to fend off train accidents, terrorist bombings, and alien attacks on the Galaxy Railways with the help of an oddball crew.

The Review!
After a bit of downtime, a mystery from the past resurfaces and reshapes how the remainder of this season will play out.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included stereo mix does a nice job with the forward soundstage by providing some good directionality there, mostly noticeable with the train going across the screen but also with some good dialogue moments here and there. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Like a number of other recent Matsumoto series, his works seem to look even better in the digital age and this series is no exception. The bold color palette comes across well here with the character designs and is free of a digital gradient problem. Some of the colors, such as some of the grays and light browns, tend to show a bit more blocking going on, but when the show is in full motion it's pretty hard to detect. Aliasing and cross coloration are non-existent and the majority of the blacks from the space scenes look solid and very easy on the eyes.

Packaging:
Manabu and Bruce take the cover this time as they're paired in an action mode with weapons drawn while one of the darker trains passes behind them against an even darker black strip of space with few stars there to help balance it out. The back cover continues the dark nature of artwork with a background shot of two of the trains along the top half while the bottom half mixes the summary with a few shots from the show. The discs features, episode and technical information is all generally well placed and easy to find though I do continue to hope that the technical grid will be expanded a bit like other companies. While no insert is included in this release, the cover has artwork on the reverse side of a full length image of one of the trains and a shot of Bulge and Yuki together..

Menu:
Keeping to a lot of stars in the background and other nebula, the foreground is given over to a couple of secondary characters for these episodes so that it ties it all together. It's set to a brief music loop of instrumental work and is overall a decent looking menu but not one that really jumps out at you. The menu layout for languages is nicely done since it avoids the old way of doing things that used to confuse people. Access times are nice and fast but unfortunately the disc did not read our players' language presets properly.

Extras:
The only extra for this volume is the textless songs which are as always quite welcome.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Galaxy Railways shifts away from the smaller standalone tales after the first episode here and the three episodes begin what appears to be the storyline that will run throughout the rest of this season of the series as there's so much that's only been hinted at from the start. While the series has managed to tell some very interesting and unique tales of space opera in the standalone episodes, it shines so much more when it gets a chance to spread itself across more episodes.

The opening episode is the perfect way to kick off this episode though as it centers on several of the captains and their staff taking a break from the rigors of the SDF and coming down to one of the rim planets where one of them has parents who run an inn. The inn is set in the mountains during the winter and has that very classic and traditional look of an open air hot spring in Japan. The downtime for the crews is very much a welcome change of pace from their frantic lives and it lets the show play with some of the usual clichéd storylines we see in a lot of series these days. Between going back and forth with mixed baths, parties and some of the women trying to make a play for Manabu, it's a very solid episode that breathes more life into the cast and rounds them out more. Louis in particular get to have a lot of bad fun here while Manabu is mostly clueless as usual. But watching some of the others, especially the captains, is a real plus.

The return to work doesn't immediately start in on the new arc but for me it does as it starts to hark back to characters that died very early on in the show. Manabu and a couple of people from the other platoons find themselves being sent off to do some special training with the Space Panzer Grenadiers group which is like a more military/combat oriented version of the SDF. The training is typically done to encourage inter-group relations and camaraderie as well as getting used to how different groups work, allowing the participants to take new things back to their own groups. But it also serves another purpose and that's recruitment for the SPG as they get a chance to see hands on what some of the more interesting new folks are like. Manabu's time there brings him under the captain of the SPG who used to serve with his brother. This starts to slowly bring the past up as the group works through their various missions that test their abilities.

Where things get interesting is when the SDF, complete with someone from the Intelligence division on board to ensure a smooth operation, heads to Caloumb City, a place considered one of the worst slums in all the known planets that's typically avoided. An alien ship has crash landed there and they've been sent to retrieve its passengers to find out what's going on. This leads the group into contact with the only person on board it, an alien woman who has fled from the Alfort Fleet in order to warn humanity about the impending invasion. This has been attempted before and in seeing it starting to happen again we see that it's tied to the event where Manabu's father had died in sacrifice to stop their first incursion. The realization of this puts Manabu very much in the mindset of having to do anything he can to stop them but it means trusting a woman who may be leading them down the wrong path.

The mission, spread over two episodes to start and definitely spilling into the next volume, brings stories that seemed disconnected from the start of the series back into play. At this point they'd almost been forgotten but now it's all starkly clear as the incursion into human space begins once again. There are some amusing moments as the crew have to deal with the senior intelligence official who isn't quite a team player as well as some time that Bruce spends with an attractive young nurse. The dark tone of the storyline, combined with Caloumb City and the kinds of aliens that are hunting down the woman that escaped, has a good level of tension to it as it moves along without being forced to rush since it has time to be told. It also provides for some truly hearbreaking moments as you find yourself far more attached to these characters than you realize when one aspect of the mission goes very badly.

In Summary:
Galaxy Railways has been an exciting series up till now with its standalone tales and some of the shorter arcs but with this series of events it starts tying together a lot of what's come before both in relationships and in the grander scheme of things. Watching the character interactions as things get tense here is fun to watch as are the moments where the relationships start to become more real. The entire hot springs episode, while certainly clichéd, provides for such a large amount of fun and growth that it's easy to forgive. This volume really sets the stage for the end of the series but it also just highlights so many things that make it great. FUNimation puts out a lot of titles that I like but this is one of two that I'm thrilled that they took the chance on.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Textless opening Textless ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Galaxy Railways