Yes, it’s a train flying through space. But there are cyborgs, hot looking classic anime babes and it’s a freakin’ awesome train. Roll on, Galaxy Express 999, roll on for a hundred and thirteen episodes!
What They Say
On the road to Megalopolis, Tetsuro is encountered by Count Mecha and watches as his mother is killed. Ironically, he is rescued by a woman who looks remarkably like his mother, and they set off on a journey on the Galaxy Express 999. He begins his trek towards the planet where he'll be able to receive a mechanical body.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Going into this classic from Toei, as now streamed by FUNimation, I realize that I’m doing it completely skewed and backwards. This series was originally airing in Japan back in 1978 through 1981 based on the manga by the legendary Leiji Matsumoto. Before coming to this show, I ended up seeing the movie years ago and the Galaxy Railways series that FUNimation put to DVD which came out this past decade. Add in the nods to it in the various Harlock related shows and it feels positively strange to finally come around to seeing the actual series. Unfortunately, it can only be see streamed if you want subtitles, but I hold out hope for a proper home video version to own someday.
Galaxy Express 999 is a lengthy series that sets up its basic premise very easily in this first episode where it’s going to deal with moral issues regularly. The year is 2221 and technology, particularly in transportation, has had huge leaps. Travel through the stars is very common but people have an antiquated view of how it should be done, hence the rail system to the stars where the classic designs of centuries past is all the rage. The other change in society is that a great number of people have become cyborgs so they can have a much longer life and much better bodies, though they do sacrifice various aspects of their humanity along the way. The process to become a cyborg is expensive however so the entire populace hasn’t done that, but a great number has.
There is a way, a legend, to get a free mechanical body though and that involves riding the legendary Galaxy Express 999, a rail service that runs for free for the poor and impoverished. That train is supposedly on the planet of the opening tale and it has a young lad named Tetsuro traveling hard with his mother to get there on the chance they can get on. The world is tough for people like them and traveling through the snow only makes it worse. Tetsuro can’t imagine it any worse until she tells him that there are cyborgs out there on their world that actually hunt and skin humans to put up as trophies on their wall. Before he realizes it, they’re being pursued by Count Mecha and Tetsuro has suddenly lost his mother. Her dreams now become his, but he has no way to really achieve it just yet.
Luckily for him, though there appears to be some divine guidance of sorts that have him in its sights, Tetsuro is found by the beautiful and almost ethereal Maetal. Maetel is intent on getting him to the train and has given him an unlimited pass to use the Galaxy Expess 999. Tetsuro is beside himself with this, but he still has a great deal of vengeance in his young heart. Symbolizing things to come, he pulls around his cloak and grabs a weapon and heads off to face the Count on his own. It’s a straightforward approach for an opening episode where we see the base motivations of young Tetsuro but we also get the mystery of who Maetel is dealing with and what larger plans may be in store for all of them. The Galaxy Express 999 itself only shows at the end, but it too has an airy of mystery and wonder about it as it sets out for the stars and the obviously many stories that are ahead to tell.
My personal relationship with Matsumoto’s material hasn’t exactly been a good one to some extent. When I was young, I never got into Captain Harlock and really didn’t like the character designs. Years later when seeing other shows, such as the Maetel OVAs, it just didn’t click. Only Arcadia of My Youth left an impression and that was more cinematic than anything else. But upon seeing a number of the newer shows, like Galaxy Railways and Cosmo Warrior Zero and even Gun Frontier, my view of his works changed. In fact, I found myself become quite the fan of him and wanting desperately to see his early works, which are now available streamed from FUNimation. While the presentation isn’t the best, and the source materials don’t really come across well at times, the fact that FUNimation has put up a hundred and thirteen episodes fantastic to see. I’d love it more in a couple of collections on DVD though.
Galaxy Express 999 sets itself apart from a lot of shows out there these days with the concepts and ideas used in its visuals. I can’t say how radical they were at the time, it was the seventies after all, but the show has left a lasting impression on a generation of fans and it connects, loosely and more directly, with a number of other shows. Fans of Galaxy Railways and Harlock in general will want to dig into this and take advantage of having so much of the show available legally, even if just streamed. Thankfully, it’s a breeze to view it on the PS3 (though I’d love to see some sort of optimization to make it easier to access from their browser) and I get to settle into discovering this classic for the first time. The characters are familiar from other versions over the years, and there’s a certain love and affection for it. This is a solid opening episode with a lot more to come that I can’t wait to dig into. Classic anime at its best starts right here.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.