Galaxy Express 999

Galaxy Express 999 is a franchise comprised of 2 movies, 3 anime series, 1 manga series
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Leiji Matsumoto's meditation on mortality and social class. Beginning as a manga series, it moved on to films, Original Animated Videos (OAV), and a television series.


The Melancholic Journey of Unconventional Heroes

Galaxy Express 999 takes place in a far-flung future, where technology is hidden in objects that we might think familiar. There are many anachronistic touches, and the Galaxy Express itself seems to be an ancient, steam-driven locomotive, with roll up, single pane windows, spinning wheels, and train tracks which propel the ships to the stars from their terminals. This anachronistic quality plunges deep into the soul of Galaxy Express 999, which can be said to be, at its heart, a lament for the loss of youth, humanity, and a simpler, happier past.

Galaxy Express itself has seen many iterations, beginning as a manga series which is still ongoing as of this writing (December 2008), as well as sparking a film version which sold internationally, several other films which followed, along with original animated videos and a television series.

This adventure is based on the journeys of Tetsuro, and orphaned boy from Earth, who lived in squalor there along with the many others who were too poor to afford what in this time period has become all but ubiquitous: a mechanical body which would allow them to effectively live forever. One of these privileged machine-men is actually becomes the murderer of Tetsuro's mother, who is gunned down before Tetsuro's eyes in a game of sport. Young Tetsuro vows revenge on the murderer, and Tetsuro's vow is one of the franchise's main subplots, although how it is dealt with depends upon the version you see.

Mechanical bodies, though, despite their relative abundance, are prohibitively expensive, especially for a poor child living on the streets. Tetsuro knows that the Galaxy Express 999, an interplanetary spacecraft fashioned to look like an ancient steam train, travels to a special planet in the Andromeda galaxy where machine bodies are granted for free to anyone able to make it there. For the poor, though, it is also very hard to attain a boarding pass to be on the Galaxy Express. While attempting to get a pass to board the Galaxy Express (again, the events leading up to this vary depending on the version), he meets a mysterious woman named Maetel (alternatively Maeter) who offers Tetsuro free passage on the Galaxy Express in exchange for his companionship while aboard. He accepts, leaving Earth behind.

The following events are the Galaxy Express' travels to the stations along its route, which differ depending upon when the tale was told, and in what medium. In the film, which was the first time most Western audiences saw Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro only visited four planets before reaching the end of the line in Andromeda, while the manga and television versions depicted visits to many more planets than this. Each stop is supposed to be as long as a day on that planet, which given the differences in rotational speeds on various planets, varies quite a bit. Through his adventures on the trip to Andromeda, Tetsuro learns more about humanity, what it's lost despite its advancement, and how to come to terms with his own tragic past.

The film version was first shown to Western audiences in a Roger Corman produced dub in 1979, although other dubs and subtitled offerings have followed. The film is a condensed version of the events depicted in the manga, and was released during the run of the television show in Japan. Both the television show and the manga naturally had more time to develop characters and subplots, but even the film had cameo appearances of other Leiji Matsumoto characters as Captain Harlock and Emeraldas. Leiji was notoriously willing to intermingle his characters and anachronistic style throughout the franchises he helped run, although Space Cruiser Yamato posed problems because despite his credit for character design in that franchise, he was not its original creator.

Galaxy Express 999 is a somber and melancholy journey, but ultimately its strength lies in the positive affirmation of the human spirit, that despite its weakness it has an inherent strength that mechanization cannot match.

Films and Other Media

After the movie edition, Galaxy Express (1979), the second movie was the super-short featurette GE999: Through a Glass Clearly (1980, Gurasu no Clear), a partial remake of the third TV episode. A third movie, GE999: Last Stop Andromeda (1981, Andromeda no Shuchakueki), is set two years after the series, when Te-tsuro, now a freedom fighter on Earth, receives a distress call from Maetel and heads out to help her one last time. Fuji TV also broadcast three specials, beginning with GE999: Can You Live Like a Warrior (1979, Senshi no Yo ni Ikirareru ka), which combined scenes from episodes 12 and 13. GE999: Emeraldas the Eternal Wanderer (1980, Endo no Tabibito Emeraldas) expanded episode 22, which featured Maetel's sister, Queen Emeraldas. The final TV movie, GE999: Can You Love Like a Mother (1980, Kimi wa Haha no Yo ni Aiseru ka), adapted parts of episodes 51 and 52, adding 47 minutes of all-new footage. The series received a very limited partial broadcast on local New York TV for the Japanese community with English subtitles. The first movie was released in the U.S. by Roger Corman's New World, which incurred the wrath of fans by renaming Harlock "Warlock" and giving him a John Wayne accent for his cameo appearance. He would also claim that Joey was searching the universe for revenge, that being a little easier to take than an upgraded cybernetic body, at least back then. Maetel would return for the video series Maetel the Legend (2000). The series would be remade to mark the 50th anniversary of Matsumoto's career as The Galaxy Railways (2003). Notes to this rerelease emphasized Matsumoto's original inspiration, that when he came up to Tokyo as a young man, the railway network seemed to be the only part of postwar Japan that was still functioning, and hence the only symbol of hope for survival and renewal. See, however, Night Train to the Stars, which draws on a much older source for spacefaring expresses.

Shinichi Masaki's Space Symphonic Poem Maetel (GE: Wasurareta Toki no Wakusei, i.e. The Planet That Time Forgot, 2004), is a sequel to the Maetel Legend series, issued as a TV series on the Japanese digital channels SKY PerfecTV and Animax.

General Information Edit
Name: Galaxy Express 999
Name: 銀河鉄道999
Romaji: Ginga Tetsudou Surī Nain
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