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AKA: 銀河鉄道999 (Ginga Tetsudou 999), Galaxy Express, GE999
Genre: Science fiction / drama
Length: Movie, 130 minutes
Distributor: Currently licensed in the United States by Discotek Media
Content Rating: 10+ (sci-fi violence, adult themes, excessive epic speeches)
Related Series: all versions of Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock
Also Recommended: Galaxy Express 999 (all series), Captain Harlock, et cetera
Notes: Adapted from a manga by Leiji Matsumoto. This review is based on the dubbed version aired on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars
 

Galaxy Express 999

Synopsis

As she lay dying after being fatally wounded in a ruthless robotic tyrant's trophy hunt, young Tetsuro's mother tells him to travel to a planet where people are given mechanical bodies and thus can achieve immortality. Tetsuro decides to travel to the planet, but not for immortality but rather to gain a body to inflict vengeance on those who have slain his mother. A mysterious woman by the name of Maetel offers Tetsuro a convenient offer: she'll give him a ticket on the interstellar transport, the Galaxy Express 999, if he'll travel along with her. The boy accepts the offer not realizing the adventure in store for him.


Review

The complexity of the "Leijiverse" is apparent just from a quick review of the "related" titles list above. Before viewing this film, I had not seen any other directly related Leiji Matsumoto title or read any of the relevant manga. I had seen Star Blazers and though it is my understanding that Galaxy Express: Eternal Fantasy hints it might be related to the rest of Matsumoto's baroque fictional universe, it doesn't contain any of the characters associated with any of the other shows.

I mention this because we do have a number of elements and characters that appear in Galaxy Express 999 that, in a sense, I think the viewer is already expected to know and be a bit excited to see. Given that a lengthy manga and 113 episode television series were out prior to the movie, that probably wasn't a totally unreasonable expectation when this movie was released originally in 1979. Despite the complexity of the universe and the various characters who showed up, honestly I found that I had little trouble understanding what was going on or the general relationships between the characters. I'm sure if I were more familiar with the entire Leijiverse in general, I would have gotten a bit more out of it, but I don't think the average viewer will really get all that lost. That is an achievement in and of itself given how often movie versions of long tales tend to end up generally inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the story already.

For all the epic space adventure that is involved in this title, it really is more about the journey from boyhood to manhood as seen through the young vengeance obsessed Tetsuro. His journeys take him into contact with a variety of different people and beings each having some impact on him as they deal with their own challenges and destinations. Of course, many of these characters are actually rather interesting enough in their own right rather than just how they relate to the lead. Of course, many of them would later get their own TV or OAV series as well.

Some people might find the design work a bit off-putting. Though this is definitely a science fiction tale, in the show for various reasons (some explained and some not), many somewhat rather classic designs are used the most obvious is the Galaxy Express itself. Despite being an interstellar transport craft it has been explicitly designed on the exterior and interior to seem like a steam train. We get other elements such as the pirate motif associated with Harlock and Emeraldas as well that one would not normally expect to see in a science fiction universe set far in the future. Though they do help reinforce the general atmosphere of the show, they do take a bit of getting used to at first.

No one will ever accuse Leiji Matsumoto of being particularly subtle in his treatment of thematic elements particularly with so many characters on hand to make an epic speech about any the major theme related to a scene. Galaxy Express is space opera in a very classic sense with sometimes overbearing themes, speeches, ruthless villains, extraordinary epic heroes, and its often somewhat anachronistic design choices. I imagine a lot of this seemed somewhat quaint even in 1979 and to many people it probably will seem even more so now. Actually when I viewed the film, I found it a kind of pleasant change of pace from a lot of the other anime I had seen and though as I said, the thematic aspects aren't exactly subtle they still are treated well and a number of interesting issues are explored perhaps the most immediately striking being the ironic desire of Tetsuro to become a machine to achieve vengeance on the machines.

The art and color work, while not matching the production standards of today, is surprisingly good for a title that is over twenty years old. Characters designs are rather old school though, so newer fans may or may not like them depending on taste. Though none of them are particularly ugly or anything of that sort. As with any work based on one particular artist's style, we also have the slight issue of similar looking characters. Many of the females seem very similar in general design. They don't look bad or anything, but it is kind of noticeable.

The animation isn't stunning, but nor is horribly bad either. Galaxy Express has aged decently enough. While this film isn't exactly constantly non-stop action, they do have a number of space and land battles, and I thought they still looked pretty good. This is the kind of film where one stout ship full of honorable men can apparently take on a far more numerically superior enemy and beat them down, so if that kind of thing bugs you, you might get a bit annoyed at parts.

I've yet to view a version of this movie in its original Japanese. The dub I heard isn't going to win any awards anytime soon, but it was serviceable enough. I do wonder if certain elements of the dialogue would have perhaps flowed a bit better in the original language. In a show where many people like to make grand speeches, that can have an impact on the overall enjoyment. It is hard to say though. Overall, I found myself rather entertained and engaged by Galaxy Express. Despite being a somewhat lengthy film that was a bit slowly paced in parts, I never found myself checking the clock.

A classic baroque space opera adventure. Enjoyment of this title varies a lot on acceptance of the general feeling and atmosphere of this show. Those who cannot get over the idea of a starship that looks like a train or do not like their adventure quite this grand or their heroes a bit over the top might want to subtract or a star. This is hardly an action fest, so those wanting a bit more constant action will probably want to subtract a star as well. Those a bit more familiar with Leiji Matsumoto's work will probably want to add a star. Jeremy A Beard

Recommended Audience: There is actually quite a bit of violence and combat in this title, though very little blood in the version I saw. The murder of a young boy's mother as a major plot point makes this a bit inappropriate for younger child right off though. There is pretty much no fan service or sexual situations, one might argue that there is "nudity" in that there is a female character who doesn't wear any clothes, but she looks like she is made out of opaque glass and there is nothing really sexual about it at all. Overall, I feel this is best for older children and above.



Version(s) Viewed: Broadcast airing, English dub
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Galaxy Express 999 © 1979 Leiji Matsumoto / Toei
 
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