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Galaxy Express 999

Entry updated 28 March 2022. Tagged: Film, TV.

Japanese animated film (1979). Original title Ginga Tetsudo Surī-Nain. Based on the Manga by Leiji Matsumoto. Toei Animation. Directed by Rintaro. Written by Shiro Ishimori. Voice cast includes Masako Ikeda, Makio Inoue, Masako Nozawa, Hidekatsu Shibata and Reiko Tajima. 129 minutes. Colour.

The first Anime adaption of the manga was a 113-part Television series also titled Galaxy Express 999 (1978-1981). The film was made by the same studio with virtually the same cast, but has a different director and writer. It compresses and reworks the story, with the Express only visiting four locations, whereas the television series has a new one almost every episode. It was Japan's highest-grossing domestic film of 1979.

Earthboy Tetsuro Hoshino (Nozawa) dreams of an Immortal mechanized body and to "sail the sea of stars". He therefore plans to travel on Galaxy Express 999 to the Andromeda Galaxy, where they Upload people into Robot bodies for free. In the meantime his mother is hunted for sport and killed by the aristocrat Count Mecha (Shibata) and Tetsuro vows revenge. Two years later his attempt to steal a train ticket fails, but he is rescued from the authorities by a passenger, Maetel (Ikeda), who resembles his mother and allows him to travel with her.

The Express, designed to resemble an old-fashioned steam train, first stops on a Terraformed Titan (see Outer Planets). Here Tetsuro is given a gun capable of killing mechanized men (see Weapons) and learns the pirate Emeraldas (Tajima) knows the location of Count Mecha's Time Castle. After Pluto, where the human bodies of the mechanized are stored under an icy plain, the train is boarded by Emeraldas: despite her fearsome reputation she readily tells Tetsuro the Castle will shortly appear at Trader's Fork – the train's next stop. On arrival Tetsuro is attacked, but is rescued by his idol, Captain Harlock (Inoue) (see Space Pirate Captain Harlock). Later Tetsuro enters the gothic Time Castle and, though dismayed to find his mother displayed as a trophy, kills the Count.

Tetsuro, having met mechanized people pining for their human bodies and realized immortality has psychological consequences (when human, Count Mecha had been a kindly man), now believes "mechanized bodies must be removed from the universe". The Express terminates at the "Mechanization Homeworld" – Planet Maetel! Maetel is the planet's princess, "a shadow" who wears a succession of Cloned bodes, the current one being Tetsuro's mother. Tetsuro finds the offer to convert people for free has a catch: they become a mechanized component in the planet's structure, and "he will make a fine bolt for the central block". Fortunately Princess Maetel, aware that it is a force for evil, plans to destroy the planet; and, with Tetsuro's help, succeeds. Tetsuro and the Princess flee to the train and escape as the planet collapses (a little redundantly, Harlock's and Emeraldas's ships are also attacking it).

The story has its absurdities, some doubtless a result of condensing the plot, with plentiful coincidences and good fortune. Tetsuro, though only twelve, has two women falling in love with him: one sacrifices herself after only the briefest acquaintance; the other, Maetel, has his mother's body (fortunately they separate at the end, but not without a kiss). Despite the eyebrow-raising elements, this is an enjoyable Anime: the animation, given its age, stands up well – and, despite being over two hours long, the story moves along agreeably.

The first english dub, released in 1981 by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, was crudely edited by 35 minutes and, amongst its sins, had Tetsuro's name changed to Joey Hana-Cana-Boba-Camanda Smith. The sequel Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981; original title Sayōnara, ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Andromeda shūchakueki) is set three years later, with the Machine Empire resurgent and Tetsuro in the Earth resistance. The television series had full length television films based on expanded episodes: Can You Live Like a Warrior!? (1979; original title Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Kimi wa senshi no yō ni ikirareru ka!?), Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Traveler Emeraldas (1980; original title Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Eien no tabibito Emeraldas) and Can You Love Like a Mother!? (1980; original title Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Kimi wa haha no yō ni aiseru ka!!), as well as the short film Claire of Glass (1980; original title Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Garasu no Kurea). Much later came two OVAs, the film Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy (1998; original title Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain: Eternal Fantasy) and the two-part Maetel Legend (2000; original title Mēteru Rejendo). Next were the television series Space Symphony Maetel (2004; original title Uchū kōkyōshi Mater: Ginga tetsudō Surī-Nain gaiden, 13 episodes) and The Galaxy Railways (2003-2004; original title Ginga tetsudō monogatari, 26 episodes), with a further OVA Galaxy Railways: Letter From An Abandoned Planet (2006; original title Ginga tetsudō monogatari: Wasurerareta toki no wakusei). Two stage plays, Ginga Tetsudo 999 Galaxy Opera (2018) and Ginga Tetsudo 999 Sayonara Maetel: Boku no Eien (2019), were both broadcast on Japanese television. There have also been computer games. [SP]


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