Tetsurou Hoshino is a boy bent on obtaining an immortal mechanical body in order to take revenge against his mother's murderer, the machine man Count Mecha. However, due to the incredible cost of obtaining what he seeks, his only hope is to steal a boarding pass for the Galaxy Express 999, a space train that travels across the galaxy and whose final stop is a planet where the metal replacements are provided for free. After swiping a pass, Tetsurou is pursued by the police and ends up collapsing into the arms of a mysterious woman named Maetel, who closely resembles his mother. Once he awakens, she tells the boy that she will provide him entry onto the 999 as long as he agrees to travel with her. Accepting her proposition, Tetsurou boards the cosmic railway with Maetel and begins a journey across the galaxy.
This anime has a great story and awesome cast of characters. Outside the movies, I have little to no familiarity with the other mediums this story has been told. I heard the TV series was 113 episodes!! I don’t get how you can make a story that big!! Plus, I heard the manga was also 20 volumes.
Regardless of how much is compressed in this version, you still feel the maturity of Tetsuro and how strong the bond is between him and Matel. The bond they share is something comparable to what Naked Snake and the Boss have in Metal Gear Solid 3. It’s beyond mother
and son, brother and sister and a romantic relationship between man and woman despite Matel’s mysterious age and Tetsuro still not yet hitting puberty. There are some elements that are predictable and others that are not. Whether or not you anticipated something, you’ll still be surprised regardless. I’ll admit that every time I see this anime which is probably once every other month or so, I’ll cry at the end. Because you really feel that bond between Matel and Tetsuro and the friends he made and those who died that made their impact and you really learn the meaning of life.
Well, this anime despite being made in the late 1970s is still very acceptable by today’s standards. Even Leiji Matsumoto himself cannot even evolve his style to modern day times. You might likely associate the character designs from Daft Punk’s music video One More Time. That music video was made some number of years ago and it shows that Matsumoto stands by the way he draws. He’s a lot like the creator of Saint Seiya, Kurumada Masami in that kind of way. His style can be corresponded to a certain era of anime, but as long as he is still working, he’ll continue to do things the way he does it.
I like to talk about the use of scenery and the interpretation of the future in this anime on earth. Despite being nearly 30 years old, the interpretation of the future isn’t as retro ally exaggerated like the Jetsons or Lost in Space or the old school Star Trek series by using stupid designed robots or weird clothes. If this anime was made even today, the interpretation of the scenery of the future of the earth would probably still be the same. It has a dark look to it and you can comparably say the scenery of the city you see in the first act while still on earth is that to Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. Still has tall buildings but they are not really too mechanical looking despite the lights. The clothing of the characters aren’t really spandex jump suits or weird space suits. They use clothing close to modern day standards with the exemption of the pirate characters.
Now time to talk about how the characters are designed. The male characters aren’t really portrayed as being muscular. This is a common trait I’ve seen in other 1970s anime such as Gundam, Maringer Z, and Lupin III. They got more of a skinny built but that quality is made up with quick, sharp, and clever movements if there is ever any action. Tetsuro as a kid has a huge head in his flash back scenes and there are other awkward design characters like Tochiro. Then there’s also the female characters. They tend to resemble each other too much. Like Matel, Emeraldis, and the female character at the beginning of the movie all have the same stick figure built and face, but different hair colors and Emeraldas of course has a scar on her face. Is this suppose to be the Gundam SEED of the late 1970s where there is some limited diversity to the design? Granted Matsumoto has a distinctive art style and draws some good female characters, but he really needs to work a bit on the diversity field of main female characters.
But the mecha people have great designs as well and are well distinctive which makes up for the bad quality I just mentioned. Like there are some mecha characters that still have some vague human form to them like in the bar scene. Some have 100% mech bodies like the main villain Count Mecha. And there are some that can have other material types of bodies like Claire who is made of crystal glass and can light herself. So the world of robotizing yourself in this anime gives you many choices of what you can do. And of course there is the awesome looking pirate space ships that have an intimidating look to them and the interesting design of the 999.
Now time to talk about the voice acting in both the Japanese and English version. What’s ironic is that Tetsuro happens to be played by actresses that have one trait in common. Both Masako Nozawa his Japanese voice actress and Saffron Henderson who plays him in the English version also happened to have played Goku in Dragon Ball. Well Henderson specifically played Goku in the first dub to Dragon Ball that was released in 1995, while Nozawa played Goku throughout the entire Dragon Ball saga. So I thought that was a real interesting twist. Both actresses portray the character very well. The screams really bring out the character in the Japanese version while the voice Saffron uses is well suited to his personality meaning he is a kid, but still quite mature and knows how to handle himself.
Other well known Japanese voice actors is Banjo Ginga who has a brief role in Planet Andromeda. And from what I found, the original voice actors in the Japnese versions of Harlock and Emeraldis also reprise their roles.
The English version as well as the sequel which I will also review at a later time were aired on the Sci-Fi era of Anime after Midnight. So I guarantee that you will love this anime despite the language because both offer their own great portrayals to the characters.
As for the music, it has a lot of disco beat to it considering the time it was made. I happen to be a 1970s fan and I love the movie Saturday Night Fever so I dig the background music. Now time to talk about the lyrical music. Specifically the ending theme. It’s a very iconic music. It’s really folkish and it is a timeless classic in it’s own right. So big in Japan that it was included in versions of Guitar Freaks and Drummania and is in Karaoke Revolution. It’s really catchy and really sets the mood of the ending. The voice sounds really 70s but the way the music is played doesn’t really have the disco beat but it has more of a 1960s rock to the presentation.
Quite honestly, I have no idea how you can make a 113 episode TV series out of a story you can perfectly tell in this 2+ hour movie. You will feel the emotion of the characters and be captured by the story. The character design may not be for everyone but the action and the scenery is still up to the standards of modern day anime of the same genre. The music is incredible. The anime may be a possible interpretation of the future, but will always be a product of it’s time.
The movie, was directed by Rin Taro (Astro Boy, Captain Harlock), while the series was directed by Nobutaka Nishizawa (Slam Dunk, Zatch Bell); so it makes sense the movie was more action oriented than the series. Tetsuro gets an upgrade in his character design, which was a big boost, and the overall art gets an upgrade as well. There was even some music added that the original series really lacked, but hey, it was anime in the 70’s.
So, how do you compress a 113 episode series into two hours? Basically, you take all of the important events, planets with the best lessons, the characters that
impacted Tetsuro the most, and take away all of the “filler” planets. Many questions are answered outright instead of wandering through space and slowly forgetting the original question, and there is even an overlap with Emeraldas and Captain Harlock that makes sense as opposed to the series. The only thing that is missing is the true mother to son sense between Tetsuro and Maetel that the original series developed.
The movie is great, plain and simple. It really captures almost everything the series has and gives the viewer more in the sense of action.
Based on the TV anime of the same name, Ginga Tetsudou 999 plays in the distant future and follows Tetsuro, who wants to avenge his mother by killing the person responsible for her death. In order to reach this goal, he wants to ride the Galaxy Express 999, an intergalactic locomotive. What may seem like a really simple and predictable concept at the beginning, develops into a way more intriguing and complex tale as the film goes on.
At first, the story is about Tetsuro visiting several planets where he learns about various aspects of life, especially about the relationship between humans and machines. In a
certain way, it is similar to Kino no Tabi but unlike that anime, where the stories are not connected, Ginga Tetsudou 999 has an overarching plot and a goal the protagonist is moving towards. The experiences Tetsuro makes on the different planets greatly affect how he thinks about machines and moreover create a new path the plot then follows. While the story might be slightly predictable, this film is more about the characters' relationships with one another and their respective development, which, in turn, result in some interesting twists at the anime's end.
Next to Tetsuro, there is Maetel, a mysterious woman who seems to be somehow connected to the young boy's past. While you watch the anime, you are constantly wondering about her, her motives and who she really is. At the same time, the viewer can see how her relationship to Tetsuro grows in a completely believable manner. Additionally, she does not only affect the main character's growth but also plays a central role in the anime's plot.
The antagonist has no motive to be evil other than for his own amusement but in the context of the setting, there is nothing wrong with his behaviour. There are several supporting characters who also affect where the anime is going and who all have distinguishable personalities. Unfortunately, some of them suffer from unrealistic character development, which sometimes leads to incomprehensibly awkward scenes.
Being a two-hour film rather than the 113 episodes TV anime it originally was, Ginga Tetsudou 999 has some severe pacing issues. The beginning as well as the ending are unjustifiably protracted and at the same time, there are some subplots that reach their conclusion disturbingly fast.
The animations are fluid for the most part and at no point horrible. In fact, it is better than some of Toei Animation's modern work, such as Dragon Ball Super. Moreover, the backgrounds are well-detailed and create a distinct feeling for every planet Tetsuro visits during his journey. However, the character design is laughably bad. Not only are the characters indescribably disproportionated but they moreover look different from scene to scene. You accustom yourself to it as the film goes on but this does not change the fact that the creators could have done a much better job.
The background music is not very memorable but there is also no huge issue with it. However, from time to time the music is too loud so that it is difficult to hear the characters' voices. The protagonist's voice actress is Nozawa Masako, who is famous for lending her voice to Dragon Ball's Goku as well as Digimon Tamers' Guilmon. While she does a splendid job, Maetel's voice actress, Ikeda Masako, unfortunately lacks in comparison. Her voice might be fitting but it sometimes sounds as though she would not make an effort.
As a whole, Ginga Tetsudou 999 is an enjoyable film dealing with some very interesting topics, accompanied by a good and loveable cast. If you do not have any issues with the character designs and can accept some pacing issues, you will more than likely enjoy this film.
You can't buy this film in this country and I'm not even sure you can get it on import in the USA but I managed to track it down on youtube and I'm very glad I did. This is a retro golden oldie that condenses the main plot of the TV series (which was 113 episodes long) into an easy to digest feature film. It's one of those rare films that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of age or sex. The dated visuals and music might put some off but I think it actually added to the retro charm and a low budget production
like this was never meant to be a feast for the senses anyway. A film like this hardly needs eye melting spectacle or to bombast you with incredible sound when it's filled with so much imagination and heart.
It's no masterpiece but then it was never meant to be. What it is is a fun, engaging coming of age adventure in a sci-fi setting (though it's actually very light on any actual science in a Star Wars kinda sense) that will make you smile from start to finish and able to ignore any of its technical flaws, which again I think actually add to the charm and appeal most of the time anyway. In an age where most family entertainment is disposable, interchangeable, unoriginal, technically superb but ultimately boring it might sound cliche to say it but they really don't make family films quite like this anymore.
As always it's better to watch with the original Japanese dialogue with subtitles.
We all enjoy looking up at the night sky, and watching the stars. And quite often we wonder what exactly is going on...out there in deep space. Fortunately, there's a ton of excellent space anime which will clue us in and make our imaginations run wild!