In the distant future, humanity has found a way to live forever by purchasing mechanical bodies, but this way to immortality is extraordinarily expensive. An impoverished boy, Tetsurou Hoshino, desires to purchase a pass on the Galaxy Express 999—a train that travels throughout the universe—because it is said that at the end of the line, those aboard can obtain a mechanical body for free. When Tetsurou's mother is gunned down by the villainous machine-man hybrid Count Mecha, however, all seems lost.
Tetsurou is then saved from certain death by the mysterious Maetel, a tall woman with blonde hair and a striking resemblance to his mother. She gives him a pass to the Galaxy Express under one condition: that they travel together. Thus, Tetsurou begins his journey across the universe to many unique planets and thrilling adventures, in hopes of being able to attain that which he most desires.
At first glance, any series of 100+ episodes requires a real commitment on the viewers behalf, in many ways its a big gamble (with their time). If the series sucks then you feel like you just wasted an enormous amount of time on nothing, when its a success you walk away with a great sense of enjoyment and that it was time well spent. Galaxy Express 999 (pronounced the 3-9 in the series) delivers in every category.
Galaxy Express 999 is one of the chief anime that created the foundation for the space opera genre in anime, the vast majority of new series since have their foundation stem from this (among the others such as Harlock, Yamamoto, etc.) series. What most newer viewers might think about new and recent anime as being riveting and ground breaking, is usually a remake of an older series; back when everything was still done by hand, and without all the eye candy available today. Creators had to rely on their stories and the characters to make a successful anime. Matsumoto does that in GE 999 without having the recycle plotlines in any of the 113 episodes and tie all of them together into a deep insight into the human condition and reminds us of many things we take for granted.
GE 999 is set far into the future (around the year 3000) where people can achieve immortality through the use of mechanical bodies. A person's mind is put into a purely mechanical cyborg body giving them an infinite lifespan. The story starts out with one of the main character's Tetsuro being chased by cyborg hunters. One of them shoot and kills his mom, where its her dying wish for Tetsuro to become strong and live a long immortal life in a mechanical body.
Tetsuro meets up with Maeel who helps him board the legendary galaaxy express 999; where one can travel to a planet where mechanical bodies are given away free. Through the use of space trains (mass transit with a touch of romantic old style) Tetsuro and Maetel travel to dozens of different worlds; each unique in its own way.
For a show that's over 30 years old, the animation and artwork quality are very good. Matsumoto has his own unique style for character designs (much like Miyazaki). Throughout the series he often borrow other characters from his other anime's either as the character themself (like captain Harlock) or uses character design very similar to his other characters from other series.
Creating realistic sounds to match all the different environments and planets that they (Tetsuro and Maetel) visit throughout the series is done very well. While its nothing spectacular on its own, the soundtrack never sounds out of through the course of all the stops the 999 makes.
The meat of the series is built up largely in the characters, each character has their own agenda/purpose in the grand scheme of things. There's really 3 main characters, though the series is focused around Tetsuro and his journey. You have Tetsuro, a homeless, poor and very confused character at the start. Maetel is his traveling partner that acts as a guide/escort/protector during his journey through space. Then you have the conductor, at times he can play a key role in the story; though somewhat comedy relief as he's more like a ghost with clothes on.
The development of the characters is a large part of the series. Tetsuro being new to space travel and cruel world that lies ahead relies on Maetel for guidance. When he first boards the 999 he is a really weak person with no skills or experience. Much of the series is about him learning how things really work out there, and becoming a real man. It could be said that its a coming of age story, but there is much more to it than just watching Tetsuuro mature. Along the way he see many different types of people, and what it means to have a mechanical body.
At the beginning Tetsuro is a naive, annoying pest that never does what he's told despite what dangers he might face. In the beginning of the series it can be tough to watch him make stupid mistakes to the point you want to reach into the screen and strangle him for making such stupid judgment errors. As he travels to more and more planets he really learns what it takes to survive out in the harsh reality of space; many of these lessons are done the hard way with him doing exactly what he's told not to do, usually requiring Maetel to come save him.
Some characters/character designs might show up several times throughout the series, but each episode is truly a new adventure - Matsumoto never recycles a storyline. You never feel that you're watching recycled scripts/plots like other long series like Inu Yasha, Ranma or Urusei Yatsura are guilty of doing.
There is also a big element of mystery throughout the whole series in the character of Maetel. From her detailed knowledge we know she's traveled the same route on the 999 several times before. While she is always looking afterTetsuro, at times you get the feeling that she's got a hidden agenda and is stinging Tetsuro along for an anterior purpose. And no one really knows what exactly she is, throughout the series she is somewhat an enigma of mystery as she frequently knows what's going to happen beforehand.
GE 999 is a great series once you finally settle in with it. The character development and depth is enormous and spectacular. There's a number of episodes that are 2-parters; aside from those each episode brings something new. While frustrating at times, many of the mysteries and odd things that go on during the series don't get tied up till the very end (last few episodes) leaving you guessing the whole time as to what or who Maetel is, and what unique value there is in being human. read more
One of Leiji Matsumoto's Masterpieces, this is one of those unique exprerience anime that come once in ten years, a classic of Space Operas, Galaxy Express 999 is a life Journey.
Our Journey takes place in a rather futuristic setting where humans are able to transfer their minds to a mechanical body in order to achieve enternal life. While this seems to be a somewhat perfect world, it is in reallity a dystopian Universe full of opression, suffering and tragedy for the poor and the weak ones. Our Protagonist, Hoshino Tetsuro,a proud and rightous young boy boards the Galaxy Express 999 with help of mysterious Maetel in order to reach the planet where you can get a mechanical body for free. If you are familiar with Leiji's works you will know what kind of Journey you will expect, for those who aren't, this will be a Journey full of Painfull situations, tragic heroes and shatered dreams, in other words, the definition of Drama.
While the Story seems rather episodic, from time to time, you will get a tiny revelation about the storyline, which in my oppinion, is a boost in the morale of the viewer since it can be sometimes tyring to watch such a long anime.
The art is that from Leiji's previous and future works, beautiful long-haired and fragile looking women, aerodynamic haired and proud males, small and sometimes comic looking elders. One small flaw I think is that, at some point females look like revamps from one another wich is a consequence of the large number of characters throughout the series.
The Soundtrack is very good in my opinion, whether it is a comic or serious situation it addapts to the moment you are experiencing, you will sometimes listen Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and songs sang by characters that add an even more dramatic tone to the scene.
What I really want to say about this series is that this is a life learning experience, in each of the 999 stops you will get your persona lifel lesson out of the diferent situations that our protagonists will enconter, I felt that I learned something valuable from characters experiences, that is, in my oppinions, the greatest thing about this Anime. read more
Leiji Matsumoto spent a large portion of his life constantly elaborating his own personal universe defined by certain key characters amongst a huge cast who left their marks on the various places in space. On these journeys, several questions are bound to be asked; is technological advancement something positive or negative; Will increased comfort eventually lead to our ambitious and creative decay; Is it possible to live on without inventing a purpose of existence and, as is made the most prominent in Galaxy Express 999, what is it that makes you human?
When young Tetsuro Hoshino who recently lost his mother is offered a ticket to the Galaxy Express by a mysterious and beautiful woman named Maetel, he sees the possibility to get himself a mechanical body and live a life long enough to compensate for the early demises of his parents. You see, the story takes place in a future where mechanical bodies are the norm for privileged individuals of wealth or power as well as highly desired by the less fortunate. These bodies are impossibly expensive but rumor has it that they're given away for free on the planet Andromeda, one of many stops on the route of the Galaxy Express; a train traveling through the universe. In other words, Tetsuro has to visit a huge number of planets before reaching his goal and these experiences cause him to question whether he should keep striving for his invented Raison d'Être or just embrace his humanity.
This anime is incredibly episodic and when you consider the large amount of episodes you might be able to guess what the major problems are. If not, then allow me to explain: inconsistency and predictability. During its very best, Galaxy Express can reach the same allegorical and thought-provoking levels as Kino's Journey but most episodes are nothing more than "okay" while some of them can even be terrible. One of my favorites tells the story of a planet where the inhabitants are starving since almost all food is given to the queen who, as it turns out, died 200 years ago but hid herself before that happened in a narcissistic attempt to prevent anyone from seeing her once beautiful body reduced to a pile of bones.
Furthermore, since each episode requires some sort of conflict, almost all of them basically boil down into "Tetsuro and Maetel visits a planet, something bad happens which might prevent them from returning to the Galaxy Express. They solve it."
To be fair though, I haven't seen the ending yet so I might alter the score after that.
Given its length and age, Galaxy Express boasts fairly impressive animation that nonetheless is very obsolete and naturally can't compete with anything remotely recent. A lot of characters are forced into the same state of cartoonism you could find in Captain Harlock while others are blessed with a little more detail. Women are tall and slender to incorporate the ideals Matsumoto seems to have, topped off with long and beautiful hair. Does the old animation prevent you from enjoying the show? The answer is no, working on the assumption that you don't condemn anything based on its age. While holding little to no regard for realism, the various creatures in space are interestingly designed while the mere concept of a train traveling through space (inspired by Night on the Galactic Railroad) is pulled off well enough to establish a unique and impressive atmosphere.
The music in this show is actually quite good even if most tracks are re-used over and over again until they've made their way into your head not solely because of their quality but primarily because they're repeated. Voice acting is a mixed bag with Tetsuro sounding occasionally obnoxious (or if you prefer to call it just childish) and Maetel delivering her lines in a state of melancholia. Sound effects are made well enough for the time being and the background noise played during scenes inside the train made me want to embark on an impossible journey using a space-train as my main vehicle.
In case the premise didn't highlight this enough, the very core of Galaxy Express is comprised of the journey towards self-discovery young Tetsuro embarks on under the guidance of Maetel; a woman of beauty, wisdom and above all else, experience. He's not supposed to be portrayed as heroic even though he reaches the level of a terrific childhood role-model in his sense of justice and will to help alone. Together, the two protagonists make for a memorable team even though Tetsuro never seems to learn from his mistakes; which should be the entire point of the journey.
Furthermore, Galaxy Express tends to be somewhat depressing in its decision to observe miserable fates all across the universe whilst only occasionally deciding to depict something less heartbreaking. Individuals who spend their lives doing one pointless thing; A planet with more inhabitants than the current China who beg for a living and some characters in general who seem to accept their eternal suffering which does not in any way make it less sad are mere examples of what the show has to offer. The major problem lies in the fact that most of these characters are introduced hastily only to be killed shortly after or just left behind for the next story to begin. In other words, some of the sympathy you normally would have is instantly lost and all of the excruciatingly sad lifestyles are quickly forgotten as Tetsuro and Maetel continue.
Make no mistake, so far I'm enjoying this show almost immensely but there's no way to review it without acknowledging all of the major flaws. Some episodes are, as mentioned, incredible not only from a story-related but also thought-provoking standpoint and the moral messages, whilst obvious or possibly clichéd for anyone older than twelve or so, are suited perfectly for slightly younger children. In the end, this is not the space epic you might expect but rather a somewhat elaborate tale of a young boy whose impression of life itself changes over time as he's exposed to the various lifestyles and opinions of the people he encounters. At the same time, he leaves several positive impressions of a seemingly lost humanity behind and continues to touch and inspire those who fail to see anything of value in existence. In the very truest sense he embodies everything the typical young hero Matsumoto so loves to depict should have and will probably grow up to reach the heights of Harlock or Emeraldas. Who knows, maybe this is even answered in another title from the vast Leijiverse?
Regardless of its qualities, to discover the occasional gem of an episode you’ll be forced to wander through a huge sea of mediocrity, which basically sums up the overall score in one sentence. If you’re up to the challenge, then by all means, proceed! read more
Admittedly, when I was watching Galaxy Express 999, I was watching it cause it was related to Harlock (I wanted to fully prep myself for when the Harlock CGI movie became available to watch in English). But after watching it, it's an amazing series.
The story may seem old nowadays, but the way the characters interact, and how they develop (more so for Tetsuro as he begins to realize getting a mechanical body would prove to make him more laid back and that everything his mother taught him about hard work would have seemed pointless in the end).
The characters themselves are all unique and very enjoyable. Tetsuro, despite how he became a bit of a brat in later episodes, is an enjoyable character, and he certainly becomes quite the badass for being a 10(?) year old. The Conductor was hilarious to watch in almost all episodes he was in due to his strict nature to follow the rules of the Galaxy Railroads, but also fighting the the 999's computer. Maetel is without a doubt my favorite character in the show, because of how complex, and mysterious she is. You spend the series wondering who she really is, and why she keeps asking her father to stop the journey with Tetsuro to Andromeda.
The soundtrack is amazing, and so damn catchy (so much that I downloaded the soundtrack on my laptop) that the songs are all stuck in my brain and I don't want to get them out. From the opening song, to the next episode preview, I could listen to the soundtrack on a loop and never get bored of it.
All in all, I fully recommend Galaxy Express 999. Despite it's 113 episode run, it's still a great series.read more
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