Galaxy Express 999
A Parent's Guide to Anime
Parental Guidance Advised
Reviewed by Daniel Huddleston:
Last night, I rented Galaxy Express 999 for the second time. When I first watched it, I wasn't nearly as impressed as I had expected to be, but for some reason, the story continued to linger in the back of my mind for many days, and I couldn't get the music out of my head. I finally decided that the film was worth a second look, and I'm really glad that I took it.
The story begins with Tetsuro Hoshino, a young, orphaned boy growing up on the streets of a slum that exists in the shadow of Megalopolis city. The privileged of society are able board elegant spacecraft shaped like old locomotives, which they can ride to Andromeda to get free machine bodies, allowing them to live forever.
Tetsuro's mother was murdered for sport by a mechanized man called Count Mecha, and ever since, Tetsuro has dreamed of nothing but riding the Galaxy Express, getting himself a machine body, and using it to kill Count Mecha. He has known nothing but pain in his short life, and wants to be mechanized anyway, just so he can stop hurting.
A mysterious benefactor named Maetel gives Tetsuro a ticket and accompanies him on the Galaxy Express 999. During stops at Titan, Pluto, and points beyond, Tetsuro has many adventures, and meets legendary heroes and outlaws of the spaceways. He also observes the mechanized humans, and begins to see the various paths that people take when they give up their mortality and their senses in exchange for the sterile immortality offered by the machine people's empire. All this wears on Tetsuro, and through his experiences, we watch him mature from a child to a young man with a more adult perspective on life and the universe.
The story is based on comics by Leiji Matsumoto, and when juxtaposed with his other famous movie, Arcadia of My Youth an interesting contrast emerges. Whereas Arcadia is about *being* a man, Galaxy Express 999 is about *becoming* a man. The universe is no less cruel here than in Captain Harlock's world (which is actually the same world, many years later), but the focus here is on a younger, more innocent time in a protagonist's life.
While the animation is sometimes crude by today's standards, the backgrounds are gorgeously rendered, creating a succession of imaginative landscapes and cityscapes, which, together with some unforgettable background music, builds an aura of wonder and mystery as Tetsuro travels from one strange world to another. Outers space seems lonely, frightening, and yet somehow invigorating. The designs are pure Matsumoto-- strange and yet charmingly familiar to anyone who remembers Starblazers.
The dubbed version is not terrible, but I would have preferred subbing. Some of the minor characters deliver substandard performances, and whenever the narrator does a voice-over, words that should sound deep and wise come across as just plain cheesy (especially bad, since the narrator has the last lines of the film). On the positive side, the major characters are all quite servicable, with the omnipresent Saffron Henderson (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Maison Ikkoku) a standout as Tetsuro, striking a nigh-perfect balance of humility, rage, and vulnerability.
The dubbed version contains some cursing (D**N, H**L, B*****D, and B***H), and-- as usual for a Matsumoto film-- brace youself for a heck of a lot of tragedy. Gore is at a minimum, but there are some elements that might be very disturbing to a child-- for example, when Tetsuro finally goes after Count Mecha, he walks into a dining room and comes face-to-face with his mother's naked body, stuffed and mounted on the wall. Which brings me to the question of nudity: yes and no. Women are naked in a couple of scenes, although camera angles, long, flowing hair, or arms always hide the sensitive areas. Also, there are some odd overtones to Tetsuro's relationship with the much older Maetel (who looks just like his dead mother), with which talk show psychiatrists would likely have a field day.
On the plus side, however, this is an excellent coming of age story, and in many ways a beautiful film. A naive boy grows up and comes to understand some fundamental truths about himself and humanity. We see the world through his eyes, and we understand his disillusionment and his subsequent, new found resolve. The outlook of the film is consistent with Matsumoto's other works--the universe is a cold, dark place that's out to get you, but by forging the bonds of love and friendship, and by being true to the fundamental principles of right and wrong, people can still make a place for themselves in it.
Additional review by Lydia Thornton
Tetsuro Hoshino is a boy growing up in a time when many people have traded in their bodies for artificial machine bodies thus becoming immortal. Tetsuro who has known only poverty and hardship his whole life longs to become mechanized so that he may kill Count Mecha, the evil mechanized man who killed his mother for fun.
Tetsuro steals a pass to board the Galaxy Express 999 which is a starship(which looks like a 19th century train) that travels to Andromeda where machine bodies are given. the police chase him, but he is rescued by a mysterious woman named Maetel who looks uncannily like his mother. Maetel gives him a pass for the three-nine on the condition that she may accompany him the whole journey.
On Tetsuro's stops on Titan and Pluto he meets mechanized people who seem and depressed with the choice that they made. Tetsuro meets a waitress named Claire who is working to buy back her original body and a sad strange woman named Shadow who is fascinated buy his body's warmth.
These experiences make Tetsuro think whether immortality is worth giving up your humanity for. He eventually realizes that there is only life because there is death, and a life that goes on forever is not really a life at all.
This is a fascinating story with a deep message.We watch Tetsuro metamorphose from a headstrong impulsive child to a much more mature and wise young adult. His character and the quiet and enigmatic character of Maetel work well together making the story for more complex and interesting.
The animation is very simple and rather sketchy but unique and interesting all the same. The backgrounds are beautifully and creatively drawn. The dub is actually not half bad with the voice acting ranging from passable to very good. The script can become slightly sappy and corny sometimes but it is easy to ignore. On the whole this is an anime masterpiece and should definitely not be missed.
Parent's Guide Rating:
yellow (parental guidance advised)
Whether this movie is appropriate for younger kids or not heavily depends on the kid. There are some scenes that a sensitive child might find very frightening. The scene where Tetsuro's mother is killed is pretty heavy and later in the movie Tetsuro is confronted by the top half of his mother mounted on the wall. I think we all know that a kid's worst nightmare is losing his or her parents. Matsumoto films are tragic and psychological practically by definition.
There are a few mild words in this film(da-n, bit-h, h-ll etc.) but it is not a major part of the movie. The only other thing that is slightly odd is Tesuro's relationship with maetel. we later find out that Maetel is actually in living in his mother's body. If this is so then Tetsuro has a bit of an Oedipus complex(LOL). There is definitely a romantic overtone.