This is one of the most difficult series to review -- mainly since you really need to have some background into Matsumoto's vast universe to fully appreciate the specific segment this movie portrays. The first-time viewer will immediately recognise the fact that several key pieces of information seem to be missing -- as if someone delivers a punchline without actually telling the joke. Those of you who have read Matsumoto's manga, or are familiar with his universe will find that GE 999 fills in a lot of details...
But even the most ardent Harlock fan will have a very tough time trying to resolve certain aspects of this story -- for starters, just how many co-incidences does it take to make a story completely unbelievable? As with many anime programs from this era, Galaxy Express suffers from some lousy action choreography. Once again, we see chase scenes involving our hero, in which police officers inexplicably stand around long enough for him to run away. And once again, these same police officers couldn't hit the proverbial 'broad side of a barn' with their guns. So when you add to this the incredible string of luck which sets Tetsuro with Tochiro's mother, who provides our young warrior with a gun, cape and hat so that *gasp* Emeraldas recognises his garb while travelling on a train through the middle of nowhere, only to *gasp* find the very planet on which Tetsuro is residing, arriving just in time as Tetsuro dies, which *gasp* miraculously brings Harlock onto the scene, which then... well, you get the idea. Not enough coincidences? Not to worry -- there's plenty more where they came from.
It's really quite shame, since there's a fairly decent story which goes along with all this -- as Tetsuro progresses along his journey, he also grows up to become a young man. The Galaxy Express is not only a means of physical transportation, but it's a metaphor about for life -- that life itself is a journey, punctuated by various stops along the way, people embarking and disembarking. Some interesting themes are thrown in as well -- most prominant is that of how human mortality is part of what makes life itself meaningful. Not very enlightening for today's more sophisticated audience, but remember that this film was made almost twenty years ago. The fact that this film is so old is quite obvious -- scratches on the original stock survived the video transfer process quite well.
Age does have its advantages, though. This movie was made at a time where real orchestras were used (in this case, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra) to provide the soundtrack, a luxury reserved for all but the most extravagant productions today. Even though the frame rates are very low, the animators still spent the time to do perspective motion frames, something that's pretty much left to the computers these days. The English voice-overs were pretty much a mixed bag. Both Maetel and Tetsuro's mother were acted in similar fashion -- not surprising, since both were played by the same actress. Fortunately, the low-key intonations suited both characters very well. We didn't fare so well with Tetsuro himself -- the voice is very, very annoying. The one high-point: the conductor was wonderfully played with just the right touch of humour.
Galaxy Express 999 provides some interesting ideas, but drowns under its own weight. The heavy-handedly directing and occasionally corny scripting makes it unwatchable at times. A 'classic?' About as classic as a Studebaker.
- AN, 98.10-14