Moving on today we’re looking at something that’s getting brought up more and more by older anime fans. It spans several anime series and movies. A universe were in the vast expanse of the sea of stars trains span the distance between planets, pirates seem to act as the galactic neighborhood watch, and 30% of the inhabited planets look like they are out of an old western movie and all the female main characters look alike.
This is the world of Leiji Matsumoto.
Or at least the 2/3s of his body of works that one can give some semblance of continuity in. Face it, Matsumoto has been drawing manga since 1953 and he has this whole star system/reincarnation thing he calls the ring of time. So while it’s interesting to see him constantly create and recreate the mythology of his works to suite the narrative of the story at the time, the result is continuity snarls the likes of what keeps causing DC to reset their multiverse every decade or so now.
The best way to look at it is to consider these quotes by Douglass Adams from the introduction to the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guild to the Galaxy edition.
“The first Hitchhiker’s book was published called “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. It was a substantially expanded version of the first four episodes of the radio series, in which some of the characters behaved in entirely different ways and others behaved in exactly the same ways for entirely different reasons, which amounts to the same thing but saves on rewriting dialogue.”
“ The Guide has appeared in so many forms – books radio, a television series, records and soon to be a major motion picture- each time with a different story line that even it’s most acute followers have become baffled” ~ Douglass Adams LA 1983 and London 1985/1986.
Reportedly the latest Galaxy Express 999 novel has a scene with Space Battleship Yamato villain leader Dessler hitting on Space Pirate Captain Harlock villainess Lafresia, so one should just consume a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster so they don’t get a brain aneurism thinking about it too hard.
There is one easy way to watch something of Leiji Mastusoto’s works without going insane or destroying your liver and god knows what else, Galaxy Express 999 the movie. Galaxy Express 999 ran as an anime series ran for 113 episodes and even for a devoted Leiji fan like myself that’s a lot to watch.
It’s 1000 years in the future more or less and earth isn’t a nice place for humans. An immense class divide exists between the upper-class who can afford to turn themselves into machine men and the humans who can’t afford machine bodies. Machine bodies are insanely expensive but there are rumors of a planet in the Andromeda galaxy where you can get a machine body for free. The catch 22 being the only way to get there is on the Galaxy Express 999 whose tickets are also insanely expensive. It also only stops at earth’s station one a year. So very few people board the 999 and none are known to have returned.
Tetsuro Hoshino orphaned after his mother is killed by Count Mecha encounters the mysterious Maetel who offers him a free ride on the 999 in exchange for being her escort. Testuro wants to get a machine body so he can live a long happy life like his mother wanted him too. Also kill Cont Mecha if he runs into the guy. In the anime he’s your typical young boy protagonist always ready to go on an adventure on whatever planet the train stops at. He doesn’t think twice about rushing to help others and he takes his promise to protect Maetel very seriously. As a result of these traits and the rest of the universe being the hard place it is he’s constantly running into trouble. He reminds me of a young Goku at times but that might be the voice actors.
In the movie while being voice by the same actress there’s clearly a bit of a time skip between the death of Tetsuro’s mother and his meeting with Maetel. First off movie Tetsuro doesn’t have that potato head look when he shows up but is shown to have it when he dreams of his mother’s death. Second he seems a bit more mature than his TV counterpart which works to the advantage of the story being much shorter for a movie. He’s had to survive on his own in the slums of earth instead of having been picked up immediately by Maetel and therefore being a bit older would realize the true course of action needed to be taken in the climax of the story.
Maetel is a mysterious woman who reminds Tetsuro of his mother. More than the fact that there is only one female body type that Matsumoto draws. She’s a warm caring woman with an air of sadness about her. She’s traveled on the 999 before possibly with other young companions. And is likely older than she looks.
The only other character that would be considered a regular is the conductor. He’s some sort of alien I think he’s kind of like a black mage or a jawa in that you can only see his yellow eyes from underneath this cap. He’s also implied to be invisible. His main function is to show up announce what planet the train is arriving at and give information on said planet if needed. In an emergence he will panic and start complaining about Galaxy Railway protocol. He tries to be a by the book conductor but he on rare occasion can be talked into bending the rules. He’s also very fond of Maetel and Tetsuro.
Beyond our two stars and one secondary character the train is mostly deserted. It’s like matel and Tetsuro are the only ones on this train. But over the course of the series there are quite a minor characters and who get much more important roles in this movie. Thought that basically means they made it into the movie.
First is Clare a female Machine man who is the waitress for the 999 dining car. As you can see her body is made of crystal making her transparent. She wishes to return to her original body so she’s saving up the money to do so. She glows in the dark and has a crush on Tetsuro
Antales is an old bandit who hates machine men because they treat humans so poorly. His hideout is full of orphaned children who have had their parents like by the likes of Count Mecha.
Count Mecha is the one who as previously stated killed Tetsuro’s mother, correction shot her like she was an exotic game animal while hunting on earth. He sets the events of both the movie and TV series in to action but ultimately is a mini boss.
Shadow is the Faceless keeper of the graveyards of Pluto that hold all frozen bodies of those mechanized. She’s vain so she could never get an artificial face to match the beauty of her human one so she went faceless and became a grave keeper to be as close as possible to her human appearance. She tries to get Tetsuro to live with her. Something that seems to happen very often in this series, what the heck is it about this kid that brings out Shota complex in every woman he meets? Says something about the how the author views the world if the only guy in the universe that’s the marrying type is 10.
Now we start getting into the people who along with Maetel are the all stars of the leijiverse:
Emeraldas is one of the most feared pirates to roam the sea of stars. She’s an icy bitch who sails alone on her dirigible with gallon gondola spaceship (don’t ask) the Queen Emeraldas searching for something. What I don’t know it changes every single time that plot point is bought up. In the TV show she’s dying of some sort of illness and a robot crew member mutiverse and wants to defeat Maetel to become the real Emeraldas. She must have gotten magically better because she shows up nice and fine in the 999 sequel manga. That episode did establish Emeraldas and Maetel as rivals.
Emeraldus is a very cold woman in comparison to Maetel. It is her aggression that has enabled her to travel her own path though the sea of stars solo. Whereas Maetel really needs an escort and to follow a path that has been set for her by others. Despite being a fearsome space pirate that will coldly kill men without batting an eye she too has a soft spot for Tetsuro, but that’s because she reminds her of someone.
The other extremely dangerous but oddly heroic space pirate is Captain Harlock. Despite being one of the most feared men in the universe Harlock is was someone who Tetsuro and the other children on earth looked up to as a role model. He’s admired because he’s a human with the strength and to seek the freedom of space. He also embodies Masumoto’s perception of manliness. Which means he’s a badass I mean he messes up a machine man with milk. You really don’t want to mess with anyone Harlock considers a friend if you don’t want his Gun or worse the cannons on his space battleship the Arcadia aimed at you.
Speaking of the Arcadia it’s stated to be one of the most powerful battleships in the sea of stars. The others are the Queen Emeraldas and Space Battleship Yamato (depending on copyright issues) if you are curious. The Acadia and her captain are often used to execute last minute saves from time to time. Hence saying space pirates act as the neighborhood watch. Not that this is a complaint, there is something satisfying about watching spaceships based on WWII tech blast the crap out of stuff.
The last important guest star is Tochiro making a rare appearance alive in this movie. He is also chasing Count Mecha and he’s not long for this world. I’m assume he’s not searching via the Arcadia the ship he built and entrusted to his best friend because it’s I have no clue I guess he doesn’t want to bother Harlock with a revenge quest. He’s always portrayed as a little guy who’s always dreamed big. He’s also the original owner of the Hat and gun that Tetsuro receives earlier in the story. They also freakily dress alike. I believe that all of this means that Tetsuro in on his journey inherits the desires of everyone else to combat the Machine Empire.
This move came out in 1979 just as the potential of the anime as a medium as being to be realized. A lot of work went into this movie and it holds up very well as theatrical animated feature. Directed by Rintaro who is known for is slow pasted story telling style. In this movie there’s a balance take off sequences of the 999 for example are beautiful to watch. The soundtrack is also excellent with even a few moving lyrical numbers. Two of those were translated into English for the dub track and are passable the guy’s not the best singer but DVDs have dual audio. The third song left in Japanese was the best of the three and is my favorite peace from the score. Compilation movies or adaptations of long works can be a mess but here cutting out all but a few memorable events works well.
The cast of the TV series reprise their roles for the movie and for what it’s worth I do happen to think that the saiyu voicing Tetsuro actually plays the character differently than in the TV show. This is a good thing because TV Tetsuro’s attitude can get annoying. The dub was done in the early 90s by the Ocean group so you’ll get your mix of early run DBZ voices in there. For its time I think it’s a decent dub it’s much better than clips I’ve heard of the Roger Corman dub. Drunken John Wayne Harlock <shivers>. I’m just not sure they should have gone with Scott McNeil slightly British voice for Harlock. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be Harlock just I don’t get with all the voices Scott can do they went with that one. It’s not really the best of his character voices.
Galaxy Express 999 over all stands up to what I remember the first time I randomly caught it on the Sci Fi channel all those years ago.