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  • Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Joined Dec 22, 2011
  • 35 / M

Galaxy Express 999

Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:


I consider this anime as the oldest example of an interesting social commentary with the least amount of unneeded extra. And by extra I mean the usual things that one expects to find in dystopia settings. BANG! CRASH! KABOOM! AAARGH! And other similar stuff.

It is a bit hard to criticize this work as it is a weird blend of slice-of-life, along with space opera elements. One part seems to overtake the other in random moments and so an average viewer used to clear genre distinctions will find it hard to accept the flow of the show.

Being a Leiji work, it was made in the same year as Captain Harlock and they even share the same themes and setting. One will most likely end up comparing them just for that. Harlock seems to win hands down for being full of space battles around pirates and aliens and decadent human societies. Galaxy express has that too but in a completely low-toned degree. It is far simpler in its structure, its cast, its action and its scale of importance. To put it simple, while Harlock was about a huge crew saving the Earth from invading aliens, Galaxy Express is about a little kid wanting to go to some planet to become a robot. And that is all of it. There is nothing of cosmic importance going on in it; it is the journey of a single man.

To be frank, that has its good side as well. Harlock had some really broken powers in his disposal, to the point he could take on the galaxy and still have it his way. There was no real way for him to lose and so chances are you cared more about the warfare than the human drama behind it. Galaxy Express on the other hand is about a few simple people, in a simple train-spaceship, going on a journey and experiencing various societies and human dramas. Without the fancy lasers getting in the way, you are left to focus on them and not the action (which is very low-toned to begin with). In this regard, this anime is far more successful than Harlock in telling you its story.

Now about the actual story, there is very little of it in its core. A kid wants to become an immortal robot and travels through various places just to get to the planet where he can achieve that. That is all there is to it and every episode is pretty much an episodic encounter with other people or creatures from the various places the train he is on-board passes by. As long as you are fine with episodic-based stories without much action, then you will get to really enjoy the show. Each story is about the cruelness of the human spirit, a theme constant in all of Leiji’s works. It describes a situation were people suffer and how they try to live by in their own personal way. Most stories are very interesting and full of good settings entire series could be made out of.

And that is probably the bad part because you are only allowed to see each setting for a few episodes before you are taken to the next and it never seems to affect future events in the least. That just sucks. Also, you are mostly let to think that the show is story-driven and not character-driven, which again makes you consider the main characters as nothing but passive observers and not active members who somewhat affect their surrounds. Ok, partly they do but it is mostly about being told the problem and not how to eradicate it. Kinda becomes pitiful after awhile.

So forget the story part as it’s there just to show stuff without ever allowing the characters to affect them down to their core. Good ideas but barely developed further than the episode they are mentioned. So let’s focus on the characters a little bit. The main ones… is only one. Tetsuro is the lead boy doing the journey and experiencing the various societies the train passes by. All that are meant to make him a wiser person, and slowly drive him away from his initial nihilistic view of the world, his anger and frustration over the cruelness he has experienced so far. And guess what, the same thing is supposed to happen to you. The entire show is meant to affect you. Tetsuro is thus the Average Joe, meant to be simple and immature enough for all of us to identify with him. For the same reason of course he is a simple character in personality and acting thus kinda generic. As I said, the series is story-driven and its main character is as simple as possible for everyone to identify with; so again you end up remembering the story and not the characters.

There is a second almost lead character and that is Maetel, his female co-traveler on-board the train. She has made the same journey many times and already knows all the things that happen along the way. She is there to be Tetsuro’s mentor and to explain to him (and us) all that he experiences for the first time. She is definitely a more interesting character as she is both beautiful and wise, with weird clothes that she occasionally… err… removes for various reasons. Yes, there is a rather high amount of nude in the show for its time but most of it is meant to show how frail and beautiful she is despite her wisdom. There is no direct sexuality at play here and Tetsuro is just a little boy to even care about that; he sees her just as a good friend. Other than that, do not be fooled to think she has some secret agenda as the series sometimes hints she has. She is just another plot devise for us to be explained the various events that happen in the story. AGAIN you feel the story is above the characters.

The third steady character is the train clerk, who is some sort of black alien. He is just there to maintain order in the train and provide comic relief; he doesn’t really affect the story either.

All the rest of the characters are just minor support, usually presented for just one or two episodes only. They are the denizens of each stop the train makes and GUESS WHAT they two are again plot devises just so the story can be told to you. I am not saying it is a bad thing to have a show full of such characters. But there is no way to bond with them directly; they are on screen for too little time and to the most part act too passive. Which to me it feels bad.

Here is another thing to notice. If you look at the opening of the show the only thing you will see is trains. Not a single character. It is an indirect way of telling you that the show uses them as plot devices and thus you should only care about the individual stories and not about them directly. But wait; there is not much of a story either. So what is there left to like? Some sort of omnibus fondness is required or you will be bored fast (as I did).

Another thing is the production values. They are ok for their time but don’t seem to be wowing in any way. There is a big variety in locations but most of the plot takes part in the same train wagon, around the same three characters. No space battles or scull-themed ships all the time either. Facial and body variety are also minimum and you usually think the same characters reappear with different names and roles all the time. And in the usual Leiji manner, cats and old people are God-ugly. Voice acting is fine for the roles the characters have but the music score just leaves me indifferent. It sure is elegiac and sad but not memorable for any reason. And all those train noises end up being annoying. They feel more like sound pollution rather than trademarks.

Listen what; I fully understand this is supposed to be a cathartic series, meant to make you wiser through various short stories around human drama. If seen just as that, then you are going to enjoy this very much. If you also have a fascination with trains, it is even better. But I personally am not fond of episodic shows and prefer more complicating storylines and characters. Plus, I have no fondness of trains and DO like some action amongst all the drama. Yet all I was seeing throughout the show was a train moving linear, going to places, showing us something while it makes a stop and then leaving. How long can that keep someone like me interested? I ended up waiting for the next excuse Maetel will need to get naked. Yeah, I completely lost the feeling of the show.

I am not saying it is a bad show. Just not one I would recommend for its story of its characters. It is pure emotion at play here and if you are fans of anime like Kaiba, Mushishi, Spice and Wolf, or Kino’s Journey, this definitely deserves a watch. If not, I sincerely recommend you give this a pass or watch it in very small daily quantities.

And now for some excused scorings.

General Artwork 2/2 (interesting)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (interesting)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)

Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (sad but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)

Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (episodic)
Complexity 0/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)

Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)

Historical Value 2/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too much overblown drama and episodic pacing)
Memorability 2/4 (generic today but has its charm)

Nice concept but tends to get tiresome fast.

VERDICT: 5.5/10

4/10 story
7/10 animation
7/10 sound
6/10 characters
5.5/10 overall

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SadisticTendencies says...

I pretty much agree so far although for me the major problem lies in the consistency since I don't mind episodic anime. Most of the individual stories are okay, some of them are downright terrible and a few are really good. At its best, Galaxy Express 999 can reach the same level as Kino's Journey in its messages and exaggerations but you'll have to go through lots of mediocre and repetitive stuff to get there. I think I'd give it a 6.

Jun 29, 2012