Night on the Galactic Railroad - Reviews

Alt title: Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru

mariprosa's avatar
Jan 19, 2008


I always have a hard time recommending Night on the Galactic Railroad because it's not only an obscure title in terms of availability, but also in premise. For a children's story to have so many symbolic characteristics, and actually highlight themes such as growing up as a teenager and death is a feat in and of itself.

However, most of the anime audience might find this perturbingly slow paced and dull...sad, because it really is a gem if you can understand the story it's trying to tell.

In short, the movie tells of a young cat named Giovanni, poor and growing up in a struggling family with a sick mother; he seems like an outcast not only in the bane of society but also in school as shown by one particular scene at the beginning of the movie. The story ultimately comes into Giovanni and his friend Campanella, who take a trip on a night train that shows them sides of life and experiences they've never had before.  It also carries a heavier symbolism alongside the train, as it's reflecting upon lives and somehow leading into the place/existence beyond death.

Many who watch this film the first time through may not get the themes or the heaviness the film comes to portray until the end when some revelations about both Campanella and Giovanni come to pass. It's very duly paced, I kid you not, and certainly not a film that many common anime watchers may come to appreciate unless they know the story before hand. I actually really enjoyed this, though I saw the film many years ago when I first started watching anime movies.

Despite being very philosophical in premise, dark, moody, and not readily adherent to most audiences who like something more to happen in anime series, I gave it more considerable weight than what most would give it because I could understand it overall, and I liked what it had to offer.


Night on the Galactic Railroad shows its age prominently with the animation, but surprisingly it's not necessarily bad for the year it was made (1985) nor is it ill...considering its animation adaptation from the original works. The dark settings of the film do well to compilment the atmosphere, not only in the night settings, but also in a rather dark premise when the heavier ironies of the story come to pass. For the most part, the animation stays consistent, and the coloring and design of the characters make it appropriate to display as a children's story, but quite grim. Giovanni, for some reason, reminds me of a design Miyazaki took with Totoro (perhaps the eyes), but it may have been simply reflective of the times and the respective characters, whom are cats.


The music in this movie was, from what I could recall of it, very placid and fitting to each scene, and there's one piano melody that I remember from the film that still sticks in my mind to date. The scenes are often quiet and focus on the action of the scene taking place, such as the classroom setting. When it's most minimalistic, it works well and really gives weight to what this film really presents. Most anime viewers who watch this looking for action or upbeat J-pop music will not find it here. It's really a carefully plotted, thought driven movie, almost surreal.

Voice acting in the Japanese version of this film is quite well done, and I liked that version the most. Even the English version wasn't bad at all, but surprised me with Crispin Freeman (Eureka Seven, Slayers) as Capanella, because I didn't think he'd fit the role with his typical casting spots, but he actually did a decent job handling the character.


The connectivity of the characters would really depend on how much you understand the movie and are not perturbed by the pacing, as it's very easy to lose footing and not find the emotion behind this film. Since it deals with themes such as death and coming of age, Giovanni sits right at the heart of the story with the realizations he has to face. He's a character that's easy to follow, but may not always be readily noted in his overall emotions. He's quite downcast pending the weight of his family problems and other factors, but when traveling with Campanella and watching the scenes on the train, you note his character a bit more and what he has to come to terms with.

The secondary characters are given due time, but as mentioned, probably aren't given the true weight of their roles because of the pacing and overall sequencing of the film.


I really wish I could rank Night on the Galactic Railroad much stronger than i's current score, because I did take quite a bit from it as both a children's story and as a more mature, darker one. Unfortunately, I think the presentation doesn't age as well for many to be able to see the gem it really is. My enjoyment of it would probably rank, realistically, around an 8, but only on a personal ground. This is a film I'd hold my recommendation for because it's only for those who can tolerate and understand its message.

7.5/10 story
7/10 animation
7.5/10 sound
7/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
vivafruit's avatar
Oct 15, 2009

In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what score to give this anime; I’m torn between two completely different opinions. Because of this, rather than just picking one, I'm going to list both. For the purpose of this review, they will be personified as "A-san" and "B-san."


Pretentious, snobbish, pseudo-intellectual self: A–san

Unsophisticated, ritalin-munching, mindless self: B–san

A–san: Night on the Galactic Railroad is, without a doubt, a work of art; never before in my life have I seen such a meaningful and worthwhile experience. With the theme of adolescent growth, the anime provides a symbolic approach that is simultaneously insightful and captivating. Remarkably astute observations about the true nature of friendship, the affirmation of one’s religious beliefs, and the emergence into adulthood are made in the show, all through a medium dense with analyzable material. In particular, the characters work remarkably well as allegorical representations of classic archetypes of reality.

The technical aspects of show are outstanding. Amazingly, despite being nearly 20 years old, the anime sports excellent animation; the imagery that is provided is incredibly poetic, and does much to stimulate the mind. Sound is also used very well throughout the film; voice acting is spot-on, the instrumental music is elegantly simple, and the sound effects do an excellent job of keeping the mood of the show.

To conclude, this film should be seen by every self-respecting person who considers himself the least bit intelligent; anyone who dislikes this outstanding show doesn’t know good anime when he sees it.

B–san: There are three words that easily describe Night on the Galactic Railroad: BBBBBOOOOORRRRRRRRRIIIINNNNNGGGGG. Never before in my life have I seen such a stupid waste of time. Nothing, and I repeat NOTHING, ever happens over the course of this anime. Oh sure, some random crap that nobody could possibly care about occasionally woke me up, but other than that the show is devoid of anything remotely interesting. The characters are also stupid as hell. They have little to no personality; all they do is stare at each other and talk in monotone voices.

Why the hell should I be watching an anime from 1985 anyway? The animation is clunky and lame, and the sound is just silly. If I wanted to hear cheesy instrumental music I could turn my radio on to the classical station any time I wanted to, but I don’t. You know why? Classical music sucks ass; that’s why.

I have no idea why I wasted my time watching this when I could have been watching shows like Scryed and Naruto. For anyone who watches this anime and pretends to enjoy it, I’d also like to recommend watching paint dry. You’ll be just as entertained by that.


I think how much you enjoy this anime will depend completely on how much A–san is in you, and how much B–san isn’t in you. If you want to sink your teeth into a challenging, intellectual anime, then you'll probably enjoy yourself. However, if you want to be, you know, entertained, there are many better things out there. As for me... I suppose I’ll give it a 7/10 – good, but not necessarily great.

?/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
?/10 characters
7/10 overall
CaptainSlow's avatar
Dec 22, 2016

What I Liked: The characters are simple but charmingly designed. The whole movie is gorgeously atmospheric, with some brilliant set designs that are as dreamy as they are unsettlingly surreal. Animation is excellent for an 80's production, if not slow at times, with nice uses of imagery, light / shadow and colour. The themes of death, faith and one's legacy are handled with a surprising amount of sensitivity.    

What I Didn't: Characters suffer from blank face syndrome. The soundtrack not only dates the film dramatically, but ends up being tonally inappropriate some of the time (e.g. Campanella's "disembarking"). First act is incredibly slow, but pacing does improve in later acts. Strong Christian undertones may deter some viewers. For a kids movie, it's not terribly straight-forward nor easy to digest.

Final Verdict: Enigmatic, highly symbolic and incredibly surreal, Night on the Galactic Railroad is a doozy of a children's film that explores themes of faith, legacy and mortality with sensitivity and flair. Sure, it may be a little too heavy or sluggishly paced for the most part with a soundtrack that is easily the weakest aspect of all, but it is still a wonderfully animated film with complex imagery and pleasant character designs that stay with you long after the film is over.

?/10 story
?/10 animation
?/10 sound
?/10 characters
7/10 overall
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haize78's avatar
Mar 31, 2016

This is a really difficult anime to rate. And a tough review to write. Depending on the person watching it, the rating could easily swing between totally boring crap and a near-masterpiece. It's not fun, it's not entertaining and nothing much happens. It's about two anthropomorphic cats watching the scenery from behind the windows of a train (and occasionally opening the windows and leaning out) while they're journeying at night. The animation style and the narration are typical of children's anime - but I really can't imagine what a child would make of this, if anything at all. During this last week, I fell asleep countless times while trying to watch it; but I always came back to it until I managed to get to the end. It's old, it was made in the 1980s, so the animation isn't astounding. But that's not the reason I'm so torn about this. It's got a truly dark and subdued atmosphere and it's heavily symbolic, but you don't understand what's really going on and what the symbolism is all about until the end. The pacing is incredibly slow - that's why I fell asleep so many times. And also because its inner workings are those typical of dreams, the protagonist is walking and the scenery suddenly changes, he takes his eyes off of something and the next moment it has vanished, he sees unusual or downright crazy things and it's all completely "normal", things appear out of nowhere and then they disappear again, distances are relative: objects and people are really close one second and the next they are out of reach ...things like these happen all the time, and they're presented in such a "dreamlike" way that you're not taken aback by the implausability of any of it. There's also a very strong religious undercurrent that somehow merges with the philosophical and symbolic aspects. At times it can be quite cryptic, I'd be hard pressed to say what some of the scenes mean, to explain some of symbolism, but that dreamlike quality I mentioned before means that I really don't care much about giving precise explanations, what I retained is the general atmosphere and the story of the friendship between Giovanni and Campanella. And a sense of purpose, somehow. The purpose of life, I guess; the themes dealt with are in fact existential ones, the meaning of life, friendship, the coming of age process, the meaning of death, the after-life.

I also kind of gathered that the novel on which the movie is based is part of Japanese popular culture, as in at least other two or three anime I've watched I found quotations and mentions of it as something really meaningful; so I knew about Giovanni and Campanella long before I watched this anime adaptation.

The story is about Giovanni, a young cat from a poor family whose father is currently missing - this, and the fact that he has to work at several part-time jobs in order to help his ill mother make him the target of some bullying at school. The only one who stands up for him, albeit in an indirect way, is his friend and classmate Campanella. After school, Giovanni goes to his part-time work at the local paper and then has to run some errands for his mother. While he's resting on a hill, gazing up at the Milky Way, Giovanni is nearly run over by a train which appears out of thin air; the train however stops, letting him on and in one of the cars he finds Campanella who appears to be dripping water even if he doesn't remember why. Thus the journey of the two begins on this train which is travelling through the Milky Way. 

In conclusion, it's not an anime many will enjoy because of the slow pacing, the old animation style and all the symbolism which makes it difficult to understand at times. I think most people would, indeed, find it tedious. But... But if you're into intellectual things, if you've got the patience to go on watching despite the pacing, you might like it. I'm not saying it's an exceptional anime, but it left something meaningful inside me. 

7/10 story
5/10 animation
6/10 sound
5.5/10 characters
7/10 overall
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Warpuppy's avatar
May 7, 2021

After watching this movie I have no idea why it is ranked so highly or what other people see in it.  This felt like a complete waste of time to me.

Story - This movie pretty much lacked everything that makes a good story. Conflict, antagonists, characters with goals and actions they take to achieve those goals or really anything.

Animation - The art style itself was pretty much the only redeeming thing about this anime. It looked pretty cool especially for being an 80s anime. On the other hand, none of the events in the story really triggered strong emotions so all you could really see of the characters were blank slate expressions.

Sound - Neither the voice acting nor the music impressed me at any point in this movie. It also didn't really stand out as bad either.

Characters- All of the characters felt like they were fairly interchangable.  Most characters had very few moments that demonstrated any defining character traits to begin with let alone character growth. I didn't really notice much development between character relationships either.

Conclusion - I would not recommend this movie to anyone for any reason.

1/10 story
7/10 animation
6/10 sound
1/10 characters
4/10 overall
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