Digitally animated update of "Galaxy Express 999"
Brian Camp | Bronx, NY | 01/28/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
""The Galaxy Railways" (2003) is a Japanese animated TV series created and designed by pioneer manga artist Leiji Matsumoto and serves as a 21st Century take on Matsumoto's celebrated series from 1978, "Galaxy Express 999." It doesn't have the same characters or plot as the earlier series, but it revolves around the same premise of an interplanetary railroad train that flies from planet to planet throughout the galaxy. Here the main character is Manabu Yuuki, who has joined the SDF (Space Defense Force), the security arm of the Galaxy Railways Corporation, following in the footsteps of his late father and older brother.
In this volume, we see Manabu as a boy in the first episode who stows away on his father's train, and, in the second episode, joins the SDF as a young man of 20 and experiences a "time slip" which sends him five years into the past to encounter his brother during a crucial battle with space pirates. The third episode is a standard deranged-passenger-takes-hostages-on-a-train crime show; the fourth is a rather jarring ghost story that introduces unwieldy supernatural elements into an otherwise straight sci-fi series; and the fifth and most suspenseful in the volume details the hijacking by space pirates of the Railway's chief troubleshooting train, "the Big One," and Manabu's efforts to retrieve it despite the Railway's orders to have it destroyed.
The older series, "Galaxy Express 999," had more of a fable-like quality, with animation that resembled storybook illustrations and characters that seemed to come out of some future folk tale universe designed as an allegory about holding on to one's humanity in the face of technological advances. The main character, a young boy named Tetsuro, was on a quest to obtain a free machine body so he could live forever and avoid the violent, tragic death he'd seen his mother die. In the course of his journey, he encounters numerous people suffering the consequences of having given up their humanity to become "machine people."
In the new series, Manabu is essentially a corporate employee, as are all those around him. He basically has to be a good soldier. Conflict is introduced when he shows initiative and defies orders in order to save lives or prevent destruction of Galaxy Railway property. He's on a par with the junior salaryman who tries to bring new methods to the job not knowing whether he'll be punished or rewarded. As a result, at least on the basis of these first five episodes, the series is not nearly as compelling as most of Matsumoto's earlier work, which dealt with the romance of the individual, the loner who follows his cosmic destiny.
As intricate as the new digital animation is and as impressive as the updated designs are, I still prefer the cruder artwork of the original GE999 series. There was great beauty in it, all achieved via hand-drawings, and a sense of a magical, mystical universe out there filled with imaginatively designed creatures and strange, unpredictable characters laden with emotion and tragedy. The callow and generic young bureaucrats of the Galaxy Railway Corporation are far less interesting.