The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Galaxy Express 999 Movie

Title: Galaxy Express 999
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Toei Animation
Format: Movie, 128 minutes
Dates: 4 Aug 1979

Synopsis: A young boy, Tetsuro, desperately wants an android body to be able to avenge the murder of his mother. The only place where men are given android bodies is the Andromeda galaxy. The only way into the Andromeda galaxy is the Galaxy Express 999, a huge train that connects the planets of the universe. When a mysterious woman named Maetel, who looks disturbingly like Tetsuro’s mother, offers the boy a ticket for the Galaxy Express, he is quick to accept…and his greatest adventure begins.

The Highlights
Plot: True sci-fi epic.
Characters: Engrossing character development.
Pacing: Perfect transition from TV series to movie.
Humor: Unneccesary “comic relief” side characters.
Logic: Plot devices galore.
Ending: Resolution could have been handled better.

If anybody asked me about a recipe for a really bad anime, my answer would be: take a TV series with at least a hundred episodes, compress the plot into a two-hour-movie, give it the budget of two television hours and don’t even try to make the art and animation superior to its TV predecessor. So why is it that Galaxy Express 999, a two-hour long movie based on a 113-episode TV series with sub-par art and animation even for 1979, can actually be called a decent anime?

First of all, the main plot is a truly engrossing sci-fi epic that every fan of the genre is going to love. Essentially a “road in space movie”, Galaxy Express 999 conveys a beautiful coming-of-age story within Tetsuro’s journey on the intergalactic train. While (of course) leaving out huge parts of the TV series, the movie does focus on the events which are truly essential for the development of the young boy and his final decisions–no plot holes whatsoever. In his unique narration style, Matsumoto Leiji manages to make both Tetsuro’s and Maetel’s motives understandable, and his concept art for the planets along the journey sets the mood for the scenes perfectly. Even his greatest creation, Captain Harlock, has a part in this movie, a definite treat for fans of his other works.

Unfortunately, most of the character art is vastly inferior to the art of the buildings and technology. Tetsuro himself is of an awkward cuddliness, which doesn’t suit his character. There are some other weird side characters, such as the conductor of the Galaxy Express, which are meant to offer comic relief but do not really fit into the rather serious main plot. Speaking of plot, there are one or two developments which seem very forced–every person Tetsuro meets on his journey is immediately moved by his story and offers the maximum amount of help s/he can give. The climax itself works, but the very final confrontation is resolved anticlimatically by another side character who only had a few cute moments in the entire movie. Matsumoto Leiji‘s problems with drawing normal people and his inability to resolve a wonderful plot appropriately drag this movie down a little.

All in all, Galaxy Express 999 is a good old-fashioned sci-fi epic that does an awesome job of summing up a long TV series in just two short hours. Its technical flaws are mostly outshone by the engrossing plot and likable characters, and only some plot devices are able to drag it down a little. So what did I learn from this movie? Suspicious recipes can still become tasty dishes in the hands of a good cook. If only more anime directors would smell what Matsumoto Leiji is cooking.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Taleweaver

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