Galaxy Express 999 (銀河鉄道999 Ginga Tetsudō Surī Nain?) is a manga written and drawn by Leiji Matsumoto, as well as various anime films and TV series based on it. It is set in a space-faring, high-tech future in which humans have learned how to transfer their minds (but not their emotions) into mechanical bodies, thus achieving practical immortality.
The number, "999", in the title is pronounced "Three-Nine", as opposed to "Nine-Nine-Nine" or "Nine hundred ninety nine".
AM A twelve year-old street urchin named Tetsuro Hoshino desperately wants an indestructible machine body, giving him the ability to live forever and have the freedom that the unmechanized don't have. While machine bodies are impossibly expensive, they are supposedly given away for free in the Andromeda galaxy, the end of the line for the Galaxy Express 999, a space train that only comes to Earth once a year.
The series begins with Tetsuro and his mother making their way to Megalopolis where they hope to get jobs to pay for passes for the 999. Along the way however, Count Mecha and a gang of "human hunters" kill Tetsuro's mother. Before she dies, she tells him to continue the journey they started, and to get a machine body to live the eternal life she couldn't.
Intent on killing Count Mecha to avenge his mother, Tetsuro meets up with a beautiful woman, Maetel, who is the spitting image of his dead mother. Maetel offers him an unlimited use pass for the 999 if he will be her travelling companion to which Tetsuro agrees. Along the way, Tetsuro has many adventures on many different and exotic planets and meets many kinds of people, both human and alien, living and machine. Increasingly, Tetsuro realizes that a machine body won't fix all of his problems. In fact, most of the machine people he meets regret the decision to give up their humanity.
Eventually, Tetsuro and Maetel reach the Planet Prometheum, the final stop for the 999, but Tetsuro learns that it is ruled by the Queen of the Mechanization Empire, also named Prometheum. She is Maetel's mother, and controls the planet by entirely mechanized human components. Maetel's mission was to bring young humans for that purpose. Queen Prometheum plans on transferring Tetsuro's consciousness to a bolt for the heart of the planet.
Tetsuro doesn't understand why he has been betrayed by Maetel, but Maetel has plans of her own, and seeks to destroy the mechanized civilization. With the help of her father, Dr. Ban (who was only named in the movie), whose consciousness resides in a pendant she carries over her neck, Maetel destroys her mother and the planet. Afterwards, Maetel and Tetsuro return to the Planet of Bats where Tetsuro tells Maetel his intention to return to Earth and lead it toward a new future. Maetel, proud of Tetsuro for his decision tells him she has something to take care of and should board first. However, Tetsuro finds a letter from Maetel telling him that it was time for them to part ways. Maetel had secretly boarded the 777 (three-seven), a nearby train, with the intention of "leading another boy to his future". However, it is unclear as to whether or not this means that the Mechanization Empire still exists elsewhere, or if Maetel will lead the boy to some other "future". The series ends as the trains both depart the Bat Planet.
The movie version of Galaxy Express 999, released in 1979, serves as a compression of the storyline told in the manga and television series with some modifications. Maetel and Tetsuro again set out for the home planet of the Mechanized Empire, but rather than visiting over a hundred planets, as in the original manga/TV series, Tetsuro only visits four—Titan, Pluto, Heavy Melder, and Planet Maetel. Like Planet Prometheum, Planet Maetel is a mechanized world where machine bodies are made. It is implied that Planet Maetel had once been Maetel's machine body—just as the planet Great Andromeda serves as the machine body of her mother's consciousness in the sequel film, Adieu Galaxy Express 999 -- and is still somehow linked to her. Maetel says of the planet, "This planet is also me. It is half of my own heart. We're different, but both are myself."
Many of the most popular characters in the manga and television series such as Claire, Antares, Emeraldas, and Captain Harlock made cameo appearances. Rather than kill Count Mecha immediately on Earth as it had happened in the manga and television series, Tetsuro confronts him in the Time Castle on the planet Heavy Melder, with the assistance of Antares. Tetsuro is able to get his revenge on the cruel count, who had the body of Tetsuro's mother stuffed and hung on his wall. The movie concludes as Maetel rebels against her mother, Queen Prometheum, and with the help of Emeraldas and Harlock destroys Planet Maetel. The movie also delves into the true nature of Maetel which is only hinted at in the television series. The body she visited on Pluto had been her original human body. Her consciousness was transferred to a succession of human bodies—including, most recently, one cloned from Tetsuro's mother—thus allowing her to live in human form forever and, in a sense, travel in time. Also, while Maetel's pendant only contains the consciousness of her father, in the movie it contains his consciousness, as well as the consciousnesses of the countless brave young people whom she had likewise led as saboteurs.
Maetel and the 999 bring Tetsuro back to Earth. After a farewell kiss, she and the train head back into space, presumably never to return.
Notable about the movie is that it came out while the television series was still airing, and as a result the ending of the television series was spoiled for anyone who had seen the movie. The footage on Heavy Melder and the Time Castle, which had appeared in the movie before the television series, were revised in the television series in a 3 part sequence where a fake Captain Harlock, not Count Mecha (who was already dead by this point in the television series) ruled the Time Castle.
Adieu Galaxy Express 999
Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is the sequel to the movie version, and was released in 1981. Adieu presents an entirely new storyline (not based on the manga or television series), which takes place three years after the destruction of Planet Maetel. The Machine Empire now has even more of a stranglehold over the Galaxy. Rumors are afoot of Maetel being its new Queen. Tetsuro, now a fifteen year old freedom fighter, is shocked when a messenger brings him news that the 999 is returning. Tetsuro narrowly makes his way to the 999 and departs Earth, now a battlefield.
Although Tetsuro finds that Maetel isn't present on the 999, he does meet Metalmena, a machine woman who has replaced the waitress Claire. Also, a mysterious Ghost Train has been traveling the universe and nearly crashes into the 999. The 999 (which now has its own mind) then pouts about the humiliation of being overtaken by the Ghost Train. The 999 heads to the planet La Metal, portrayed here as the birthplace of Prometheum and Maetel (it is presumed that Prometheum and Maetel were born on Planet Prometheum in the manga and television series). Here Tetsuro helps in the resistance, befriending a cat-like man named Meowdar. As the 999 departs, Maetel finally makes her appearance.
Shortly after leaving La Metal, the 999 is forced to dock at a station where Tetsuro meets the mysterious Faust. When Tetsuro attacks him, Faust causes Tetsuro to drop into a flashback where he must relive his mother's death (which had occurred in the Time Castle in the original manga and television series storyline). The 999 continues on to the planet Mosaic, the last stop before Great Andromeda, capital of the mechanized empire. Here Tetsuro finds the Ghost Train and is nearly killed.
The 999 finally makes its way to Great Andromeda where Faust greets Tetsuro once more. Maetel meanwhile travels down to the center of the planet where Prometheum's consciousness still exists. Despite her betrayal in the first movie, Maetel is put in charge of the mechanized empire, just as the rumors said. But, again, she intends to put an end to the operations, and attempts to shut Prometheum's machinery down. She reveals the horrible truth to Tetsuro and the others, that the energy the machine people use is actually drained from living human beings. Tetsuro is shocked to find his old friend Meowdar among a pile of dead, drained bodies.
Prometheum proves that she cannot be killed with just the flip of a switch, and all seems hopeless. At about that time, a space anomaly called Siren the Witch approaches Great Andromeda, absorbing all machine energy. With Great Andromeda collapsing, the 999 is set to depart, but Tetsuro must face Faust one last time. After dealing Faust a fatal blow, it is revealed to Tetsuro that Faust is actually Tetsuro's father (In the manga and television series, it is never made clear what became of Tetsuro's father). The 999 heads back to La Metal where Maetel and Tetsuro separate once more.
The movie is notable for having two songs written by Mary MacGregor, 'Love Light' and the ending theme 'Sayonara' of which her version, sung in English was used for the film. Kumiko Kaori, recorded a Japanese version of the ending song.
New manga series and Eternal Fantasy
In 1996, Matsumoto began a new GE999 series, set a year after the original, in which the Earth is destroyed and Tetsuro sets out to discover the source of the "darkness" that threatens all life in the universe.
The movie Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy was released in 1998. This movie takes place one year after the events of the TV show, where Maetal and Tetsuro reunite to save the universe again from another evil. It is the shortest of the three Galaxy Express 999 movies, based on a portion of the recent series of Galaxy Express manga.
The Alfee performed the theme song Brave Love: Galaxy Express 999 / Beyond the Win.
This two-part OVA from 2000 serves as a prelude for Galaxy Express 999, explaining a lot of the series' backstory. Maetel (the protagonist) is actually the daughter of Queen Prometheum of the Planet La Metal (both from Queen Millennia), a wandering planet, and one of the first groups of civilization that mechanized their bodies. As Queen Promethium became fearful of the natural decline of her people's lifespan on their freezing, orbit-less world, she decided to mechanize everything, believing the process to be beneficial and enabling the planet's citizens to survive the harsh climate. The complete series was released on DVD by Central Park Media.
Space Symphony Maetel
Following on from Maetel Legend, this 13-part OVA from 2004 reveals that the newly-created machine people of La Metal began to mechanise galaxy after galaxy against the will of many humans, and ended up creating rebellions and revolutions. Maetel is asked to return to La Metal to succeed her mother, only to discover the many hardships her mother has inflicted on the humans.
In this series, Captain Harlock and Emeraldas (Maetel's sister) also appear, and work together to assassinate Prometheum, along with Maetel. Parallels with Galaxy Express 999 are prevalent. Instead of a boy who wants a mechanized body meeting her, she met a boy who has a grudge against Prometheum and detests being mechanized. This series remains unlicensed in English.
Galaxy Railways: Letter From An Abandoned Planet
This OVA series is also not licensed for USA but, was released in 2006-12-30 to 2007-01-05 (on SKY PerfectTV!) in Japan. The story takes place between Seasons 1 and 2 of Galaxy Railways: Crossroad to Eternity, and presumably after the events of Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, where the Earth has since been destroyed. The OVAs featured Maetel, Tetsuro and the Conductor, with their original voice actors from the Galaxy Express 999 TV series.
For unknown reasons, this series started production earlier than Galaxy Railways: Crossroad to Eternity, but was aired much later.
- Tetsuro Hoshino (星野鉄郎 Hoshino Tetsurō?): The main character of Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro is a poor Earth boy who witnessed his mother die at the hands of Count Mecha. With his mother's dying wish being for him to obtain a machine body, Tetsuro embarks on the Galaxy Express with Maetel.
- Maetel (メーテル Mēteru?): The mysterious blonde woman who accompanies Tetsuro on the Galaxy Express 999. Maetel is in actuality the daughter of Queen Prometheum, ruler of the mechanized empire. Maetel is responsible for bringing youths from around the universe to the mechanized homeworld where they are turned into mechanized human components to serve the mechanized empire. Maetel is secretly plotting with her father, Dr. Ban (who is contained within the pendant around her neck) to destroy the machine empire, and finally does so when it is Tetsuro's turn to be turned into a bolt. Maetel's soul exists in the body of a human copy, which she occupies until it grows old and she exchanges it for a new one. It is explained in the movie version that she occupies a clone of the body of Tetsuro's mother, which explains the resemblance between the two.
- Conductor (車掌 shashō?): The Conductor is the main crew member of the Galaxy Express 999. He is an alien being with an invisible body; only his eyes can be seen while he is wearing his conductor uniform. The Conductor prefers to go 'strictly by the book'  and frequently cites the Galaxy Express rule book, but occasionally ends up bending the rules and getting into adventures with Tetsuro and Maetel.
- Claire (クレア Kurea?): The dining car waitress on the 999, Claire has a machine body made of clear crystal glass. Unlike others who gave up their humanity by choice, Claire was forced into this existence by her vain mother. She works on the 999 in order to save up enough money to buy back her human body, which is stored on Pluto. Claire quickly befriends Tetsuro and sacrifices herself for him when a hallucination taking the guise of his mother tries to pull him out of the train. Her body is shattered, all that remains is a single glass tear which Tetsuro holds with him as a memento. In the movie version, Claire has a somewhat larger role, but suffers the same fate, sacrificing herself for Tetsuro when Prometheum tries to kill him (a machine girl named "Mirai" ("Future") has this role in the television series). Claire returns to life in both Eternal Fantasy and the new Galaxy Express manga published by Matsumoto in the 1990s.
- Captain Harlock (キャプテンハーロック Kyaputen Hārokku?) and Emeraldes (エメラルダス Emerarudasu?): Famous space pirates who are idolized by Tetsuro. Both have only minor cameos in the original manga and television series, but have significantly larger roles in the movies and assist in defeating the machine empire.
- Antares (アンタレス Antaresu?): A well known bandit who sneaks aboard the 999 after their stop on the planet Titan. Antares despises machine people for the death of his wife and has many unexploded bullets lodged within his abdomen. He warns Tetsuro to "shoot first, ask questions later". In the manga and television series he lives in a large home with his many children; in the movie he lives on Titan with other bandits and many children orphaned by Count Mecha. In the movie version he assists Tetsuro in his quest to kill Count Mecha at the Time Castle, and is killed when the bullets in his body explode after taking multiple shots from the Count.
- Count Mecha (機械伯爵 Kikai Hakushaku?): The wealthy machine man who murdered Tetsuro's mother. In the manga and television series, he is a minor aristocrat, and is killed by Tetsuro before he leaves Earth. In the movie version he appears to have considerably more power, and rules the Time Castle. Acquiring a machine body to get revenge on Count Mecha is Tetsuro's primary motivation in the movie version, and he accomplishes his goal with the assistance of Antares while on the planet Heavy Melder.
- Queen Prometheum (プロメシューム Puromeshūmu?): Maetel's mother, and ruler of the mechanized empire. Once a gentle woman, Prometheum created the machine empire believing it would be good for humanity. Prometheum has considerably difference physical characteristics in each of her appearances, appearing as a humanoid in the television series and movie, and a two-faced head in the manga. Prometheum is destroyed with the destruction of Andromeda in the manga and television series, and killed by Claire in the movie version. Her spirit occupies the planet Great Andromeda in Adieu Galaxy Express 999 but perishes when that planet is destroyed by Siren the Witch.
In 1980, Roger Corman produced an English-language dub of the first Galaxy Express 999 movie. The movie changed the character names (for example changing Tetsuro to Joey and Harlock to Warlock), and removed approximately 30 minutes of content. Antonia Levi, the author of "Samurai From Outer Space" said that the edited film, released by New World Pictures, was "heavily edited" and that "many otaku consider it too damaged to watch."
In 1986, Harmony Gold produced rarely-seen dubs of two of the GE999 TV specials, Galaxy Express 999: Can You Live Like A Warrior? and Galaxy Express 999: Can You Love Like A Mother?
The first movie was dubbed again in 1996 by Viz, titled Galaxy Express 999: The Signature Edition. Released on VHS, this dub was more true to the source material. Viz also released Adieu, Galaxy Express 999 subbed and dubbed on VHS, although having lost the licenses for the two films, they were never released on R1 DVD. The only current official English-language release of Galaxy Express 999 material on DVD are a Korean release of the two movies which utilize Viz's subtitle scripts. The Dubs of both films were run quite regularly on the Canadian channel, Space the Imagination Station, when the station first launched. They were also run in a very heavily edited form on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Viz later released five volumes of the second Galaxy Express manga, which was the basis for the third film, Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy. The original manga has yet to be translated into English.
Recently, a subtitled version has been released on IGN's Direct2Drive service. Currently, all 113 episodes are available. The streaming website Crunchyroll began streaming a subtitled version on January 9, 2009.
Inspirations and Influences
- Matsumoto was inspired to create Galaxy Express 999 by the idea of a steam train running through the stars in the novel Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa.
- First series, serialized in Shōnen King (Shōnen Gahosha), 1977–1981
- New series, serialized in Big Gold (Shogakukan), 1996-??
- TV Series, 113 episodes + 4 TV specials (1978)
- Television Specials, Can You Live Like A Warrior (1979), Emeraldes the Eternal Wanderer (1980) and Can You Love Like a Mother (1981)
- Movie, Galaxy Express (1979)
- Featurette, Galaxy Express 999 Glass no Clair - Glass-made Claire (1980)
- Movie, Adieu Galaxy Express 999 Terminus Andromeda - Sayonara Galaxy Express 999 (1981)
- Movie, Galaxy Express 999 ~Eternal Fantasy~ (1998)
- TV Series, Space Symphony Maetel, 13 episodes (2004–2005)
|Character||Japanese Actor (TV Series)||Japanese Actor (Movie)||English Actor (Movie)|
|Tetsuro Hoshino||Masako Nozawa||Saffron Henderson|
|Maetel||Masako Ikeda||Kathleen Barr|
|Conductor||Kaneta Kimotsuki||Terry Klassen|
|Engine Computer|| Kōji Totani (ep. 8, 50~113)|
Keaton Yamada (ep. 14~45)
|Captain Harlock||Makio Inoue||Scott McNeil|
|Emeraldes||Ikuko Tani||Reiko Tajima||Nicole Oliver|
|Claire||Chiyoko Kawashima||Youko Asagami||Janyse Jaud|
|Antares||Masao Imanishi||Yasuo Hisamatsu||Don Brown|
|Count Mecha||Hidekatsu Shibata||Paul Dobson|
|(Le)Ryuzu||Kumiko Kaori||Noriko Ohara||Willow Johnson|
|Queen Prometheum||Ryōko Kinomiya||Kathleen Barr|
|Dr. Ban||Takashi Tanaka||Goro Naya||Gerard Plunkett|
|Tetsuro's Mother||Akiko Tsuboi||Kathleen Barr|
|Shadow||Mieko Nobusawa||Toshiko Fujita||Jane Perry|
|Tochiro||N/A||Kei Tomiyama||John Payne|
|Narrator||Hitoshi Takagi||Tatsuya Jo||Don Brown|
- ↑ The character Ryuzu in the movie version of Galaxy Express 999 is called Leryuzu in the manga and television series. This is because the movie came out before the 3 part episode where this character appeared aired, and the name Ryuzu had already been used for another character.
- Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato statues in Tsuruga (Japanese)
- asianbeat Leiji Matsumoto interview
- Galaxy Express 999 at Hulu
- All 113 Episodes of Galaxy Express 999 at Crunchyroll
- All 113 Episodes of Galaxy Express 999 at Funimation
- Galaxy Express 999 on Anime News Network