What They Say:
Galaxy Express 999 is the name of a train which travels through space, beginning at Megalopolis Station on one end of the galaxy and ending at Andromeda on the other. But the Galaxy Express is more than just a train – it’s also a metaphor for life itself, with passengers constantly boarding, debarking, and dreaming along the way.
Tetsuro Hoshino is a youth who’ll give anything to board the Three-Nine, including a promise to accompany a mysterious woman named Maetel all the way to Andromeda, the planet where, she tells him, he can get a free machine body to avenge the cruel death of his mother at the hands of the villainous Count Mecha. But nothing is as easy as it sounds, and Tetsuro is about to learn the true price not only for boarding the Three-Nine and avenging his mother, but for leaving his childhood behind, falling in love, and becoming a man.
The audio presentation for this release is quite good considering the age of the materials and how they’re handled. While we do get the English language dub that was done some time ago in its original stereo mix form, we also get the more recent Japanese 5.1 mix encoded at 448kbps. The feature is one that doesn’t really have a whole lot of use for the rear channels, but they found some creative places to throw sound effects to there and to build up the overall ambiance of the feature with incidental music and sound effects. Most 5.1 mixes off of features this old tend to not add much or come across as forced, but there’s a lot to like here with the mix. But it’s even more than just how it uses it, the sound quality is very strong here with crisp, clean dialogue and music and no hissing, scratching or problems otherwise with it. It comes across as a very pleasing mix overall and allows the thirty year plus track sound almost brand new.
Originally released back in 1979, this movie is starting to show some of its age. The main problem people are going to come into it with is that it was originally done in 4:3 mode, but for the DVD release it’s cropped at 1.78:1. We’ve heard that the Japanese version is exactly the same and that this is Matsumoto’s preferred vision of it. With this anamorphic transfer, we get a really great looking disc overall. The show runs just over two hours and has a small amount of minor nicks and scratches throughout. The only real problem we had with it was during the opening sequence where you see the spiral galaxy that’s brightening, you can see it macroblocking as it gets brighter. Once past the opening, it’s smooth sailing with great looking colors and mostly solid backgrounds. There’s some grain throughout, but it’s pretty minimal and doesn’t effect the viewing. This is a solid presentation when you take in all the factors.
The packaging for this release is a standard DVD keepcase and it has a very dark look to it that works very well. What’s surprising is that the Galaxy Express 999 itself doesn’t show on the front cover, though we do get the rail tracks going off into the horizon, which is being mirrored by the Earth itself on the top. Both of them come together in the center which is where we get the logo as well as a great if small shot of Maetel herself. It’s a very simple cover overall but it really draws you in. The back cover is all black and definitely text heavy. The top has a wonderful full length cast shot of the main people to be aware of in the feature and it’s followed up with three paragraphs about the film and its origins. We do get more cast information in prominent font size than most other studios do and it’s followed up by some good shots from the film itself. Add in a clear listing of the discs extras and a solid technical grid that only gets the audio formats right by saying both are in stereo with no mention of the Japanese 5.1 track, and there’s a lot to like here. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release goes the expected route of reworking the front cover artwork as its main design. It has a very good look as we get a somewhat zoomed in image of the front cover that’s very clean and has a brighter look overall to it. The central focus on Maetel looks great and the logo in the center is definitely sharp looking and timeless in its own way. With some good music playing to it, it has an upbeat and engaging feeling that has you ready for the journey it wants to take you on. The navigation is simple and cutely done with the 999 logo itself used as a button for each of the main selections on the main menu. Submenus load quickly and setting up the feature to play is a breeze. The disc correctly read our players’ language presets and we had no problems in navigating the disc.
The extras for this release are pretty minimal, but there’s not much I had really hoped for since most of the extras I had seen before were of Korean origin and were definitely interesting but hard to license. What we get here is a two minute image gallery that shows off some good, clean images from the feature as well as a trailer for this feature and its sequel.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I had seen this movie several years ago, it came before I had managed to get my hands on a lot of older material by Leiji Matsumoto. I’d seen some Matsumoto shows before, notably Arcadia of My Youth and seen parts of Galaxy Express in Animerica, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with the whole shared universe that has lots of discontinuities. Since then, we’ve gotten a number of other shows of similar nature from this universe of series, such as Galaxy Railways, some Captain Harlock material and Gun Frontier, all of which have influenced each other. Most helpful though has been the digital availability of the Galaxy Express 999 TV series, though I only managed to see a tenth of what it ran. It gave me enough to definitely appreciate going into this movie again as there are more details and bits of nuance that enhanced my appreciation of it.
The film introduces us to the young Tetsuro, an orphan along with many others on Earth. The world has been falling apart in a lot of ways as there’s a huge difference between the haves and have nots, and most people are have nots at this point. Tetsuro and others like him run their small rackets and do what they can to survive, but Tetsuro has a larger goal in mind. And that goal turns into opportunity when one of the space faring trains comes to Earth. The Galaxy Express 999 has arrived in the terminal and something is pulling him to score a ticket to get off Earth, so he and his friends pull off some fun little moves and ends up with a card. Things don’t go too well for him though as he’s chased by the robotic police in the area, and he ends up losing. But as he loses it, he ends up being rescued by the enigmatic Maetel, a tall wispy blonde woman who says little.
Maetel takes Tetsuro under her wing knowing that there’s something to this boy and the two head off in the Express. The Galaxy Express 999 is an odd sort of space-faring vehicle, much as everything is in this universe. Though designed to look like an old style train, it’s made that way to set people at ease for their journey. There’s something odd but right about seeing a long train running through space.
As their journey begins, we start to learn via flashbacks some of Tetsuro’s origins, with his mother and him wandering through the snow and ending up on the property of a very powerful robot who hunts humans for sport. As expected, she gets killed quickly and he hides. The count takes her body and mounts it in his Time Castle. Tetsuro swears revenge for his mother as expected and we shift back to the present.
The journey follows them to various planets along the way to the final destination in Andromeda where Tetsuro wants to gain immortality by getting a robot body for himself so he can be on equal footing with his mothers killer. Each of the planets introduces different characters that make differences in the end, but also works well in fleshing out the story. Things move at a leisurely pace here and we get to meet up with people such as Emeraldas and Captain Harlock, which makes this a nice full cast. There are bonds that are shared among all of them, especially when Tetsuro ends up meeting Tochiro’s mother and she takes a real shine to him that lets us see shades of Tochiro in him. Tochiro’s appearance adds a nice bit as well, but these elements and that of Harlock and Emeraldas are all difficult pieces to put into the film if you haven’t seem them before. They come across as almost ethereal elements that come in, perform some feat of magic in moving events in the right direction, and then move on.
The movie is very surprising in terms of the visual quality, which makes you wonder just when it was actually made. it looks very polished for 1979 with its colors and style. There were times I thought this must be a late 80’s production at the least, but there’s a lot of love to be seen on the screen here. Galaxy Express isn’t fast paced by any stretch, but it’s an engrossing movie that really captures your attention as it weaves its tale. I’m finding myself more and more interested in late 70’s and early 80’s anime, so this show fit the bill nicely.
Going back into this movie after gaining a lot more experience with the world of Leiji Matsumoto definitely upped my appreciation of it. I definitely liked the movie the first time I saw it, but I knew I was missing a lot of what made it really special. I could identify the characters, but I had no connection with them. After watching other shows since then, going into this really made it even more enjoyable. Tetsuro’s journey, condensed as it is here, has him on the path seeking revenge in the way that a youth does and it feels wholly appropriate. The path itself is a twisted one with ulterior motives being involved as others are using Tetsuro for their own purposes, but that adds the flavor of how adults are as well and fits in well. We do always go back to the core issue with older shows like this in that it lacks details and certain types of structure and pacing to work really well, but what it wants to do in place of that is to create a certain kind if mood and atmosphere to define it rather than the details. And Galaxy Express 999 does that expertly overall, making it a movie worth revisiting every few years. Now, if only Discotek Media would bring out the TV series and the Captain Harlock material as well.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Image Gallery, Trailers
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: June 28th, 2011
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.