This post is part of the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project.
I must admit that the choice to watch the Galaxy Express 999 movie was largely influenced by my shortage of time between Nanowrimo and work: the other two choices given to me were Dirty Pair TV and Read Or Die TV. I’ve read a Dirty Pair novel before, and have watched the excellent R.O.D. OVA, so I’d probably be okay with those, too. Maybe at a later time!
I’m a complete beginner when it comes to Leiji Matsumoto’s body of work. Though I’m familiar with the likes of Captain Harlock and Yamato, I’ve not seen anything in full. The 999 (pronounced “three-nine”, not “nine-nine-nine”) movie became my first. I thought it would be younger, but the movie was made in 1979–around the same time the original Mobile Suit Gundam came out.
The movie shows its age, in a charming way. Science fiction was still at a phase where authors imagined stuff that we in the present would laugh at, like the idea of a space train. (I believe it was Night on the Galactic Railroad that inspired such a concept.) Nevertheless, the steam train visage of the Galaxy Express 999 lends a lovely feeling of nostalgia (or so the film explicitly says) and romanticism that I imagine is a staple of Leiji space operas. There is nothing like tearfully chasing a steam train as it departs from the station, I suppose.
(There is also a carefree attitude on scientific accuracy in the film. While inside the 999, Tetsuro opens the window(!). Captain Harlock mans his ship’s wheel while standing on deck. In outer space. I suspect that he is too cool to breathe air.)
The characters were distinct and portrayed well. I took a liking to Claire, the girl with a body made out of glass. Harlock and Esmeralda were very cool, without stealing the spotlight from Tetsuro and Maetel. I just noticed that Leiji’s women all have long, flowing hair and lithe figures, which isn’t a bad thing, I guess!
999 has its young main character, Tetsuro, on a quest for revenge against Count Mecha, who killed his mother. To do this, he wants to get a mechanized body in another planet. But as the film progresses, Tetsuro learns more about the plight of mechanized humans, who show him that having an immortal body does not solve all of one’s problems. By the last act of the movie, Tetsuro has grown enough to realize that his initial goal isn’t what he truly wants.
When I think about it, the movie has the message that immortality twists a man and turns him towards evil. Count Mecha and Maetel’s mother, in their ageless, indestructible bodies, place little value on life and, in Count Mecha’s case, hunt humans for sport. The fragility of life is what nurtures kindness–to be driven to protect something easily lost is a core facet of humanity, and mechanization makes one blind to it.
The movie ends on a bittersweet note. Tetsuro doesn’t get his way, but no longer is he the bratty street urchin from the start of the film. The trip on the 999 had changed him, made him mature and wiser in the ways of the galaxy. It’s a simple adventure plot, but done elegantly.
I’ve been looking for a good entry into the Leijiverse, and the Galaxy Express 999 movie is as good as any. Not only does it showcase what Leiji is good at, it also has a lot of his well-known characters!