Galaxy Express 999

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Galaxy Express Three-Nine will take you on a journey, a neverending journey...a journey to the stars!

"...I keep expecting some Doctor Zhivago-lookin' shiksa to scoop me onto a train for an endless, Oedipal journey through the cosmos."
Koshi Rikdo (via Carl Horn), on Galaxy Express.

Originally serialized in Hit Comics from 1977 to 1981, Galaxy Express 999 is part of Leiji Matsumoto's larger universe. The story centers on Tetsuro, an orphaned street urchin who dreams of catching a ride on the titular space-train in search of a mechanized body and eternal life. He gets his chance when a mysterious woman named Maetel offers him a ticket - if he will travel with her along the way.

The 21-volume original manga run spawned several TV shows, movies and OVAs, spanning nearly three decades:

  • The first TV series, Galaxy Express 999, aired from 1978 to 1981, with essentially the same storyline as the manga.
  • A full-length animated feature was released in 1979; this was a greatly condensed version of the TV series.
  • Adieu Galaxy Express 999, the second feature film, came out in 1981. A sequel to the events of the first movie, this was the first advancement past the original manga's storyline.
  • After a break of nearly 20 years, Matsumoto wrote a second manga series in the late 1990s, continuing the story from Adieu.
  • A third, shorter film titled Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy was released in 1998. The story is drawn from events in the second manga series.
  • Maetel Legend, a prequel to the original story, was released in 2000 as a two-part OVA.
  • Space Symphony Maetel, a 13-episode series released in 2004 as a follow-on to Maetel Legend.

USA/Region 1 release of these is sketchy. A...somewhat liberal translation of the first movie was released in 1981, but we aren't going to talk about that. All the films are currently available from Discotek in unedited and properly translated forms on DVD.

The TV series was subtitled by Nippon Golden Network and available in areas of the US with a high ethnic Japanese population, but this was before anime became popular and can't be considered a wide release. Funimation is currently streaming a subtitled release of the entire original 1979 TV series. S'more Entertainment, a new startup, tried to release it as sub-only DVD in North America. This ended up an Epic Fail; the company did not license the original video, and just copied the video from the streaming version, complete with burnt-in subtitles and compression artifacting.

Only a few volumes of the second manga have been released, by Viz Media. Maetel Legend is also available on DVD.

Another series in the Leijiverse, The Galaxy Railways, further explores the trains-as-spaceships theme, but isn't really interwoven into the Galaxy Express continuity. Galaxy Express features cameos from a few other Leijiverse characters.

Tropes used in Galaxy Express 999 include:
  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1979 movie.
  • Animation Anatomy Aging
  • Beware the Nice Ones - Don't mess with Maetel and don't threaten Tetsuro even if she isn't around.
  • Big Fat Future - The second Big Bad in the manga conquers Earth by offering enough free food to cause this.
  • Collapsing Home Planet
  • Cool Train - C'mon. A space train? How could it be anything but?
  • Crapsack World - Most of the planets Tetsuro and Maetel visit are in various states of decay. By the time of Adieu, Galaxy Express 999, Earth has devolved into a state of perpetual war between humans and machines.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul - Seen in several mechanized humans, though by no means universal.
  • Cut Short - The movie Eternal Fantasy ends with a Star-Killing, Earthshattering Kaboom, vows to find a mysterious person that will fix everything, and a "To Be Continued in 1999". We're still waiting.
  • Deal with the Devil - The aptly-named Black Knight, Faust.
  • Defeat by Modesty - Emeraldas's android stand-in starts screaming "Don't look at me!" after Maetel cuts off its robes.
  • Downer Ending - Nearly half of the TV series episodes!
  • Earthshattering Kaboom - Maetel's response to two doctors plotting to steal her and Tetsuro's bodies.
  • Fan Service - Iconic as it is, Maetel takes off that coat pretty regularly. One of the eyecatches is her swimming in a bikini alongside a train in space.
  • Flash Back - Tetsuro remembers life with his mother from time to time, along with her death.
  • God Save Us From the Queen - In addition to Queen Prometheum, a lot of planets ruled by queens are pretty screwed up.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars - Captain Harlock and Emeraldas both bear scars under their left eyes.
  • Grand Theft Me - Metalmena makes a (failed) attempt to hijack Maetel's body in Adieu.
    • In the TV series, a doctor with a mechanized body kidnaps Tetsuro and exchanges bodies with him. Naturally, he demands to have his own body back again.
  • Heroic Sacrifice - Claire in the anime and first movie Metalmena does this twice in Adieu. Obviously being a waitress on the 999 is a dangerous job.
  • Kill the Poor - Rich nobles who have swapped their bodies for mechanized bodies are free to hunt the poor humans for sport.
  • Lady of War - Maetel is well-mannered, well-educated, refined and cultured, and if you force her into a physical confrontation, on your own head be it.
  • La Résistance - The organic rebellion against the mechanized empire.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father - Faust, to Tetsuro in Adieu.
  • Meaningful Name - Faust, Crystal Claire and others.
    • Maetel's a pretty complicated one. Because of the L/R ambiguity in Japanese it can be interpreted as either coming from the Latin word for mother, or the English word metal (or possibly the Mattel toy company) both of which hint at her artificial nature.
  • Melodrama - As was common in Anime in The Seventies (okay, anime even now).
  • Missing Mom - Tetsuro's mother.
  • Negative Space Wedgie
  • Nice Hat
  • Noble Savage: Utterly and totally averted. The first time we see a genuinely low-tech population, they are brutal savages who practice recreational torture and human sacrifice. We meet other savage types later on, and they're not all that great either.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome - Inverted by Tetsuro's quest for a machine body.
  • Planet of Hats
  • Pretty in Mink - Maetel's fur trimmed outfit.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure - The 999's conductor.
  • Replacement Goldfish - Tetsuro's relationship with Maetel has aspects of this, especially when it's revealed that she's using a replica of the body of Tetsuro's mother.
  • Robot Girl - Queen Prometheum, Crystal Claire, Metalmena, et al.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child - the upper class use android bodies, powered by tiny energy cells that were made by harvesting humans.
  • Space Is an Ocean A Railroad - The Three-Nine runs through outer space as if on tracks. Harlock commands a battleship, while Emeraldas gets a bit more...bizarre: a wooden sailing ship, suspended from a sort of...thing.
    • Then again, they keep referring to space as the Sea of Stars.
    • Not to mention people walking along the outside of spacecraft without protection. Lampshaded when Tetsuro is baffled to hear the sound of distant church bells as the 999 approaches a planet. Maetel explains that the inhabitants are so arrogantly pious that they assembled a vast array of gravitational wave emitters on the surface, which broadcast an intense graviton carrier wave precisely modulated to induce a resonant vibration in the bulkheads of passing spacecraft which replicates with perfect fidelity the sound of distant church bells. Impressed, Tetsuro rolls down the window and sticks his head out to get a better look.
  • Space Opera
  • Spaceship Girl - The 999 gets its own in Eternal Fantasy.
  • Theme Naming - The "Tetsu" in Tetsuro comes from the Japanese word for iron, while Maetel sounds like metal.
  • Trademark Favorite Food - Tetsuro loves ramen and eats it whenever he can.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means - Queen Prometheum is perfectly willing to harvest organic beings as an energy source for mechanized citizens.
  • Wagon Train to the Stars
  • Whip It Good - Maetel's pretty handy with that whip she carries.