Hop on the Science Fiction train back a decade or so for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s tribute to great science fiction of the past, where we take a look at the Japanese hit, ‘Galaxy Express 999’. Or, more specifically, the American dub that most of us got acquainted with in 1996 when it aired on the Sci Fi Channel…
…which is to say a very heavily truncated version that cut out a least a third of the original movie.
But it was the 90s, and most of us didn’t know we were being cheated. So, whatever. What we did know was that ‘Galaxy Express 999’ was awesome, and it took us on a train ride across space.
Yes. You heard me correctly. A space-traveling train.
Look, I never said the science was particularly good.
The story focuses on Testuro, a young boy who had lost his mother to a gang of human killing robots lead by Count Mecha. He is marked with a dichotomy of desires, one being to kill Count Mecha, and the other being to become a robot himself so he could never die.
One day, Testuro meets Maetal, who is the spitting image of his mother. She offers him an unlimited pass on the Galaxy Express (which is something someone as poor as Tetsuro couldn’t even able to dream of), and they go on adventures across hundreds of planets. Well, five. The manga and the television series has quite a bit more.
Through their journeys, Maetal is constantly telling Testuro to keep his nose out of the problems that plague every planet. At first, one thinks it’s out of a mother-like love, but in truth it’s because she needs to deliver young boys to her evil mother so she can mechanize and then rule them.
Why this is best done by going on a very long train ride that lasts weeks and weeks, I don’t know, but it seems like Maetal’s mother is cool the time it takes to get each young person. Much drama ensues, and it turns out that Maetal was only pretending to betray Tetsuro because her real intent was to kill her mother.
In the end, Tetsuro goes home as a human and ready to start a new life.
The animation, unfortunately, is stylized to a point that it’s almost unwatchable, the voice acting is what you’d expect of the 90s, and the plot after being heavily edited isn’t the easiest to follow. Yet, it showed over and over and over on the Sci Fi Channel, and easily became one of the most recognizable animes in America until Toonami took over the airwaves on Cartoon Network. It is also so beloved in Japan that you can still buy figurines in vending machines and find merchandise with the infamous Queen Esmeraldas or Captain Harlock. It deserves a Throwback, and if you have a free Saturday night, why not indulge in some old sci-fi that involves a train streaking its way through the universe.