veemignon: (galaxyexpress2)
[personal profile] veemignon

It's been a long time since I've seen this.

I believe I was 12 when I first saw Galaxy Express 999, back when the Sci-Fi channel showed something remotely interesting. Fresh into my Sailor Moon phase, I was willing to watch just about any film that was animated and from Japan. This film, along with its sequel, Adieu Galaxy Express 999, made a huge impression on me.

But the question is, does it still hold up?


Surprisingly, yes. It holds up exceedingly well. The story is both a tale of revenge and a deeper story on accepting death and forging a new identity, which I think helps in keeping it fresh. Galaxy Express 999 is the story of Tetsuro Hoshino, who sets out on a odyssey, via Galaxy Express train, with a mysterious woman who is a dead-ringer for his deceased mother. Tetsuro initially wants to buy a mechanized body for himself and kill the robot who murdered his mother, Count Mecha. Hopping from planet to planet, Tetsuro slowly begins to understand truths about humanity as the movie checks off notable characters from the comic book: Captain Harlock, Queen Esmeraldas, Tochiro, Antares, Claire . . .

Galaxy Express 999 started out as a comic in the mid 70's by Leiji Matsumoto, who is a legend in Japanese animation. Around 1978, it was made into a fairly long television series and, in 1979, a feature-length film was made out of it. What's interesting to note here is that the film was made before the television show had finished airing. Anyone who went to see the movie had spoiled the ending of the series as well. The biggest difference between film, comic, and television show is that in the movie, it takes a while for Tetsuro to find and kill Count Mecha. Originally, Count Mecha's death occurred early on. As such, the show promoted the film by having a special 3-part episode where the characters tried to destroy a fake Captain Harlock who was hiding out in the Time Castle. Decades later and there are still animated adaptations being made out of Matsumoto's chef d'oeuvre.


The main character, Tetsuro, is on a mission to avenge his mother's death. He wants to travel to the Andromeda galaxy, where he can have a mechanized body for free. Tetsuro lives in a world where humanity has become a commodity. Human beings trade in their humanity for eternal life. But by not dying, they're also not living. He's marked by a traumatic memory from his past in which robots, including Count Mecha, hunted down his mother. As a character, Tetsuro is on the verge of adulthood. His identity has been formed solely by his parents. The mechanized body he wants to purchase and the man he wants to kill are closely linked to his mother. When the journey begins, the woman he travels with is a clone of his mother's body. Everything in Tetsuro's life revolves around his mother; his identity as well.


Maetel is a woman who is marked by her mysterious allure. She is leading Tetsuro both to life and death. At one point, I believe a character comments that Maetel will be his death. She represents life to Tetsuro in that she is a replication of his mother. But she is death in that she is the death of his innocence. Actualizing his desire is one half of her journey, but actualizing her desire is another story. The question is, what is Maetel's desire? To retrieve her original body, buried under a sheet of ice on the planet Pluto? Or is she deceiving Tetsuro and bringing him to his actual death? When I first saw this movie, I didn't know what to make of Maetel. And still to this day . . . I'm not too sure. That's the point, though. She's a dream woman. At the end of the comic, she tells Tetsuro that she has to take another boy on a journey. She has to help another boy actualize his desires and grow up. I believe Maetel wants to reclaim her identity as well. Much like Tetsuro, Maetel's identity has been dictated by her parents. If she doesn't destroy Planet Maetel, then she's following what her mother wants. If she does destroy Planet Maetel, then she's following what her father wants. She has to strike a chord in there somewhere and discover who she is amidst all that mess.


Tetsuro and Maetel journey on the Galaxy Express and visit many different planets. Along the way, they meet Queen Esmeraldas and Captain Harlock who help in defeating the mechanized empire, whose leader is Maetel's mother, Queen Prometheum. The first step is for Tetsuro to understand his identity by taking on the count who killed his mother. The second step is for Maetel to understand her identity by destroying her mother's realm and moving on with her life. By the end, after both deeds have been completed, Tetsuro and Maetel part ways, possibly forever. Well, the sequel doesn't want you to think that. But we're not talking about the sequel and Tetsuro's father, Darth-I mean Faust. His name's Faust.


Much like I would argue that all men drawn by CLAMP look the same, all women drawn by Matsumoto look exactly the same. I think there's depth to this, though. Tetsuro, having been marked by his mother's death, sees all women as his mother. The only woman he doesn't trust immediately is Shadow, a robot with no face. If you look at this from a stereotypical Freudian view, I guess I'd say that Tetsuro secretly desires his mother and as such, sees her in every woman he meets. But I don't think that's what's going on here. When Tetsuro finally makes it to the Time Castle, he sees his mother mounted on the wall, like the head of a deer. This provokes him further, and with Antares' help, he kills Count Mecha. Being the Time Castle, I think killing Count Mecha allows Tetsuro to move on. He's spent his life stuck in the past and when he's finally gotten his revenge, he can move on as an individual. He realizes then that he doesn't want a mechanized body. Becoming a robot, Tetsuro decides, means that he won't be able to live anymore, which is the beauty of being a human. By becoming a robot, the human race in Galaxy Express 999 has decided to not accept death. When one doesn't accept death, one doesn't accept life either. Without the concept of death either, how can one truly live? If there isn't that dangerous ticking time bomb known as age slowly counting the seconds? He wants to live as a human being and die as a human being.


Robots and mechanized bodies in Galaxy Express 999 are strange, liminal creatures. I think the best way to describe them is as lotus eaters. They want to forget about the constraints of humanity, but at the same time, they're turning away from anything that could possibly make them human. Count Mecha was supposedly a good man before he became an apathetic robot. We see Claire, who is a rather kind robot. There's a distinction between those who take on a mechanized body in selfish greed vs. those who don't. Count Mecha and Shadow are turned into shells of their former selves while Claire and Tochiro are quite different. Claire's body was sold by her mother and she's working on the train in order to buy back her body. This brings up the idea that humanity is a commodity. It can be sold and bought back. In a way, this cheapens humanity. Tochiro is entirely different from Claire in that he wants his life to serve a better purpose. He becomes the spirit of the ship belonging to his friend, Captain Harlock. Claire sacrifices her life to save Tetsuro from Queen Prometheum. In a way, those two have achieved eternal life, though not through the same means as Count Mecha or Shadow. They've become eternal by over coming their wants or desires and sacrificing their lives for the people they care about. It's beyond the body, whether mechanized or true flesh. They've gained eternal life as a memory.

This reminds me of Watership Down in that Tetsuro is an observer to all of these displays of humanity and non-humanity. It is then that he makes a judgment on mechanized bodies and humanity as a whole and decides his fate.


On his travels, Tetsuro visits many interesting planets. The first appears to be a planet of hedonism, Planet Titan. He is told that anyone can do as they please on the planet. The minute Tetsuro's on the planet, someone he passes by has been shot and Maetel's been kidnapped. Let's call it Planet Id. The next planet they travel to is Planet Pluto, which is more of an underworld. People leave their bodies under the ice when they receive their mechanized bodies. It is here that Tetsuro realizes Maetel's body might not be her own. This is also where Tetsuro meets Shadow, a woman whose renowned beauty was taken away from her when she became a robot. As she tries to steal Tetsuro's warmth, Maetel tells her that it was Shadow's choice to give up her humanity for eternal life. The third planet they visit, where Tetsuro kills Count Mecha, is a planet steeped in death for him. While Planet Pluto is a planet of stalled life, this planet is the actual planet of death. It is through these travels that Tetsuro observes the life on them and understands that he doesn't want to live in those ways.


In the end, when Tetsuro decides not to give up his humanity, Maetel betrays him. She turns him into her mother, Queen Prometheum, who is willing to force a mechanized body upon Tetsuro. Maetel pauses at the idea of destroying Planet Maetel to save Tetsuro. "This planet is also me," she tells herself. "It is half of my own heart. We're different, but both are myself." Maetel's idea of identity is a shattered concept. Her conscious moves around from body to body, half of herself is Planet Maetel and there's her real body on Planet Pluto. Maetel is both living and dead, which is a sign of a great goddess. But she can't destroy the planet on her own. She needs Tetsuro to actualize her desire and he's the one to throw her pendant, destroying Planet Maetel.


The concept of a young boy being attracted to an older woman is one seen constantly in anime. Matsumoto's work has captivated audiences for a very long time and I have to say, I was willing to go on that ride as well. I watched this again thinking that it would bore me and I would move on to something else. This is an incredibly enjoyable film. The characters are all likable and intriguing. The animation, amazingly, is great. I was entranced by the fact that there's actual attention paid to the interior design of houses. It's silly, but this is something that I pick up on.

If you want to go on a great classic anime run, put this on your list, totally. If you can find it, that is. It's been released on Blue-Ray now, but I don't know if Adieu Galaxy Express 999 will ever be released. I would love to see the sequel again sometime.

Until then, sayonara, sweet memories.
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