Odds and Ends of Galaxy Express 999 (Part 1)

Normally, I do these odds and ends posts right before I do my wrap-up post for the series, but Galaxy Express 999 is different.

This show is long. I’m 25 episodes into the show. In a typical 12-episode show, I would have finished it a long time ago. Even in a 24-episode series, I would be wrapping it up.

Even if we were talking about a Sunrise mecha show, I would be halfway through.

But Galaxy Express 999 is 113 episodes. I’m not even a quarter of the way to the finish line. I really can’t be sure if the scraps of thoughts that I have will keep that long.

Also, I’m not sure if these scraps of thoughts will turn into longer blog posts later on, but for now, here are a collection of random thoughts that I’ve had and things I’ve noticed while watching the first 25 episodes of Galaxy Express 999.

This show is strangely dark

I know I pointed this out in one of my posts, but I’ve noticed that these shows end with bad things happening to the people that Maetel and Tetsuro meet. There’s the Dark Knight, who sold all of the quality material from his metal body to pay for his own planet. But he was conned into buying a world no one wants to visit. All he wants is friends, and he ends up getting into a fight with Tetsuro and falling to pieces. 

The end. No revenge. No lesson learned. He’s just a pile of scrap. 

In another story, a man tries to free his girlfriend after petrifying gas turned her into a statue. He protects her from pirates and is trying to escape from a cloud of incoming petrifying gas. What happens? Well, he can’t carry her to the 999, so he just lies next to her, holds her hand and turns into a statue. 

I can’t tell if it’s a punishment for his love or a reward for his devotion. Either way, it’s really tragic. 

It is more interesting to point to episodes where the character ends up better for having encountered Tetsuro and Maetel. So far, after 25 episodes, only two really stand out to me. I won’t spoil that for anyone interested in watching the show. 

What is strange about it is that few of these endings feel dark. The music doesn’t seem to play up the tragic elements, and while the characters are sad, it feels fitting. 

It’s almost like this show has a strange sense of justice. 

Designs of worlds, machines

One of the highlights of this show is the designs of both the worlds and the various machines. 

Future-facing shows often have trouble with visually exciting and realistic mechanical designs, usually the more visually attractive, the less realistic, and vice versa. Personally, Matsumoto tends to veer more toward visually interesting. His trains (other than the 999) are often colorful, and they are all unique. Some look like colorful high-speed rail, some look like fanciful steam trains, but they’re all neat. 

I know that Matsumoto often gets complimented for his mechanical designs, and it’s well deserved. 

Once they leave the solar systems, the planets become equally fanciful — starting with a planet shaped like a wildflower, and most recently, I have seen a planet surrounded by rings of snow. Each one is equally fun to look at. 

They really are pretty. 

Colors

On a somewhat related note, there are some effects in this show that are really interesting. While digital art has allowed camera moves that simply weren’t available in the 1970s, working with cells allowed some colors that I simply haven’t seen. 

It’s hard to describe, and I don’t know enough about animation to say what they did. I just recognize that it’s not something we would see nowadays.

I’ll put up a few examples of what I mean. 

Potato people vs. pretty people

I have one more note on the art. When I first started this series of posts, I mentioned the difference in character designs between the pretty people and the potato people. One of the things I’ve found interesting is how little characters’ physical appearance means in the show’s context. 

I already knew that Matsumoto didn’t use the less appealing character designs as a shorthand for the character’s moral standing. The main hero of the story is a potato person. In fact, they’re probably more likely to be good than bad, but that’s likely a factor of numbers. 

It also doesn’t indicate competence. Tetsuro is just as good with his gun as anyone else in the show, if not better than some. 

It’s just worth noting because of how little it seems to dictate in the course of the story. 

Things that happen

While I enjoy this show, even I have to admit that there are times when this show indulges itself in setting up a plot with something that doesn’t make much sense. 

For instance, the food zombies plot starts because Maetel just lets Tetsuro wander off by himself to get food. She knows that he has terminal do-gooder disease. I could even see what would happen if he wandered off, but the show needed it for the plot, so it happened. 

This show just does this sometimes. I don’t hate it, but I feel like it needs to be pointed out. 

I wonder if this is just some sort of 1970s era storytelling where writers weren’t as worried about having characters think logically. 

This leads me to my next thought. 

Really Maetel? Now is when you figure this out?

1970s tropes?

It feels like this show predates a lot of the tropes we normally see in traditional shounen stories. When Tetsuro accidentally walks into the bathroom when Maetel is bathing, there is no emotional outburst. 

Tetsuro is amazingly competent with his gun even though he’s only 10. There were no training scenes and no explanations. It was just, Tetsuro is handed a gun and is deadly with it. 

Maetel is strangely competent as well. Her competence falls into the last category as well. If she needs a tool, she automatically has it. Her briefcase is an endless supply of whatever the plot requires. 

She can fence, whip, shoot and has a laser ring. I’ve jokingly referred to her as secret agent Maetel. 

None of these line up to current tropes, or even the tropes I would expect in a 1980s or 1990s production. This makes me wonder if it’s operating under a different set of tropes or if anime was new enough that the tropes hadn’t solidified. 

I doubt it’s the second one, but it just might. I really should watch more 1970s era anime. 

Anyways, that is all I have for now. I do enjoy this show and I think more people should watch it.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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