The Evil that Lives After in Galaxy Express 999

So, it’s always felt that the Friends, Roman, Countrymen speech gets an unfair shake in popular culture. It’s never gets treated with the same gravity as the To Be or Not to Be. It’s not as rousing as the St. Crispin’s Day speech. It doesn’t even get the traction that the I am a Jew speech gets.

Instead, it exists in this gray area where people mock it without really having heard it. But two sections have stuck with me throughout the years.

Just for a bit of context, the speech comes at the beginning of Act 3, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar. Marc Anthony speaks at Julius Caesar’s funeral, and I’ve always loved the irony that drips from the words as he tells the mob that Brutus was an honorable man.

The line that Anthony says, not without a bit of sarcasm, is, “The evil that men do lives after them and the good is oft interred with their bones.”

So there are a couple ways of reading that line. There is the way that Anthony (and Shakespeare) intends. People remember the bad that people do but forget the good, especially after they die. For instance, we remember Al Capone as the brutal gangster at the height of bootlegging, but he also started the nation’s first soup kitchen during the height of the Great Depression.

We remember the violence but forget the charity. Now I’m not going to argue that we should always commemorate the good; it’s more that we fail to see historical figures as complete people with all of the complexities that everyone else has.

There is another way to see that line. That is that evil persists well after any good reasons for it to happen.

We see this often in revolutions where the brutal and violent overthrow of a government often leads to a long period of instability. In some cases, the government that rises to power is just as bad as the one it overthrew.

Sometimes this comes up because of unintended consequences. For instance, the evils of DDT lived long after whatever good it accomplished. Evils often persist, even when good fades.

That’s the version of this I wanted to talk about, along with Episode 65 of Galaxy Express 999 – Symphonic Poem and the Witch’s Harp. Here is a link to A Fan’s Guide to Galaxy Express 999 and another one to the Galaxy Express 999 wiki.

I would say that it’s worth watching. I would count this episode among my favorite of the show. But I’m also going to provide a synopsis of what happened.

So let’s visit the planet of the Witch’s Harp.

The Witch’s Harp Planet

As the 999 approaches its landing spot, it passes over farm fields, goes past orchards and generally flies past what appears to be a lush planet full of life. 

But when we land, we soon learn two things. The first is that carrying food openly on this planet is dangerous, and the second thing is that the buildings are primarily run-down, and everything is in disrepair. It’s in direct contrast to the scenes we saw coming in and Tetsuro comments on it. 

Tetsuro, being Tetsuro, can’t help but break the rules and bring food along with him. As he’s walking down the street, he pulls out the food, and a thief runs up and grabs it. Of course, Tetsuro can’t let that lie, so he chases down the thief and catches him. The food is knocked out of his hand and onto the ground. Then both he and Maetel are shot in the back by automatic turrets. 

Not surprisingly, they survive through the help of Maetel’s disembodied patron. 

They are soon to find out that anyone possessing even more than the barest scrap of food is shot by order of the queen. Meanwhile, literal truckloads of food are shipped off to the queen’s private island. 

We find out that the thief from earlier in the show is named Nicolai, and he is trying to save his mother, who is dying from malnutrition. Well, Nicolai is not going to just sit back and accept that. Instead, he decides to grab some food from the next truck that passes through. 

Well, the Witch’s Harp starts playing, and we see truckloads of food start going through town, and Nikolai runs up and grabs onto a truck. We see him reaching for an apple as the turrets start focusing on him. He just barely holds onto one and is shot for his trouble. 

Nikolai falls off the truck, and in the most tragic scene that ever involved an apple, he holds it out to his sister and dies in her arms. Yes. He literally died because of an apple. 

Well, Tetsuro isn’t going to have any of this. He decides to get answers from the queen. They boat to the island and find it guarded by turrets that blow up their boat and weird bird monsters. What they don’t see are any people, or really any sign of the food. 

They soon find the answer to one of those questions when they encounter an elevator littered with human bones. They go down and still don’t see any people, but they do see more bones. 

They soon find the queen on her throne. Tetsuro threatens to kill her and goes marching up the steps to her throne. After Maetel saves him from getting shot by two more turrets, he learns that the queen had been dead the whole time. She had once been the most beautiful woman in all Andromeda but had grown old. So she transferred her consciousness to a computer and killed all of her staff so they couldn’t see her remains. 

They also learn that the harp was just playing automatically without anyone guiding it and with no one to feed. 

The Evil that Lives After

What struck me about this episode wasn’t the fact that an authoritarian system outlived the tyrant that started it. Not only is that often the case in science fiction and fantasy, but it’s also often the case in the real world. There are whole dynasties of unjust rulers that have persisted for centuries. 

They often build bureaucracies around that power that help them keep that power in place. They are not always the most stable or the most persistent, but as I said earlier about revolutions, frequently the new boss isn’t really any better than the old boss. 

Like, I said that part felt reasonably par for the course.

What struck me was how willingly the world simply accepted that this was the status quo. There are farmers, truck drivers, dockworkers and an entire system of transit presumably, but no one stopped and said, “Hrm. We have piles of spoiling food that no one seems to be eating.” 

None of this is addressed in the episode, so I don’t know how much of it was automated. I have to imagine that at least some part of this was performed by hand. There had to be an entire system in place that provided them food, but no one challenged it. 

There is an often-quoted line from Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, economist and philosopher: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

I think this episode is really the best example of that. There had to be an entire system in place that supported this tyranny, which was allowed to persist even after the queen’s death. Someone had to realize that she was dead and the food was going nowhere. It took an outsider challenging the system to really destroy it. 

I could be allowed to quote once more from Julius Caesar: 

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me

Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2

What do you think? What systems do you think existed long past when they were helpful or good and now have become evil?

It’s a fascinating question for me and one I will probably keep thinking about.

As always, thanks for reading.

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