Galaxy Express 999 is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Leiji Matsumoto, later adapted into a number of anime films and television series. It is set in a spacefaring, high-tech future in which humans have learned how to transfer their minds and emotions with perfect fidelity into mechanical bodies, thus achieving practical immortality.
The manga won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shōnen in 1978. The anime series won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1981.
Matsumoto was inspired to create Galaxy Express 999 by the idea of a steam train running through the stars in the novel Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa.
Galaxy Express 999
The film version of Galaxy Express 999, released in 1979. Maetel and Tetsuro again set out for the home planet of the Mechanized Empire, visiting four planets. Planet Maetel is a mechanized world where machine bodies are made.
Godiego performed the film’s theme song “The Galaxy Express 999”.
Adieu Galaxy Express 999
Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a 1981 sequel to the film adaptation. Adieu presents an entirely new storyline which takes place three years after the destruction of Planet Maetel. The Machine Empire now has even more of a stranglehold over the Galaxy. Rumors are afoot of Maetel becoming its new Queen. Tetsuro, now a fifteen-year-old freedom fighter, is shocked when a messenger brings him news that the 999 is returning, and that Maetel wants him to board it. Tetsuro narrowly makes his way to the 999 and departs Earth, now a battlefield.
Although Tetsuro finds that Maetel isn’t present on the 999, he does meet Metalmena, a machine woman who has replaced the waitress Claire. Also, a mysterious Ghost Train has been traveling the universe and nearly crashes into the 999. The 999 then pouts about the humiliation of being overtaken by the Ghost Train. The 999 heads to the planet La Metal, portrayed here as the birthplace of Prometheum and Maetel. Here Tetsuro helps in the resistance, befriending a cat-like teenaged-boy named Meowdar. While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Tetsuro discovers a portrait of a beautiful, blonde queen who looks very much like Maetel. He learns that it is, in fact, La Metal’s Queen Prometheum, even though she looks nothing like she did at their last confrontation. As the 999 departs, Maetel finally makes her appearance.
Shortly after leaving La Metal, the 999 is forced to dock at a station where Tetsuro meets a mysterious machine-man named Faust. When Tetsuro attacks him, Faust causes Tetsuro to drop into a flashback where he must relive his mother’s death. The 999 continues on to the planet Mosaic, the last stop before Great Andromeda, capital of the mechanized empire. Here Tetsuro finds the Ghost Train and is nearly killed.
The 999 finally makes its way to Great Andromeda where Faust greets Tetsuro once more. Meanwhile, Maetel travels down to the center of the planet where Prometheum’s consciousness still exists. Maetel is put in charge of the mechanized empire, just as the rumors said. But, again, she intends to put an end to the operations, and attempts to shut Prometheum’s machinery down. She reveals the horrible truth to Tetsuro that the energy the machine people use is actually drained from living human beings, and that they were transported there by the Ghost Train. Tetsuro is shocked to find his old friend Meowdar among a pile of dead, drained bodies. Metalmena shows indifference to Meowdar’s death, until Tetsuro reveals the source of the energy she has been existing on. As a patrol of guards comes to arrest the group, Metalmena, disgusted and enraged by what she has learned, attacks and destroys them, apparently at the cost of her own life.
Prometheum proves that she cannot be killed with just the flip of a switch, and all seems hopeless. At about the same time, a space anomaly called Siren the Witch approaches Great Andromeda, attracted to its abundant energy and absorbing all machine energy. With Great Andromeda collapsing, the 999 is set to depart, but Tetsuro must face Faust one last time. After dealing Faust a fatal blow, it is revealed to Tetsuro that Faust is actually Tetsuro’s father (In the manga and television series, it is never made clear what became of Tetsuro’s father). The 999 heads back to La Metal where Maetel and Tetsuro separate for the last time, and “the boy [Tetsuro] becomes a man”.
Two songs written and performed by Mary MacGregor, ‘Love Light’ and the ending theme “Sayonara” were used for the film. Kumiko Kaori recorded a Japanese version of the ending song.
Helen McCarthy in 500 Essential Anime Movies called it a “dense, fascinating story”.
This two-part OVA from 2000 serves as a prelude for Galaxy Express 999 and explains the series’ backstory. Maetel, the protagonist, is the daughter of Queen Prometheum of the Planet La Metal (both from Queen Millennia), a wandering planet, and one of the first civilizations to have mechanized their bodies. As Queen Promethium becomes fearful of the natural decline of her people’s lifespan on their freezing world, which has fallen out of orbit, she decides to mechanize them all, in order to enable her people to survive the harsh climate. The complete series was released on DVD by Central Park Media.
Space Symphony Maetel
Following on from Maetel Legend, this 13-part OVA from 2004 reveals that the newly created machine people of La Metal began to mechanise galaxy after galaxy against the will of many humans, and ended up creating rebellions and revolutions. Maetel is asked to return to La Metal to succeed her mother, only to discover the many hardships her mother has inflicted on the humans.
In this series, Captain Harlock and Emeraldas (Maetel’s sister) also appear, and work together to assassinate Prometheum, along with Maetel. Parallels with Galaxy Express 999 are prevalent. Instead of a boy who wants a mechanized body meeting her, she met a boy who has a grudge against Prometheum and detests being mechanized.
The final lines of dialog reveal that this is a prequel to the 1979 film Galaxy Express 999.
Galaxy Railways: Letter From An Abandoned Planet
This OVA series was released from December 30, 2006 to January 5, 2007 (on SKY PerfectTV!) in Japan. The story takes place between Seasons 1 and 2 of Galaxy Railways: Crossroad to Eternity, and presumably after the events of Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, where the Earth has since been destroyed. The OVAs featured Maetel, Tetsuro, and the Conductor, with their original voice actors from the Galaxy Express 999 television series.
For unknown reasons, this series started production earlier than Galaxy Railways: Crossroad to Eternity, but was aired much later.
- Tetsuro Hoshino
The main character of Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro is a poor Earth boy who witnessed his mother die at the hands of Count Mecha. With his mother’s dying wish being for him to obtain a machine body, Tetsuro embarks on the Galaxy Express with Maetel. Tetsuro has also been mentioned in the new Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage manga.
The mysterious blonde woman who accompanies Tetsuro on the Galaxy Express 999. Maetel is in actuality the daughter of Queen Prometheum, ruler of the mechanized empire. In the movie version, Maetel is responsible for bringing youths from around the universe to the mechanized homeworld where they are turned into mechanized human components to serve the mechanized empire, whereas in the television series, she is grooming them to grow up to become generals in her mother’s imperial military. Maetel is secretly plotting with her father, Dr. Ban (who is contained within the pendant around her neck) to destroy the machine empire, and finally does so (in the movie) when it is Tetsuro’s turn to be turned into a bolt. Maetel’s soul exists in the body of a human copy, which she occupies until it grows old and she exchanges it for a new one. It is explained in the movie version that she occupies a clone of the body of Tetsuro’s mother, which explains the resemblance between the two.
The Conductor is the main crew member of the Galaxy Express 999. He is an alien being with an invisible body; only his eyes can be seen while he is wearing his conductor uniform. The Conductor prefers to go ‘strictly by the book’ and frequently cites the Galaxy Express rule book, but occasionally ends up bending the rules and getting into adventures with Tetsuro and Maetel.
The dining car waitress on the 999, Claire has a machine body made of clear crystal glass. Unlike others who gave up their humanity by choice, Claire was forced into this existence by her vain mother. She works on the 999 in order to save up enough money to buy back her human body, which is stored on Pluto. Claire quickly befriends Tetsuro and sacrifices herself for him when a hallucination taking the guise of his mother tries to pull him out of the train. Her body is shattered, all that remains is a single glass tear which Tetsuro holds with him as a memento. In the movie version, Claire has a somewhat larger role, but suffers the same fate, sacrificing herself for Tetsuro when Prometheum tries to kill him (a machine girl named “Mirai” (“Future”) has this role in the television series). Claire returns to life in both Eternal Fantasy and the new Galaxy Express manga published by Matsumoto in the 1990s.
- Captain Harlock:
Famous space pirates who are idolized by Tetsuro. Both have only minor cameos in the original manga and television series, but have significantly larger roles in the movies and assist in defeating the machine empire.
A well known bandit who sneaks aboard the 999 after their stop on the planet Titan. Antares despises machine people for the death of his wife and has many unexploded bullets lodged within his abdomen. He warns Tetsuro to “shoot first, ask questions later”. In the manga and television series he lives in a large home with his many children; in the movie he lives on Titan with other bandits and many children orphaned by Count Mecha. In the movie version he assists Tetsuro in his quest to kill Count Mecha at the Time Castle, and is killed when the bullets in his body explode after taking multiple shots from the Count.
- Count Mecha:
The wealthy machine man who murdered Tetsuro’s mother. In the manga and television series, he is a minor aristocrat, and is killed by Tetsuro before he leaves Earth. In the movie version he appears to have considerably more power, and rules the Time Castle. Acquiring a machine body to get revenge on Count Mecha is Tetsuro’s primary motivation in the movie version, and he accomplishes his goal with the assistance of Antares while on the planet Heavy Melder.
- Queen Prometheum:
Maetel’s mother, and ruler of the mechanized empire. Once a gentle woman, Prometheum created the machine empire believing it would be good for humanity. Prometheum has considerably difference physical characteristics in each of her appearances, appearing as a humanoid in the television series and movie, and a two-faced head in the manga. Prometheum is destroyed with the destruction of Andromeda in the manga and television series, and killed by Claire in the movie version. Her spirit occupies the planet Great Andromeda in Adieu Galaxy Express 999 but perishes when that planet is destroyed by Siren the Witch.