Originally serialized in Hit Comics from 1977 to 1987, Galaxy Express 999 is part of Leiji Matsumoto's larger universe. The story centers on Tetsuro, an orphaned street urchin who dreams of catching a ride on the titular space-train in search of a mechanized body and eternal life. He gets his chance when a mysterious woman named Maetel offers him a ticket - if he will travel with her along the way.The 21-volume original manga run spawned several TV shows, movies and OVAs, spanning nearly three decades:
The first TV series, Galaxy Express 999, aired from 1978 to 1981, with essentially the same storyline as the manga.
A full-length animated feature was released in 1979; this was a greatly condensed version of the TV series.
Adieu Galaxy Express 999, the second feature film, came out in 1981. A sequel to the events of the first movie, this was the first advancement past the original manga's storyline.
After a break of nearly 20 years, Matsumoto wrote a second manga series in the late 1990s, continuing the story from Adieu.
A third, shorter film titled Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy was released in 1998. The story is drawn from events in the second manga series.
Maetel Legend, a prequel to the original story, was released in 2000 as a two-part OVA.
Space Symphony Maetel, a 13-episode series released in 2004 as a follow-on to Maetel Legend.
To date, only the first two movies, a portion of the second manga series and Maetel Legend have had a widespread release in the U.S./Region 1. (The TV series was subtitled by Nippon Golden Network and available in areas of the US with a high ethnic Japanese population.) A...somewhat liberal translation of the first movie was released in 1981, but we aren't going to talk about that. The translation work since then has been considerably more faithful to the source and (big surprise) much more enjoyable for it. Funimation is currently streaming a subtitled release of the entire original 1978 TV series.S'more Entertainment has announced that they will release the Galaxy Express 999 tv series as a sub-only DVD release in North America. However, it won't exactly be what fans are expecting (see Bad Export for You).Another series in the Leijiverse, The Galaxy Railways, further explores the trains-as-spaceships theme, but isn't really interwoven into the Galaxy Express continuity. Galaxy Express features cameos from afewother Leijiverse characters.
Contains examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: The 1979 movie. It cuts out much of the unnecessary melodramatic elements of the original series to focus on the core story-arc, while at the same time expanding on Tetsuro's quest to get revenge on Count Mecha.
Bad Export for You / Screwed By the Distributor: S'More Entertainment, a company who usually doesn't do anime releases is releasing the entire TV series in North America on DVD, marking the series' first ever North American home video appearance. However, while there are subtitles (unlike their Bobobobo Bobo release), they are what's known as "hardsubs": subtitles that can't be turned off. Unfortunately for the North American fans, there are no plans for replacement sets with soft subtitles.
Informed Attribute: Maetel is universally considered the less dangerous of the two sisters, yet Emeraldas has a lesser body count, at least since Maetel blew up a planet in response to an attempted Grand Theft Me.
Big Fat Future - The second Big Bad in the manga conquers Earth by offering enough free food to cause this.
Cool Train - C'mon. A space train? How could it be anything but?
Or Cool Starship, depending on whether you view the 999 as a space-going train or a train-like spaceship. Exceedingly cool, either way.
Crapsack World - Most of the planets Tetsuro and Maetel visit are in various states of decay. By the time of Adieu, Galaxy Express 999, Earth has devolved into a state of perpetual war between humans and machines.
A planet named Imbecile is apparently the worst of the lot, according to Maetel. Thankfully we never saw it...
Maetel's a pretty complicated one. Because of the L/R ambiguity in Japanese it can be interpreted as either coming from the Latin word for mother, or the English word metal (or possibly the Mattel toy company) both of which hint at her artificial nature.
Word of God says that her name was meant to read "Maeter" and derived from the Latin word "mater", which means "mother".
Noble Savage: Utterly and totally averted. The first time we see a genuinely low-tech population, they are brutal savages who practice recreational torture and human sacrifice. We meet other savage types later on, and they're not all that great either.
Space Isan OceanA Railroad - The Three-Nine runs through outer space as if on tracks. Harlock commands a battleship, while Emeraldas gets a bit more...bizarre: a wooden sailing ship, suspended from a giant...space-blimp sort of...thing.
Then again, they keep referring to space as the Sea of Stars.
Not to mention people walking along the outside of spacecraft without protection. Lampshaded when Tetsuro is baffled to hear the sound of distant church bells as the 999 approaches a planet. Maetel explains that the inhabitants are so arrogantly pious that they assembled a vast array of gravitational wave emitters on the surface, which broadcast an intense graviton carrier wave precisely modulated to induce a resonant vibration in the bulkheads of passing spacecraft which replicates with perfect fidelity the sound of distant church bells. Impressed, Tetsuro rolls down the window and sticks his head out to get a better look.