Manga: Galaxy Express 999

Galaxy Express Three-Nine will take you on a journey, a neverending journey...a journey to the stars!

"...I keep expecting some Doctor Zhivago-lookin' shiksa to scoop me onto a train for an endless, Oedipal journey through the cosmos."
- Koshi Rikdo (via Carl Horn), on Galaxy Express.

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.

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 a few other Leijiverse characters (from Space Battleship Yamato, Queen Millennia and Captain Harlock).


  • 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.
  • Animation Anatomy Aging
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Don't mess with Maetel and don't threaten Tetsuro even if she isn't around.
    • 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. There is also a planet where people are so fat they completely fill houses that explode as the occupant keeps expanding.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A classic straight example.

    Count Mecha: I don't know you.
    Tetsuro: My name is Tetsuro Hoshino and you killed my mother, you metal bastard!
    Count Mecha: I kill a lot of mothers. Let me guess: you want vengeance, blah blah blah . . .

  • Collapsing Lair: buildings, castles, even planets may explode upon the owner's death.
  • Colonized Solar System: The first half dozen episodes or so are all set within the solar system, with stops on Mars, Titan, and Pluto.
  • 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...
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Seen in several mechanized humans, though by no means universal.
  • Cut Short: The movie Eternal Fantasy ends with a Star Killing, Earth-Shattering Kaboom, vows to find a mysterious person that will fix everything, and a "To Be Continued in 1999". We're still waiting.
  • Deal with the Devil: The aptly-named Black Knight, Faust.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Emeraldas's android stand-in starts screaming "Don't look at me!" after Maetel cuts off its robes.
  • Downer Ending: Nearly half of the TV series episodes!
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Maetel's response to two doctors plotting to steal her and Tetsuro's bodies.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: Brought to the logical extreme by Leiji Matsumoto: the titular Cool Train is a spaceship that looks like a train pulled by a C62 steam locomotive, smoke included. Justified out of universe by Author Appeal and in-universe by Rule of Cool (Maetel quickly points out it was built with that look because people preferred it to more modern-looking space trains).
  • Fanservice: Iconic as it is, Maetel takes off that coat pretty regularly. One of the eyecatches is her swimming in a bikini alongside a train in space.
  • Flashback: Tetsuro remembers life with his mother from time to time, along with her death.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Emeraldas is revealed to have had this going on with Maetel in her original introduction in GE999: the two of them dueled to a draw in the past, but have otherwise been very fond of each other, taking pictures together and such. Unlike the android Emeraldas, the real one would never actually want to harm Maetel, and she refuses to meet Maetel face-to-face while not at full strength due to illness. This was long before the two of them became sisters, mind you.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: In addition to Queen Prometheum, a lot of planets ruled by queens are pretty screwed up.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Captain Harlock and Emeraldas both bear scars under their left eyes.
  • Grand Theft Me: Metalmena makes a (failed) attempt to hijack Maetel's body in Adieu.
    • In the TV series, a doctor with a mechanized body kidnaps Tetsuro and exchanges bodies with him. Naturally, he demands to have his own body back again.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Claire in the anime and first movie Metalmena does this twice in Adieu. Obviously being a waitress on the 999 is a dangerous job.
  • Kill the Poor: Rich nobles who have swapped their bodies for mechanized bodies are free to hunt the poor humans for sport.
  • Lady of War: Maetel is well-mannered, well-educated, refined and cultured, and if you force her into a physical confrontation, on your own head be it.
  • La Résistance: The organic rebellion against the mechanized empire.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Faust, to Tetsuro in Adieu.
  • Meaningful Name: Faust, Crystal Claire and others.
    • 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".
  • Melodrama: As was common in Anime in The '70s (okay, anime even now).
  • Missing Mom: Tetsuro's mother.
  • Negative Space Wedgie
  • Nice Hat
  • 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.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Bell-bottoms everywhere, and Tetsuro's heeled shoes, among other things.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome - Inverted by Tetsuro's quest for a machine body.
  • Planet of Hats
  • Pretty in Mink: Maetel's fur trimmed outfit.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The 999's conductor.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Tetsuro's relationship with Maetel has aspects of this, especially when it's revealed that she's using a replica of the body of Tetsuro's mother.
  • Robot Girl: Queen Prometheum, Crystal Claire, Metalmena, et al.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: the upper class use android bodies, powered by tiny energy cells that were made by harvesting humans.
  • Ramen Slurp: Tetsuro eats ramen at every opportunity, though he treats synthetic noodles as a last resort. He usually eats it by inhaling an entire bowl in one big noodly mass.
  • Space Is an Ocean A 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 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.
  • Space Opera
  • Spaceship Girl: The 999 gets its own in Eternal Fantasy.
  • Theme Naming: The "Tetsu" in Tetsuro comes from the Japanese word for iron, while Maetel sounds like metal.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Tetsuro loves ramen and eats it whenever he can.
  • Transhuman Treachery: A major recurring theme in all of Matsumoto's stories is that Cybernetics Will Eat Your Soul, and once you succumb to the temptation of living forever in an inhumanly strong and fast mechanical body, you will quickly lose your connection to humanity and become its worst nightmare. It's not universal, but even characters who accept cybernetics for the noblest of intentions often turn into the worst villains, e.g. Queen Promethium, as depicted in Maetel Legend.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Queen Prometheum is perfectly willing to harvest organic beings as an energy source for mechanized citizens.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: This trope is practically the hat of the Machine Empire. Virtually every world in two galaxies sees them as the wave of the future. Even the protagonist, who watched his own mother being brutally gunned down by Machine-Humans, simply concludes that if he'd been a Machine-Human himself, he would have been powerful enough to stop them.
  • Wagon Train to the Stars
  • Whip It Good: Maetel's pretty handy with that whip she carries.
  • You Killed My Father: Tetsuro, during the first movie/arc to Count Mecha, who killed his mother and mounted her on a wall. His speech to the count could easily be translated into the full version.