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Manga / Galaxy Express 999

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The main ensemble.note 

Galaxy Express Three-Nine will take you on a journey, a never-ending journey... a journey to the stars!
— opening lyrics for a GE999 TV special

"...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 Weekly Shonen King (and later Shonen Big Comic) from 1977 to 1981, Galaxy Express 999 (pronounced "Galaxy Express Three-Nine") is part of Leiji Matsumoto's larger universe. The story centers on Tetsuro Hoshino, 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 lets her travel with him along the way.

The 18-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 and an Alternate Continuity.
  • 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 series (but not the films, which take place in a different continuity), 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.
  • Galaxy Railways: Letter from an Abandoned Planet, a four-part OVA series released from December 2006 to January 2007, is a crossover between the original series and The Galaxy Railways — all three lead voice actors from the 1978 series reprise their roles here.note 

Only parts of this franchise have made it to the English-speaking world. For a long time, only the first two movies (originally dubbed in Vancouver and released by Viz Media... we will not mention the rather loose adaptation by New World Pictures from 1981), a small portion of the second manga series (also by Viz), and Maetel Legend (via Central Park Media) had any real general release.

In 2009, the 1978 TV series began streaming on Crunchyroll and later showed up on another streaming service called Tubi.

In 2012, a flash-in-the-pan company called S'more Entertainment announced a release of the first TV series as a sub-only DVD release in North America, but it turned out to be a Bad Export for You much to the chagrin of many fans and ended up being dropped partway through release. Discotek Media, which has a good working relationship with Toei and had already re-released the movies, stated at the time that Toei offered them the series but they had to pass on it due to staff being burned out after finishing Fist of the North Star (an even longer series whose last 100 episodes had to be subtitled from scratch).

Thankfully at Otakon 2018, Discotek finally came to the rescue and announced a release of the series on Blu-ray, which they followed through on in 2020 — complete with subtitles tweaked from the older translation on Crunchyroll, the missing 114th episode (a series retrospective not included in official episode counts) and restorations of three of the four TV specials which had been given English dubs by Harmony Gold. Shortly thereafter, Discotek re-released all three GE999 movies on Blu-ray.

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 (except for the OVA mentioned above). Galaxy Express features cameos from a few other Leijiverse characters (from Space Battleship Yamato, Queen Emeraldas, and Captain Harlock).


  • The Ace: Because each planet is a Planet of Hats, there a lot of individuals and machines that are described as "the best in the universe" in some regard.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the original manga and TV series, Tetsuro was depicted with a rather cartoonish appearance and is explicitly stated to be a rather ugly little boy multiple times. In the 1979 film, he was given more realistic features that were more in line with most shounen protagonists at the time and didn't catch any insults about his appearance. Tetsuro's original appearance was used for his younger self in a flashback.
  • 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: As is common in Matsumoto's works, the women's eyes become smaller as they age until they end up as tiny pinpricks for his trademark Miniature Senior Citizens and gonks. It's easy to tell whether a female in this world is a youth or not by her eyes.
  • Age Lift: along with getting more attractive, Tetsuro is older in the film series, implied to be in his early to mid-teens, when he was ten years old in the manga and TV series.
  • Awful Truth: The free mechanical bodies distributed on Andromeda? It's genuine, if by genuine you mean being transformed into a mechanized component of said planet
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Don't mess with Maetel and don't threaten Tetsuro even if she isn't around.
    • Tetsuro, especially in the TV Series is an extremely nice and friendly child but will go berserk if he sees someone getting hurt, and lord help you if that person is Maetel.
  • Big Bad:
    • Queen Prometheum and Machine Empire in the first series.
    • Darqueen and Metanoids in the Eternal Fantasy series.
  • Big, Fat Future: Happens twice.
    • In the first TV series, there is a planet where robots have taken over all menial tasks, leaving people to do nothing but laze about and grow fatter and fatter until they completely fill houses that have to keep being rebuilt around them as they keep growing.
    • The Starter Villain in the second manga conquers Earth by offering enough free food to cause this.
  • 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 . . .
  • Broken Masquerade: The ironically named "Future Planet", which has 20th century technology and the Galaxy Express 999 is kept a secret from the general population. By the end of the arc, a group of teenagers have taken pictures of it and plan on publishing them in their newspaper.
  • Censor Suds: Exaggerated in the episode "The Land of Confession". The Conductor, despite being entirely alone, still hides his entire body in suds while bathing, which also hides his invisibility from the audience at first.
  • 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.
  • Continuity Reboot: The Ultimate Journey manga loosely follows the Eternal arc, but with different problems and adventures.
  • 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 Means Friendship: Tetsuro is a great warrior, but his kindness often manages to end conflicts non-lethally.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Emeraldas's android stand-in starts screaming "Don't look at me!" after Maetel cuts off its robes.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: In an episode, Tetsuro watches from afar as his enigmatic guide and companion Maetel weeps over a dead body under ice on Pluto. It is later more or less confirmed that it is Maetel's own original, pre-mechanization body.
  • Downer Ending: Nearly half of the TV series episodes!
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Antares Takes the Bullet for Tetsuro, then blows himself up to destroy Count Mecha's energy shield and clear a field of fire for Tetsuro AND, to top it off, warns Tetsuro that Vagueness Is Coming just before he goes boom.
  • 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.
  • Fan Disservice: Count Mecha disrobing and admiring the new human trophy that is Tetsuro's mother.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Most blaster fights end in seconds, with Cosmo Dragoon holders usually have the fastest draw.
  • 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.
  • Friendly Skeleton: One planet features Horohoro, a man who gradually lost all his flesh and numerous bones each time his girlfriend betrayed him. Nonetheless, he's still kind to Tetsuro and fully believes his girlfriend will return one day. Double subverted when he finally snaps and kills his traitorous ex, only to end up regretting it when Tetsuro chooses to take the blame instead of revealing the truth.
  • Full-Conversion Cyborg: Humans are able to put their minds in machine bodies, to achieve a form of immortality. It is very much a case of Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. Some people, realizing this, or tiring of immortality, can in theory return to their human bodies, which are stored on Pluto in the Graves of Ice.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!:
    • In addition to Queen Prometheum, a lot of planets ruled by queens are pretty screwed up.
    • Inverted with the queen of the Dark Africa Nebula, where she is the one who is reasonable and kind, in contrast to her subjects who are genocidal maniacs.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Captain Harlock and Emeraldas both bear scars under their left eyes.
    • Tetsuro also gets a scar on his back early in the series while trying to flee a swordsman.
  • 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.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: After Metanoids got introduced in later media, they usually act like this across the Leijiverse, a notable one being Hardgear to Queen Prometheum.
  • Hate Sink: The villains like Count Mecha are made to be hated.
  • Hates Baths:
    • Testuro often uses "lions don't take baths" as an excuse to avoid them. Sometimes even Maetel can't take it and makes a stop at the nearest bathhouse so Testuro would do something with his smell.
    • Downplayed with the Conductor. He makes just as much of a fuss and avoidance of taking baths as Tetsuro, but doesn't exactly mind taking them when he's sure he's alone. He just doesn't want to risk people seeing his invisibility.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Villain: Testuro doesn't figure out until he gets there that the capital of Machine Empire that offers mechanization for free and holds cultural influence in both galaxies may have ulterior motives.
  • Honor Before Reason: 999 leaves stations by a precise schedule even if a passenger is seconds late, will kick out anyone without a valid ticket even if the powers that be know a passenger is genuine, and won't change course even under a threat of bombardment. The conductor is willing to make exceptions, but rarely.
  • Hypocrite: A recurring failing of Tetsuro is his inability to grasp the dangers of getting a mechanical body, even as he encounters and lectures travelers or locals on similarly doomed journeys. Maetel initially tries to gently help Tetsuro recognize how similar he is to the Victim of the Week, but he's often too preoccupied with living up to his mother's wishes to take her words to heart.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Many characters remark how beautiful Maetel is. However, since so many other females look very similar to her, it makes it a prime example of this trope.
  • Informed Attribute: Maetel is universally considered the less dangerous of the two sisters, yet Emeraldas has a lower body count, at least since Maetel blew up a planet in response to an attempted Grand Theft Me.
  • Invisibility: Various episodes would reveal this of the Conductor, being an invisible alien hidden under his uniform. His hat is the only thing giving him the appearance of having a shadowed-over face and makes his eyes visible.
  • Kill the Poor: Rich nobles who have swapped their bodies for mechanized bodies are free to hunt the poor humans for sport.
  • Lactose over Liquor: Tetsuro, looking for information about Count Mecha, orders milk at the bar on Heavy Melder. Though laughed at by the other patrons, the bartender tells Tetsuro he'll drink with him. Later, when Tetsuro is trying to retrieve his Cosmo Dragoon from some rough customers at the bar, Captain Harlock shows up. He, too, orders milk, but this time, no one is laughing, and he forces it down the offending android's throat.
  • La Résistance: The organic rebellion against the mechanized empire.
  • Lightning Lash: Maetel carries a whip with an electric shock function and she's pretty handy with it.
  • Limited Destination Time: The policy of the train is to stay at each planet for one day of that planet's time; this can't be changed, so passengers only have that long to be on the planet. Though on occasion the Conductor can find ways of delaying take off by minutes, or even return when plot demands, but generally this is treated as an ironclad rule.
  • 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. Who was tragically killed by Count Mecha.
  • Monster of the Week: Tesuro and Maetel hardly can catch a break on what is supposed to be a tourism trip. Either Tesuro triggers a Culture Clash, meddles in someone's problems, gets challenged to a duel, or has to rescue Maetel from kidnappers, someone will sure make the return to the train harder.
  • Ms Fan Service: 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.
  • Mugged for Disguise: In episode 11, Maetel and Tetsuro are replaced by a pair of shapeshifting blobs that steal their forms and clothes.
  • Narrator: All chapters end with literal or philosophical commentary of what happened with Testuro.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The train has met space weather and objects with varying degrees of explanation.
  • 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.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Seriously, the state several planets are in makes you wonder if Galaxy Railroads is at all concerned with the safety of its passengers.
  • Only Six Faces: Suffers from this quite badly, which is honestly par for the course with Leiji Matumoto works. Practically every young female character is a clone of Maetel and all old people have the strange body quirk of having their eyes above their forehead. While Tetsuro looks pretty distinct, there's approximately one face (and haircut) for every other young male of his age. Possibly lampshading this trope, Tetsuro does meet a man who has his exact face and almost an identical name. The only sort of plot relevance it has is to note how odd it is and make them fast friends.
  • Planet of Hats: A key part of the premise is the 999 visiting a succession of planets that either revolve around a cultural trait, or exist to support a particular Aesop or plot point.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The upper class use android bodies, powered by tiny energy cells that were made by harvesting humans.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the first movie, when Tetsuro finds out that the mechanized homeworld is called Planet Maetel.note 
  • Pretty in Mink: Maetel's fur trimmed outfit.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Tetsuro's relationship with Maetel has aspects of this, especially when it's revealed that she's using a body intentionally designed to evoke Tetsuro's mother.
  • 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.
  • Robot Girl: Queen Prometheum, Crystal Claire, Metalmena, et al.
  • Shadowed Face, Glowing Eyes: The only visible part of the Conductor is a pair of glowing yellow eyes on a shadowed face. Being invisible, it's his hat creating the shadow on his face. Without it, he looks entirely headless.
  • Signature Headgear: If someone is parodying Leiji Matsumoto's female characters, they will almost certainly be wearing Maetel's fur hat.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Maetel is well-mannered, well-educated, refined, and cultured. And if you force her into a physical confrontation, on your own head be it.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Surprisingly, despite the age difference, more than a few characters assume that Tetsuro and Maetel are a couple. Tetsuro is always flustered by it and repeatedly denies it.
  • Strictly Formula: The Conductor announces the next Planet of Hats and how many hours the train is allowed to stay there, Testuro and Maetel find the local hotel and one or all things happen right away – somebody steals their documents, Testuro gets into a fight (willingly or unwillingly) or Maetel gets kidnapped. Tesuro resolves the conflict with his display of bravery just in time and the Narrator comments on the experience.
  • The Soft-Hearted Warrior: Antares. He's carrying around bullets from various wars on various planets. But he also makes it a point to look after the orphans on Titan, and is friendly and jovial… once you prove you're not a machine man, that is.
  • Space Is an Ocean: The 999 runs through outer space as if on tracks (so do all other Galaxy Railways trains). Harlock commands a battleship, while Emeraldas gets a bit more... bizarre: a wooden galleon suspended from a giant... space-dirigible 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. For the trains, it's explicitly stated that each train has a shield of sorts surrounding it keeping in atmosphere. This also seems to apply to the rare "gravity tunnels", which operate outside even this world's laws of physics.
      • 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: This series is one and it played a major role in popularizing the genre in Japan. Matsumoto was inspired by Night on the Galactic Railroad and decided to expand on the idea.
  • Spaceship Girl: The 999 gets its own in Eternal Fantasy.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • One planet was literally split in half by its inhabitants so that one half contained the modern civilized citizens and the other, the primitive savages. Almost immediately after doing so, the "civilized" half exploded by collapsing on its own mass. The other half survives for several more generations but also explodes before the episode ends.
    • Despite actively avoiding becoming an obese blob like her husband and the rest of the planet's inhabitants, Saborina still puts on a fair bit of weight due to robots taking over all forms of physical labor. She's NOT happy about it.
    • At the end of both the anime and the 1979 movie, Tetsuro blows up planet Maetel/Prometheus and then goes back to Earth to fight against the Machine People in Megalopolis. So in both Adieu Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock: Dimension Voyage the authorities consider him a dangerous terrorist (granted, Tetsuro was already a wanted man on Earth for killing Count Mecha), with Shizuka Namino in the latter openly warning Faust about the danger posed by him to the leader of the Machine Empire when he visits Megalopolis.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The 999's conductor.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: With the defeat of Queen Promethium, the Machine Empire not only collapses, but is implied to be the source of energy for mechanoids. Despite being based on the idea of immortality, in the sequel a functioning mechanoid is considered a rarity.
  • 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. The few mechanoid characters who retain a sliver of humanity almost always end up dying shortly after their introduction.
  • Tragic Dream: A few one-off characters try to achieve something (usually attempting to leave their planet) that would only result in their deaths, or losing what's truly precious to them.
  • 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: The titular 999 and all other Galaxy Railways trains are shown to be capable of traveling through deep space without a problem.
  • What You Are in the Dark: The point of Metalmena's second Heroic Sacrifice in Adieu. After Taking the Bullet for Tetsuro once she's forced to comprehend the dark secret of how the energy capsules the Machine People eat are made, she manages to drag herself back aboard the 999. However, when the Negative Space Wedgie in the finale threatens to drag anything with a mechanical consciousness to be destroyed, she willingly abandons the 999 to save everyone else – even though nobody on board realized that she was back.
  • A World Half Full: Surprisingly the Angry Planet is this. Its inhabitants are extremely easy to anger and constantly get themselves into violent fistfights at the slightest provocation. However, weapons are forbidden, the people in general are always helpful towards strangers, and we see a family that deeply love and care for each other despite fighting each other constantly.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Adieu Galaxy Express 999

The Conductor reveals the reason he has an invisible body, along with revealing this trait to Tetsuro.

How well does it match the trope?

4.14 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / TakeAThirdOption

Media sources: