Posted by psgels on 8 December 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews

Matsumoto Leiji once was the pioneer of space operas, even before Yoshiyuki Tomino came with Mobile Suit Gundam. His influence was huge, and so even in the 21st centuries, his adaptations are still getting themselves spin-offs every now and then. The Galaxy Railways obviously based itself around the concept of “trains in space”, and while I wouldn’t recommend this series to someone who’s looking for a good introduction to Matsumoto Leiji’s style, it nevertheless is a pretty decent action-series.

The basic set up is that there are trains who travel through space. There sometimes (read: nearly every episode) goes something horribly wrong with them, and it’s up to our main characters to save those in trouble, acting as a combination of the royal defence force and a rescue squad. While trains randomly crashed a bit too often for my liking, the individual episodes were helped by the fact that the creators tried to stuff in lots of different ideas into their stories, whether they made sense or not. The series also has a great selection of character-designs. Matsumoto Leiji’s designs have always stood out, and the creators of this series did a good job of giving them a modern and epic look.

Unfortunately, the series does have a number of large and quite annoying flaws: it has both of what I’d like to call a “bad main character syndrome” and a “bad ultimate villain syndrome”. Manabu just keeps whining on and on about ethics and morals, and especially spends the first half defending his cheesy ideals. As soon as he starts developing, he thankfully matures, but as a result he becomes a bit too perfect of a character: loved by all women, perfectly skilful, no flaws left whatsoever. His female love interest is completely the opposite: completely useless throughout the largest part of the series. The side characters are the ones who end up saving this series: Bulge, Bruce and especially David are great to watch.

And regarding the villains who pop up in the final climax of the series: they’re just a cheap rip-off of the Mazone from Captain Harlock. There’s a difference between a homage and a rip-off, and in this case the creators didn’t seem to realize what made the Mazone work so well: they had firm resolutions: they considered their alternatives and went with the one that involved ending tons of lives. The villains here are somewhat stuck between good guys and “yeah, we weren’t evil; we were forced to wipe out half of the universe; have pity with us”. To be honest, it feels rather fake.

And it’s really a shame, because the rest of this finale was good stuff. It would have been epic if the main character and villains weren’t so annoying. Overall, it’s definitely not the best series, but there definitely were some good episodes in these first 26 episodes. However, the best thing that you should do if you want to get a taste of Matsumoto Leiji’s signature style is simple: check out either Captain Harlock, Queen Millenia or Galaxy Express 999.

Storytelling: 8/10
Characters: 7/10
Production-Values: 8/10
Setting: 8/10

5 Responses

  1. Avatar AlexS says:

    It’s funny that you trash so much the characters in this anime, but still end up giving 8/10 in that area. Aren’t you a bit mellow? Or should one view 8/10 as bad?

  2. psgels psgels says:

    Ah, good point. Looking back, that rating does feel a bit too high, yeah. Thanks for that.

  3. Avatar Camario says:

    It may not be as good as the true Matsumoto classics -even if I’ve only skimmed through those myself so far- but it’s a decent show.

    At heart, it’s a simple story with competent execution and fair production values. As episodic as it is, I liked how each episode usually set up the next and I recall we even get a couple of genuine arcs.

    I agree that the secondary cast does a lot for this series, David being generally fun though Bruce was more to my liking overall. In hindsight, his development is predictable but the exact way in which certain things happened surprised me, if not their outcome.

    The main character didn’t annoy me that much, even if he’s perhaps too much of a Marty Stue to be memorable, but I can’t really disagree about the aliens being weak villains.

    If you’re planning on watching the second season, that one is pretty forgettable and entirely unnecessary. A different staff is in charge, production values are lower, the plots get way too corny and unimaginative even for a retro series.

    On the other hand, the four OVAs that tie into GE999 for a bit are supposedly decent, I hear.

  4. Avatar Kurisu says:

    Actually, if I remember correctly, this was my introduction to the Leiji-verse, so it isn’t too bad for that purpose. The character designs are true to the original standard designs by Leiji Matsumoto except it all looks more clean and crisp thanks to updated technology. I also like the opening and ending songs in this context. The opening sounds rather funny when you hear it the first time because it’s the singer sound so energetic that it’s almost cheesy. It it supposed to be fun(ny) though, you can hear that more clearly in the full version with more female background singers. It’s actually old-school though. Nowadays you rarely have openings that use some outdated pop style and are sung by middle-aged men.

    When I started watching it, I expected it to have a contiguous plot. The first few episodes almost feel like a movie and a great start for a big adventure but then it gets more or less episodic with a train-crash of the week formula. This aspect was slightly disappointing. I liked it nonetheless also because of the wide variation that introduces you to a lot of things of the Leiji-verse and pays homage to the older series and characters. It kept me interested and afterwards I wanted to find out what’s with these “Space Pirates”. Be warned though, that the Leiji-verse lacks consistency. So while the series reference each other, there’s no way all of them happen in the same universe. Rather each series plays in its own alternate universe which is similar but distinctively different from ther others.

    The final arc revolving around David was certainly a highlight because it provided a contiguous plot again and David was one of the more interesting and diverse characters.

    I think I didn’t have a problem with Manubu because I considered his character and the exaggerated properties like naivity, sense of honour and justice a plot-device. It may be slightly cheap and noticeable unrealistic but it’s classic method. Afterall, it works well to push the plot forward, provide motivation for the characters’ doings and to highlight some moral dilemma in other cases.

    Camario: So I wasn’t imagining things when I thought the second season was worse. The production values seemed indeed much lower, lacking details and with much more apparent use of CGI. The first episodes were so bad that I was very disappointed. It got a bit better after a while but I’d agree, that you better watch some original series by Leji Matsumoto rather than or at least before the second season of this.

    The worst spin-off is “Space Symphony Maetel”. Avoid it at all costs. I pretty much like all of Leiji Matsumoto’s works I’ve seen and the spin-offs like Galaxy Railways but “Space Symphony Maetel” is so awful, I stopped watching it half-way through.

  5. Avatar Helen says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that “Galaxy Railways” isn’t “ripping off” earlier creations such as the Mazone – the series was produced to celebrate 50 years of Matsumoto’s work, and as such not only references manga and shows from the past – but also slyly deconstructs them… In-jokes abound for those familiar with a larger body of his work than is available to the West, and therefore some of the subtleties tend to waft over the heads of most viewers simply because they don’t have that familiarity. (I’m not convinced Funimation really understood what they were buying – nice enough on it’s own, it’s a story that only really makes sense when the audience can appreciate the resonance, and was never going to win over anyone who isn’t already a fan…)

    A case in point is the constant epmhasis on show’s nominal hero, Manabu, and his desire to be the same kind of hero his father was, whilst simultaneously showing us that a) that kind of thinking gets you killed if you’re NOT Harlock, (even if you look like him… Captain Yuuki, I’m looking at you here…) and b)that he also wants to avoid the fate that kind of lone charge led both his father and his brother to… the irony increases here with Bruce’s murder just before the end of season 1 – the team-member who keeps hammering home the point to Manabu about reckless headlong rushes into danger, gets himself killed over a run-in with some local thugs when he stands up – in typical Matsumoto fashion – for a total stranger…

    Series 2, in spite of the admittedly lower production values (and it is painful in places, especially in swapping the gorgeous tones of Isao Sasaki for generic girly J-pop…) then slams home the point by taking this to its logical conclusion. We see Yuuki’s initial sacrifice in a whole new light after episode 7 (the flashback to which takes place at a point just prior to his homecoming in the first episode of season 1…) and are forced to re-evealuate his motives for that “noble” self-sacrifice right back at the beginning of it all – was it merely guilt? And deals the final whammy upsides the head of the viewer by taking on that controversial last scene in Endless Odyssey, and forcing a resolution that *isn’t* ambiguous… (nor was the “shock” re-appearence of the MIA Captain Yuuki unforeseen for anyone who’s had a decent crash course in Matsumoto’s ongoing themes of parental/sibling loss… it was signposted right from the start, and pracatically dropped into our laps towards the end of season 1…)

    Ever wondered if Harlock’s lone heroics striding into danger would save the day if he hadn’t been forged by hardship and loss into the bad-ass pirate we know and love? If he’d been the dutiful officer, gentleman and father instead? Here’s your answer: he’d fail. Badly.

    Here’s the confrontation we’ve seen before, whether it be versus Lafresia, the Illumidas, or Noo. This time, teamwork prevails over suicidal heroics. In some ways this is a savage deconstruction of a long-cherished archetype. In another sense, it also manages to highlight the sheer scale of the sacrifices Matsumoto’s more iconic characters have made to be able to do what they do: if their actions are verging on supernatural, it seems to say, then so is the pain they endure to achieve what they do… Galaxy Railways has held up a mirror to the usual run of Matsumoto’s stories, and shown us the “reality”. It makes, on occasion, for sad viewing. But then, in Matsumoto’s worlds, there are rarely any truly happy Every victory is usually bought with pain and loss, and the knowledge that perhaps there should be a better way.

    However, despite all this, the chapters of Galaxy Express 999’s manga that this was all inspired by remain an inglorious *mess*… ;-P Be thankful at least that the TV series didn’t ask the viewers to try and get their heads round why Kei Yuuki’s two younger brothers are both dead ringers for Harlock at the same age – or what the hell the teenaged daughter of a reknowned SPG pilot is doing hanging around on a pirate ship in the first place… ;-)

    Oh – Space Symphony Maetel, BTW, isn’t going to make *any* sense unless you’ve read the Sen-nen Joo Manga… I’m not too sure why Avex threw the baby out with the bathwater here and ignored both the (infinitely) superior TV version AND the (decidedly surreal) film storylines, but there you go. I suppose it sort of segues into Cosmo Warrior Zero and thence into the film version (sort of…) of GE999. But honestly, I gave up trying to work it all out years ago! Settle down and enjoy the snigger you’ll get watching Harlock having his balls handed to him on a plate for once, and have kleenex on hand for the giant ret-con at the end that seems set up purely to a) explain why there was a mechanisation brain-pattern-transfer device on board the Deathshadow and b) give you a nice hard blow to the heart watching Harlock blithely arguing *for* its use, in full and painful knowledge as the viewer of how that’s going to come back and haunt him in the not-too distant future…

    all best


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