Saturday, 22 May 2010

Galaxy Express 999: The Essential Episodes

Watching 113 episodes of any television series is a daunting task for any casual viewer. In such a case, the expansive length of Galaxy Express 999 can be its own worst enemy. This is especially true considering how it can drag a bit in the middle, when Maetel and Tetsuro get their rail passes stolen for the 30th time. Nevertheless, watching at least part of the series is a valuable experience for any fan of anime or steam trains that fly through outer space.

As a service, then, I have collected those episodes of Galaxy Express 999 I consider to best articulate the heart of the show. This is a subjective list, as any such list must be, and one could undoubtedly arrive at an entirely different series by selecting a different set. There are even a number of episodes that I quite liked personally that I had to leave out. This set focuses on the overarching narrative of young Tetsuro's struggle to obtain - and decide if he really wants - a cyborg body, as well as the unfolding mystery of Maetel's identity.

Therefore, to mirror the length of a regular television season, albeit a long one, here are my picks for the 35 most important episodes of Galaxy Express 999. I took the licenced Crunchyroll version as our standard, and have provided links to each episode. Enjoy!

Episode 1: Departure Ballad
Young Tetsuro's impoverished family is inching towards Megalopolis when his mother is slain by the cyborg Count Mecha. Rescued by the mysterious Maetel, she accompanies him on his mission to take the Galaxy Express 999 to the planet of Andromeda, where immortal cyborg bodies are given away for free.
Episode 2: The Red Winds of Mars
The first stop for the Galaxy Express 999 is Mars, where Tetsuro encounters a group of cyborgs for whom immortal life has become a curse.
Episode 3: Titan's Sleeping Warrior
On a moon of Jupiter, Tetsuro must rescue Maetel using the cosmo warrior gun handed down to him by the mother of deceased space warrior Tochiro Oyama, companion to Leiji Matsumoto's Captain Harlock.
Episode 4: The Great Bandit Antares
Without having even left the solar system, the 999 comes under attack by the space pirate Antares. Though not an important episode in itself, it is mentioned repeatedly through later episodes on this list.
Episode 5: Shadow of the Planet of Indecision
The mystery of Maetel deepens as they visit Pluto, the mass grave for those who have transitioned to the life of a cyborg, and its faceless keeper Shadow, who fears she may never be able to reclaim the beauty she had in life.
Episode 7: The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity - Part One
Episode 8: The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity - Part Two
The Galaxy Express 999 is sidelined into a Sargasso-like gravity well where they become captive to an embittered cyborg woman with a horrifying secret.
Episode 11: Formless Planet Nuruba
Shapeshifting children try to replace Tetsuro and Maetel aboard the Galaxy Express 999 in their desire to escape their formless planet in what they think are vastly superior human bodies.
Episode 14: Laala from the Double Planet
Tetsuro is taken captive on a binary planet system and his consciousness placed into a machine body without his consent, which brings down a shocking and terrible judgment from Maetel.
Episode 22: Pirate Ship Queen Emeraldas
In the first full crossover between Galaxy Express 999 and another work by Leiji Matsumoto, Maetel is reunited with the space pirate Queen Emeraldas, with whom she shares a secret past.
Episode 25: A Steel Angel
Tetsuro and Maetel are caught up in the conflict as revolutionaries try to save a dying, over-industrialized world from itself.
Episode 31: The Angry Planet
A friend of Count Mecha sends assassins to wreak vengeance on Tetsuro and Maetel as they reach a planet where the quick-tempered residents settle everything with a fistfight.
Episode 39: The Mist of the Fog Capital
It's a race against time to save the frail inhabitants of a warped planet from taking off on the 999 with the passes they stole from Maetel and Tetsuro.
Episode 42: Femail's Memories
A woman from the Conductor's past haunts him as they near the planet named Visage of Memories.
Episode 43: Kira of Storm Hill
A melancholic family on an eternally windy planet mirror Tetsuro's own ambition to leave Earth, and Maetel hints at a larger purpose for his journey.
Episode 49: The Planet Future
In a more comedic episode, Tetsuro learns the lessons of kindness and trust when a freak typhoon blows away his and Maetel's passes.
Episode 51: Artemis of the Transparent Sea - Part One
Episode 52: Artemis of the Transparent Sea - Part Two
A blob-like planet traps the 999 on its sinking surface, mobilizing the Space Defence Force to destroy it. When a machine woman crashes along with them, they discover that this shapeless entity is a living being and the woman's mother.
Episode 63: The Pitch Dark Sisters
Maetel is captured while sending a mysterious transmission about her mission, forcing Tetsuro to rescue her and foil a plot to bring unnatural light to a planet of total darkness.
Episode 66: The Planet of Funeral in the Mist
Tetsuro contemplates eternal life as they visit a planet whose immortal inhabitants have come to love the novelty of funerals so much that they kill for them.
Episode 69: The Rebellion of C62
Maetel deliberately exacerbates a hostage crisis aboard the 999 to test Tetsuro for an unknown purpose.
Episode 79: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part One
Episode 80: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part Two
Episode 81: The Pirate of Time Castle - Part Three
The most extensive Matsumoto crossover of the series, as the space pirate Captain Harlock attacks the Galaxy Express 999 with his time traveling castle, during which the heroes unite with the sister of the woman from "The Graveyard at the Bottom of Gravity" and Tetsuro is returned to the moment that Count Mecha murdered his mother.
Episode 85: The Planet of Illusive Love
A growing Tetsuro examines his feelings for Maetel as they reach a planet renowned for lovers.
Episode 88: Planet, Crossroads of Destiny
Arriving at a stop from which they will be able to view the destruction of a planet, Tetsuro is confronted with the question of what he will do once he is able to outlive the Earth.
Episode 90: The Snow Woman of Andromeda - Part One
Episode 91: The Snow Woman of Andromeda - Part Two
Love and ramen become the focal point of this story about the costs of embracing a machine body.
Episode 105: The Legend of the Young Warriors
Close to the end of his journey, Tetsuro is forced to consider where his loyalties lie when he visits a planet where the conflicts between cyborgs and humans have erupted into full warfare.
Episode 108: The Destruction of Macaroni au Gratin
When a pair of trapped cyborgs attempt to escape their weird cylindrical planet by shrinking Tetsuro and Maetel, the latter receives an eerie vision of an all-powerful woman she calls "mother"... Promethium.
Episode 109: Maetel's Journey - Part One
Episode 110: Maetel's Journey - Part Two
By going into warp speed, the 999 opens a rift in time causing it to crash with another 999 from another time, complete with another Maetel traveling with a different boy. Before they can puzzle out the mystery, they are intercepted by a phantom planet where the organic inhabitants hunt down cyborgs.
Episode 111: The Bat Planet
At the penultimate stop of the Galaxy Railways, Tetsuro must make the decision whether to continue on to his final destination.
Episode 112: The Vision of Youth, Farewell, 999 - Part One
Episode 113: The Vision of Youth, Farewell, 999 - Part Two
The grand finale to Galaxy Express 999! Tetsuro, Maetel and the 999 reach the end of their long journey, where Tetsuro must make his final decision, once and for all, and suffer the consequences.

For those looking to go further, I also recommend the Maetel Legend two-part OVA, currently available on DVD. This prequel bridges the gap between Galaxy Express 999 and Leiji Matsumoto's Queen Millenium, revealing the horrifying origins of Queen Promethium's machine empire, Maetel's relationship to Emeraldas and Maetel's quest aboard the 999. Unlike the epic, operatic Space Symphony Maetel, Maetel Legend does this with much of the same style and spirit of the Galaxy Express 999 series.


Sean K. Dunkley said...

It's amazing how seeing just a few of those key images brought forth a torrent of memories that I never thought remained. Funnily enough, the scene's play in my head in french since I spent a good part of my young life either in western Europe or Africa. This series ignited my passion for science fiction.

Cory Gross said...

Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories! 999 is a fantastic show!

Sgt. Major Kululu said...

Is it wrong to actually like the whole series? I was actually sad when I finished all 113 episodes and wanted more. Why couldn't the manga arc, "The Headless Woman in the Wasteland" have been animated?
But enough about my wants on to your list.

I like most of the choices you made such as 105 "The Legend of the Yound Warriors", I wouldn't have minded if it were a 2-part story. They are all great episodes but episode 43 "Kira of Storm Hill" could have been substituted for episode 101.

"The Planet of Eternal Dream Pursuit" is a great story that would make you appreciate the freedom you have to choose your future path in real life. As opposed to Aaron who wanted to draw manga but was given the choice by the government of his own planet to work as a space shuttle operator or die, I am grateful I could choose my future profession.

Other than that the list was very accurate, I felt 9 and 10 weren't essential either, those were the only two in the whole series that made me yawn.

- Sgt. Major Kululu

Ganymede said...

I strongly disapprove of the subtitles rendering of "kikai ningen" as "cyborg". It makes it sound too clear-cut exactly what these things are, when the Japanese dialogue mostly leaves that issue up in the air. I much preferred the Live-eviL fansub's "mechanized human" even if was a bit wordy and didn't really capture the connotation of freakishness carried by the original phrase.

It also guts one of Tetsuro's most poignant lines, "On Earth, if you're not a machine human (kikai ningen), you're not human (ningen)."

Cory Gross said...

Thanks for that extra information Ganymede!

leoniss said...

Thaks that list is what i was lokking for