This week, a show about murder, gore, and the "other"; a show about ... more murder and gore, and one about luck.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 13th 2005
The Galaxy Railways
In the far future Mankind has spread out across the stars, with his main means of interstellar transport being the Galaxy Railways. Pirates and bandits prey on this interstellar commerce, which mandates the existence of two forces designed to combat such threats: the SDF (Space Defense Force), which is charged with protecting civilians and recovering lost or damaged trains, and the SPG (Space Panzer Grenadiers), an elite offensive force charged with taking the offensive against lawless elements. Manabu Yuuki, whose father died in service to the former, longs to follow in his father's footsteps despite the wishes of his mother. When old enough to join he and fellow new recruit Louis Fort Drake (a young woman, despite the name) become part of the SDF's Sirius Platoon, where he serves under his father's former second-in-command on many a dangerous mission to help ensure the safety and well-being of the Galaxy Railways.
Leiji Matsumoto, the creator of Galaxy Railways, is much revered for his work on anime titles such as Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock/Herlock, Queen Esmerelda, and Space Battleship Yamato, among many others. This one is set in the same universe as the former three. One cross-over can already be spotted in this volume by a diligent eye, with more promised to come later on, so this series can be looked at as merely an expansion of an already-existing body of material. Because of that, it is a title which is going to be best appreciated by those who are already fans of his previous work. Those who never cared much for Matsumoto's distinctive style are unlikely to find anything here to change their minds, while those who have never been exposed to his work before will find a retro-styled sci-fi tale with a few odd quirks which may or may not sit well – such as the fact that there are steam engines in space.
Okay, so some of the trains used so far look decidedly more modern, including beam weapon gun ports and hangar cars for vehicles and fighter craft. That does not change the fact that space vehicles being patterned off of 19th/20th century trains is rather ludicrous, not to mention impractical, and any considerations of physics are conveniently ignored whenever it suits the storytelling. (Opening a window as the train flies away at escape velocity or through space would, I think, bring some dire consequences.) Some will see a certain amount of charm in this reflection of a clear love affair with trains, and indeed taking the old and melding it into the new has been a common theme in many of Matsumoto's sci-fi series. Of course the trains are really just the setting; the series, at least so far, is actually about Manabu and what he goes through in becoming a brash young SDF member. That's where the real problem with the series lies: it doesn't offer any spark of originality in telling its main story.
Consider the story themes present in this volume: an episode about a ghost train, a time travel episode, an episode about thwarting a hijacking, and an episode about thwarting a hostage situation. It's practically a checklist of topics from action-oriented anime series across several genres. All of the standard story elements one would expect are also present: the father who bravely sacrificed himself, the hotheaded young cadet who routinely ignores his superior's orders, the attractive female counterpart who rubs the young man the wrong way but might have eyes for him, the coworker who seems to hate him, etc. Many other series have proven that stock elements can be used successfully if they are executed well and given a fresh twist, but story execution in this volume is very run-of-the-mill. Nothing happens that you wouldn't expect, and attempts to emotionally invest the viewer in the series (which can sometimes save such a series) are usually handled too melodramatically to be effective. While the writing isn't bad overall, and will probably appeal to fans of classic anime, it just isn't fresh by the standards of recent anime storytelling. It is possible that time has passed Leiji Matsumoto by?
Matsumoto's distinctive artistic look has changed little over the decades. His young women – especially the ones at the center of his story - are still willowy and curvaceous with long, thin faces and delicate features, while old women (and men) are very short and heavily caricatured. Male character designs vary little from what is seen in his other works, and the hair styles on all his characters look like holdovers from the '70s. Production standards are definitely of a more recent era, though. While the artistry doesn't have a glossy look or show any significant signs of CG effects, it is very well-rendered and freshly colored, creating a series which is very pleasing to the eye. Heavy use is made of stock footage, as evidenced by its insistence on always showing the launch sequence for Big One, the train used by Sirius Platoon. (Isn't it curious how it's always perfectly clear weather when it launches?) Beyond that, though, the animation quality is pretty good, with shifts in background art being well-timed to character animation.
FUNimation's production of the first volume provides an excellent Dolby 5.1 track in addition to normal English and Japanese stereo tracks. The musical numbers in the opener and closer, which harken back to a theme song style often heard in action-oriented '70s and '80s titles, are wholly uninteresting unless you favor that kind of style. The musical scoring in between has a very melodramatic flair in the way it highlights scenes, which gives the series a very soap opera-like feel.
FUNimation's English dub is much like other titles they have reversioned: competent dub performances, but an English script that would make any purist cringe. To say that the English script is loose would be an understatement; numerous scenes are completely rewritten, sometimes resulting in entirely different meanings and/or characterizations than what is seen in the subtitles (which are, themselves, not without grammatical flaws). To be fair, the rewrites are actually improvements in a few places, resulting in dialogue which isn't saying the same thing but makes much more sense than the original given what's shown in the artwork. Other times, though, the changes are pointless and needless alterations. As in other FUNimation productions, extra dialogue is added in a couple of places where none existed before. The English vocal cast, on the whole, is not a great match for the original performances, and there are some variances in delivery style. None of the performances so far have actually been bad, but this isn't one of FUNimation's better efforts.
As reliable as FUNimation is for occasionally messing around with the original script, they are equally reliable for providing a good set of extras on their DVDs, even when a full five episodes are present in the volume. In addition to typical stuff like company trailers, clean opener/closer, and character profiles, this volume includes three special extras. One is a video clip of the press conference where Tales of The Galaxy Railways was first announced, a second is a short (5 minute) but succinct interview with Matsumoto, and the third is “behind the scenes” footage showing the original dubbing of a substantial chunk of episode 2. The last one is the most interesting of the lot, as it is fascinating to watch the seiyuu go about their business in a recording session. Typical FUNimation set-up quirks, like their bad habit of providing dubtitles when the Subtitle option is turned on while the English dub is playing (I utterly fail to understand why they do this, since it's not a hearing-impaired format) or their equally good habit of allowing a viewer to shift between English and original Japanese credits using the Angle button on a remote, are also present.
Ultimately reactions to the first volume of Galaxy Railways depend heavily on the viewer's level of appreciation of Matsumoto's other works. Fans of Galaxy Express 999 and its related titles will undoubtedly rate the series much higher than I have, while others may be just as put off by the “trains in space” thing as I was. Even without considering that, though, its storytelling issues hold down what is generally a good-looking series. While the title has potential, it has not achieved it yet.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Well-executed artistry, good extras
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