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Shelf Life
Galaxy Express 999: The Movie

by Paul Jensen,

Hey, it's Preview Guide time again! I'm taking a break this season, but the rest of the crew has all this season's new shows covered. I'm expecting the new Fruits Basket adaptation to be the big show this time around, but you never know when some obscure series is going to come out of nowhere and steal the spotlight. For now though, we've got some new releases and a very old movie to check out this week. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Galaxy Express 999: The Movie

On Shelves This Week

Black Clover - Season 1 Part 4 BD+DVD
Funimation - 250 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $41.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Asta and Gauche must team up to fight the members of the Eye of the Midnight Sun.

Extra: You'll find our episode reviews for this series here, and we also have a review covering parts 2 and 3. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations - Set 1 BD, DVD
Viz - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $44.98|$39.99
Currently cheapest at: $33.99 Amazon|$28.26 Amazon

Synopsis: Naruto's rebellious son Boruto sets out on his own adventure with Sasuke's daughter Sarada and a mysterious shinobi named Mitsuki.

Extra: Looks like we're seeing releases from a couple of big action franchises this week. We have episode reviews for this one too, along with a feature article on some of the main characters. You can stream it on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Viz.com.

Is It Wrong to Expect a Hot Spring in a Dungeon? BD
Sentai - 25 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $12.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Bell, Hestia, and their fellow adventurers accidentally discover a hot spring in the dungeon, but this unexpected oasis is more dangerous than it seems.

Extra: I reviewed a previous release of this side story OVA, and you'll find reviews of the TV series here and here. The OVA is available streaming on HIDIVE.

GKIDS - 98 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98|$22.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.96 Amazon|$16.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Four year-old Kun is less than happy when his newborn sister Mirai starts getting all the attention in the family, but an unexpected encounter with Mirai's future self changes Kun's outlook on the situation.

Extra: We have a review of this film, along with an interview with director Mamoru Hosoda. You also might want to check out this feature article on Hosoda's career.

Pokemon Diamond and Pearl - Movie 4-Pack BD, DVD
Viz - 375 min - Dub - MSRP $24.98|$19.98
Currently cheapest at: $18.99 Amazon|$14.84 Amazon

Synopsis: Ash's adventures in the Sinnoh Region lead him to encounter four legendary Pokemon: Darkrai, Shaymin, Arceus, and Zoroark.

Extra: We have reviews for two of the four movies in this set, which you'll find here and here.

Princess Resurrection - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 650 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ordinary teenager Hiro Hiyorimi dies trying to save a beautiful girl, who turns out to be the daughter of the King of the Monsters. As thanks, she resurrects him as one of her undead minions.

Extra: Our most recent review of this series comes from the 2012 DVD collection, and we also have some earlier reviews of previous releases here and here. Both the TV series and the OVA are available on HIDIVE.

Sky Wizards Academy - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A former hero who has been declared a traitor is placed in charge of three eccentric students at an academy for super-powered warriors.

Extra: This series was released on Blu-Ray and DVD a couple years ago, and we have a review of that collection. You can stream it on Funimation.

Sword of the Stranger BD
Funimation - 103 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $14.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A nameless warrior reluctantly agrees to protect a young boy and his dog from a group of assassins who have been sent to halt the boy's role in a dark prophecy.

Extra: We've managed to accumulate three reviews of this movie over the years. You'll find the most recent one here, with the older ones here and here. It's available streaming on Funimation.

Shelf Life Reviews

We're taking another trip into the past this week with the 1979's Galaxy Express 999: The Movie. Here's my review of this classic film, which recently got a new Blu-Ray release in the States.

Galaxy Express 999 is one of those classic franchises that's been a big deal in Japan for decades but never really found its footing in this country. It's one of several iconic titles from Leiji Matsumoto, who's also known for his work on Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Harlock, among others. This movie may not be the first version of the GE999 story (the TV series started airing a year earlier, and the manga began publication before that), but it's arguably the easiest point of entry for the franchise. It tells a story that feels complete and satisfying on its own, and it nails the feeling of youthful adventure that can only come from a mix of science fiction and a road-trip narrative. Granted, it's more of a space railway-trip narrative, but we'll get to that in a second.

While there are some minor differences between the different versions of Galaxy Express 999, the core story remains the same. Tetsuro Hoshino is an orphan in the far future, where most people with the means to do so have swapped out their flesh-and-blood bodies for mechanical ones. Tetsuro want to do the same in order to become strong enough to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of the dastardly Count Mecha. He finally gets his chance when a mysterious woman named Maetel offers to let him accompany her on the Three-Nine, a spacefaring train that travels between Earth and a faraway planet where anyone can get a machine body for free. As you might expect from a headstrong young protagonist on a mission of vengeance, Tetsuro accepts Maetel's offer without giving much thought to what her true motivations might be.

The biggest initial hurdle for a modern viewer might very well be buying into the idea of a spaceship that looks like an old-fashioned steam train, especially since traveling by rail has lost some of the romance and mystery it once held. If, however, you can accept the Three-Nine at face value, you're in for a story with a great sense of adventure and an old-school space opera atmosphere. At its core, Galaxy Express 999 is a coming of age story for Tetsuro, and you can see him steadily grow up with each stop the train makes. Along with providing some sobering life lessons, each location also has a distinct look and feel, ranging from huge futuristic cities to run-down towns that wouldn't be out of place in an old Western. There are some genuinely striking and creative visuals here, with one of the most memorable images being a vast field of ice on Pluto that functions as a grim warehouse for the biological bodies that people have abandoned in favor of mechanical ones. It looks an awful lot like a graveyard made out of glass, and it has a kind of sad beauty that's echoed in many of the film's other locations.

It's also worth noting that Galaxy Express 999 exists in a shared universe with some of Leiji Matsumoto's other works, most notably Captain Harlock. This means there are quite a few characters who cross over from those other titles into this film, which will either be a big upside or a potential source of confusion depending on how familiar you are with them. While the script does offer some basic context for Harlock, Emeraldas, and other crossover characters, it does assume the audience has at least heard of them before. I had just enough surface-level knowledge to keep up, but the roles these characters play will definitely carry more narrative weight if you already have an emotional attachment to them, and they may suffer from a mild case of the “Who are you and why should I care?” effect if you go in completely blind. To draw a more modern comparison, it's a bit like watching just one Marvel superhero movie: you don't necessarily need to have seen all the ones that came before it, but you might at least want to know who Iron Man is.

The only unavoidable issue with this film is that at four decades old, it's starting to show its age in a few areas. The pace of the story feels slow and meandering by modern standards, to the point where it'd probably be fifteen to twenty minutes shorter if it had been made today. That's not a deal-breaker by any means, but the Three-Nine does spend enough time at each of its many stops that I have to wonder if it actually qualifies as an “Express” train. The writing also suffers from a lack of thematic subtlety that's pretty common in this particular vintage of anime; there are a number of moments where a character will go out of his or her way to detail the significance of a plot point when the event itself is already self-explanatory. It's the kind of dialogue that robs the audience of the opportunity to piece things together on their own, and that can reduce the emotional impact of an otherwise well-presented scene.

Even when the story wanders off on a detour or the script spells out something that's better left unsaid, Galaxy Express 999 is always a damn pretty film to look at. It's a couple years too old to really benefit from the lavish animation of the 1980s, but it makes good use of the resources it has. The background art conveys the unique qualities of each location nicely, and the final action sequence features an abundance of things blowing up in lovingly hand-drawn detail. The mechanical design feels unique even today, with a mix of industrial and futuristic elements that work far better together than you'd expect them to. The soundtrack is another highlight, featuring an orchestral score and a theme song that has been stuck in my head for days. This Blu-Ray release from Discotek includes an English dub from the old Viz VHS version, which has held up far better than a lot of old dubs; it's pretty faithful to the subtitle track and the main performances are all at least competent, if not better. There are also on-disc liner notes that offer some background information on the film's production and original release, which help put it into the larger context of the anime industry at the time.

If you're an anime history buff, Galaxy Express 999 falls so easily into the “required viewing” category that you probably don't need me to tell you about it. That's the easy part with any review of an influential movie or series; the harder part is judging how well it'll work for folks who are just looking for something entertaining to watch. In that context, I'd argue that it's aged more gracefully than many of its contemporaries, as it still works perfectly well as a standalone adventure story. It's something I'd lend out to a friend, and it has enough clever ideas and creative imagery that I'll definitely watch it again in the near future. Aside from the obvious caveat that it's a forty year-old movie, there's no reason not to check this one out.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!

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