Adieu Galaxy Express 999
by Paul Jensen,
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to spend this latest anime season catching up on shows I'd missed out on over the last couple years, and so far I've marathoned my way through two. If you skipped over Revue Starlight or Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san when they first aired, I can confirm they're both worth watching. Next on my list is the new Space Battleship Yamato TV series, so here's hoping I can go three for three on picking good stuff to catch up on. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Adieu Galaxy Express 999
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Shelf Life Reviews
Set a few years after the events of Galaxy Express 999, Adieu opens on a grim note. Earth has been reduced to one big battlefield in a conflict between humans and machines, and Tetsuro has become a member of the flesh-and-blood resistance. When a message arrives from Maetel telling him to get back on board the Three-Nine, Tetsuro's comrades give up their own lives to help him reach the train. Things don't get any easier after that, as Tetsuro must deal with a new villain named Faust while investigating a rumor that Maetel has taken Promethium's place as the leader of the machines.
While the first film had its share of sad or sobering moments, Adieu is easily the more downbeat of the two. The difference lies in how close to home things hit for the main characters, most notably Tetsuro. His original journey on the Three-Nine often placed Tetsuro into the role of a witness, learning life lessons as he met people and learned about their circumstances at each station. Here, the conflicts and tragedies feel more directly centered on him, as he tries to figure out what's going on with Maetel and develops a personal rivalry with Faust. Even the Three-Nine itself, previously an almost magical entity that was largely unaffected by whatever happened around it, shows signs of vulnerability. It's pushed out of the way by another train, is unable to resist being pulled towards its destination, and is in just as much peril as the film's human characters in the final action sequence. Where its predecessor offered the feeling of adventure that comes with a first big journey, Adieu carries the heavier emotions of a final trip.
That shift in tone is certainly in line with this movie's purpose, but it has the unfortunate side effect of placing more emphasis on the parts of Galaxy Express 999 that haven't aged well. Remember the meandering pace and less-than-subtle script I complained about last time? Well, they're back, and the darker plot means these flaws stand out even more. Adieu takes its sweet time building up to twists and revelations that a modern audience can see coming from a mile away, to the point where scenes that should be shocking end up being too little, too late. A prime example of this is Faust, who replaces Count Mecha as Tetsuro's most immediate foe; by the time the movie gets around to revealing his true identity, I'd expect most viewers to have figured it out for themselves at least twenty minutes earlier. Some of the new characters and themes also feel overly familiar, and the script leans too heavily on the crutch of having Harlock show up at the last second to help Tetsuro out of a tight spot.
That's not to suggest there's nothing of value here; in fact, there are parts of Adieu Galaxy Express 999 that I really like. At its core, it still feels like a movie with a purpose, like it was produced because its creators had something to say instead of just being an easy cash-in on the first film's success. While the writing may not always be as subtle as I'd like, the themes of life and death are presented reasonably well, and the story offers an interesting take on what happens to a group of characters after their first grand adventure comes to an end. There are also some striking images and memorable moments to be found, like the sight of the Three-Nine's track crumbling away beneath it as it leaves Earth or the revelation of what's really inside the machine people's immortality capsules. This is the kind of work where it's easy to see the thought and effort that went into it, even if some of its individual pieces have aged poorly.
As far as the art and animation go, Adieu suffers from a relative lack of variety in its environments compared to its predecessor. Where the first movie offered a wide range of planets with different moods to match, Adieu mostly just alternates between old ruins and high-tech machine worlds. There are, however, some standout pieces of animation, with Promethium's appearance at the heart of the machine planet being one of the most noteworthy highlights. This Blu-Ray release from Discotek once again carries over the old English dub from Viz Media, and liner notes on the film's history are the most interesting of the on-disc extras.
I'm knocking Adieu Galaxy Express 999 down to a Rental because it's just not as easy to recommend as its predecessor. Where the first film is important because of its place in anime history and is entertaining in its own right, this second act is more limited in its appeal. It's still significant in the context of the franchise and makes for an intriguing companion piece to the original, but its strengths are less apparent, and its weaknesses are more obvious. It also suffers from the fact that Galaxy Express 999 is a perfectly good beginning-to-end story on its own, which makes this sequel intriguing from a critical point of view but unnecessary for the average viewer. Of the two, I'd be less inclined to revisit this one, but I'm still happy I watched it.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!
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