Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: The Galaxy Railways (2003-2004, 2006-2007)

The Galaxy Railways (2003-2004, 2006-2007) is a science fiction Japanese anime TV show series set in the future. Humans have explored and settled on other planets in the cosmos. They travel the galaxy using technologically advanced trains. In order to protect innocent space travelers, an elite forcem the Space Defense Force (SDF), monitors the extensive galactic railway system and fights against terrorists, meteor storms, and other malicious alien life. Both seasons contains 26 episodes. (The series is also known as Ginga Tetsudō Monogatari in Japanese.)

First Season

This series revolves around the protagonist, Manabu Yuki, who has always dreamt of joining the Space Defense Force. He wants to follow in the same footsteps as his deceased father and older brother, who both died while serving in the SDF. His mother, unable to lose her only son, does whatever she can to dissaude Manabu. Despite her efforts, Manabu rides the train to Destiny Station, which is considered the center of the Universe, where he enlists in the SDF.

On planet Destiny, Layla Destiny Shura is a mysterious woman who guards the galactic railways system. She possesses the power to see the destiny of planets and living beings. Despite her important role, she cannot foretell human passengers what hidden dangers lie ahead on their journeys. This is where the SDF and other platoons play a major role: protecting the safety of the Galaxy Railways.

Meanwhile, Manabu becomes a member of the Sirius Platoon within the SDF. Together, he and his crew-mates ride the steam locomotive, Big One, and face fugitive criminals, natural disasters, hostile aliens, rescue operations, mysterious ghosts, space pirates, and black holes (time holes) throughout their galactic adventures.

How will Manabu face his destiny on the Galaxy Railways?

Second Season (Eternal Divergence ~Eien eno Bunkiten~)

An unknown amount of time has passed after the first season. Manubu is vacationing on his home planet. Meanwhile, the Sirius Platoon has an intern, Killian, observing and learning the ropes of Big One and SPF procedures. When Big One encounters trouble near Manabu's planet, he steals a locomotive to resuce his crew-mates. He returns to Planet Destiny to resume his SDF duty, thus ending his vacation. Manabu takes Killian under his wing and trains him on how to become a a better SDF officer.

The Sirius Platoon meets the new Cepheus Platoon, whose leader is Guy Lawrence, who served with Captain Buldge of the Sirius Platoon under Captain Yuki, Manabu's father and former captain of Big One. Meanwhile, the main story picks up when the Sirius Platoon pulls a stranded train from a wormhole during a rescue mission. A small pod escapes, and Big One recovers it. There is a young girl (whose name is Frell) inside who claims she comes from another universe and her home planet needs urgent help. In addition, she has heard of Manabu's father. With this surprising information, the Sirius Platoon takes a huge risk and charges through the wormhole into another universe outside the galactic railway system.

After enduring missions and making peace with various inhabited planets, they become sucked into a gravity pit where they find other galactic railways trains that have disappeared over the years. This place has become a "train graveyard" because there are no tracks to follow. Eventually, Big One leads Frell to her home planet. Manabu and the Sirius Platoon learn the truth about his father from the local elders that has shocking implications. How will Manabu face this new challenge?

Will this mission forever change his role as an SDF officer?

There is also a four-part OVA series called The Galaxy Railways: A Letter from the Abandoned Planet that took place in-between the first and second seasons. The Sirius Platoon rushes to the planet Herise to rescue the Galaxy Express 999. This is where the main character, Killian, was first introduced. It also uses the same name as the late-1970s Japanese cult classic, Galaxy Express 999.

The Galaxy Railways is a continuation of manga artist Leiji Matsumoto's avid fascination with trains and space that spans over three decades. If you have seen any of his other works (Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock, Queen Millenia, Queen Esmeraldas, Space Symphony Maetel, just to name a few), then you understand what I mean. I believe it takes a certain fan to really appreciate his work (He is one of the most popular manga artists in Japan). His artistic style has remained consistent over the past half-century: tall, slender-looking heroines with powers or strong wills; the use of trains, particularly steam locomotives, as modern spacecraft; and the 1970s/1980s-era hairstyles on the main characters. The artwork may seem dated initially, but you gradually become accustomed to it. It's his signature style.

I first discovered his work on the Sci-Fi Channel many years ago, and his work intrigued me very much. Trains that can transport people from different planets in the universe? It seemed unbelievable, but I liked the concept. Matsumoto makes you feel sympathetic for the main characters because they undergo so many struggles and trials on their missions. Traveling in space can be very lonely and scary at the same time. There is a large unknown aspect in what lies ahead in the universe, and it has a huge impact on the development of the main characters.

I definitely enjoyed the first season of The Galaxy Railways, and couldn't wait to see the second season. I won't spoil the second season, but it has a very surprising ending. The music is also fantastic with lovely melodies and baritone action. I highly recommend this series and other Matsumoto's works.

Opening: "Gin Ga Tet Sudo wa Harukanari" by Sasaki Isao

Ending: "Gin Ga no Hikari" by Sasaki Isao

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