Orphaned Earthling Tetsuro and his skinny, blonde robot-planet-princess traveling companion, Maetel board the Galaxy Express three-nine for a final, much-truncated half-adventure.
Humanity, as seen through the eyes of Leiji Matsumoto (creator of this, and many other series), is apparently a dirty mass of wasted flesh with the ambition and self-respect of a sewer rat content to wallow in other people’s filth.
In the first two Galaxy Express 999 films, humanity was being taken over by the ideology/movement of ‘mechanization,’ which had people trading their organic bodies for immortal, though emotionless, robotic alternatives. But the immortality came with a price, a life without death is no real life at all; life without pain and hardship is cold and empty.
A year after the defeat of mechanization, humanity has once again fallen into squalor. Like the last time, it came at the hands of people offering an easy way out. A dictatorship rose to power, offering everyone a free supply of food; and while no one starved, everyone became placid and piggish, overfed and unwilling to fight or even take notice as their freedom was stripped away. All but Tetsuo.
In Matsumoto’s universe, there are always a few rebels who stand above the rest of humanity. Tetsuro is one, and the others are Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldas. It should be pointed out that the later two are pirates, a position which by definition rejects authority and order. So, is it humanity that Matsumoto has no hope for; or is it society that reduces us to rodent status? The irony, of course, is that the Galaxy Express is its own little elitist society where only the richest of rich can afford a ticket, and that ticket guarantees food and shelter at every station. That Tetsuro would use it as a base to fight for self-determination is a little hypocritical.
This third installment in the Galaxy Express 999 film series runs a mere 54 minutes; which, for a space opera, ridiculously short. The previous films were epics; Tetsuro and Maetel traveled the galaxy, making numerous stops along the way; learning, exploring, and growing. The journey was the important part, the destination a near afterthought.
But in less than an hour, there’s no time to enjoy the ride. The space train make only one stop; to the Earth-like Bright Ring Firefly. It’s a thematically interesting stop, as it allows Tetsuro to visualize his goal of returning the Earth to its classic, natural state; but it lacks the whimsy and wonder that mini-adventures of the last two films offered. Space, in the Matsumoto-verse is an endlessly surprising place where anything can happen. A place with technology so advanced it appears as magic to us. It’s a sense of wonder that much of modern sci-fi, obsessed with realism as it is, is missing.
The animation is slightly improved over the 1979 original; it’s a little more fluid and includes some nice little details, like the conductor’s jiggling belly. The character designs and color palette are unchanged, though, which makes for a mostly-seamless continuation after nearly 20 years. A few of the shots of the train have been rendered by computer and don’t mesh well at all with the classic styling. It just ends up looking really cheap. The DVD from Eastern Star includes English subtitles (but no dub, unlike the last two) and no extras; but the video and audio are great.
Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy looks and feels like past entries in the franchise, but it simply doesn’t have run-time to make itself an epic. It’s well produced, and it’s great to see these characters again, but this is merely a side-story; an epilogue pinned on to something much grander.