Friday, February 13, 2015

Galaxy Express 999

One of the few things I've been doing lately has been looking back at some old gaming videos and also some of the older anime.  I've always been interested in both, though never bought any of the gaming consoles or games.  However, with anime I was always an interested fan.  It wasn't until around 1987 or probably later that I even saw much anime.  I used to go to the Dallas Fantasy Fairs back then, which was aimed more at comic books, but also had inclusive things like anime, science fiction, toys, movies, and so forth.  I remember they'd have an enclosed sectioned off part of the floor where they'd show nonstop anime, and I didn't stay and watch any one particular movie (because I wanted to meet comic book artist and attend some of the programs they provided), but I remember some of the sounds and pictures from those old anime movies, and it was like walking into another realm.

Around the 90's the SciFi Channel started up, they started showing some older anime.  And it was either them or another channel, early in the mornings, that would show an early anime called Gigantor, which I enjoyed.  I'd tape them on my VCR, along with some Jerry Anderson films, like Captain Scarlet, and rewatch them later.  It was very cool to discover all this SF related stuff that was unknown to me.  It wasn't until later a friend loaned me a copy of Robotech: The Macross Saga that I became more inquisitive about manga and anime.  The anime was harder to find, mind you this was before PCs and the internet, so about the only way to find some of it was mail order, attending a con, or shopping out of town mostly.

But also around the same time, the SciFi Channel started showing other anime, like Akira, Robot Carnival, Urusei Yatsura (Lum), Vampire Hunter D, Twilight of the Cockroaches, Dominion: Tank Police that I started to see that this Japanese animation had a lot of depth to it.  It has only expanded and grown throughout the years, and grown into its own.  I'd pick up and buy some anime along the way too like My Friend Totoro, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, Phoenix 2772, The Dagger of Kamui, The Castle of Cagliostro, Lensmen, Roujin Z, Odin, Venus Wars, and some other stuff.  I just recently picked up Evangelion: 1.11 You Are Not Alone the two-disc special edition, and love it.  I'm still finding stuff all these years later that delight me.  Some I like more than others, and I tend to enjoy the SF stuff more, but I'm open minded as you never know what you'll discover.

But like I said, lately I've been going back and looking into some of the early anime.  It's the hand drawn stuff and not as sophisticated as what is current produced, but that doesn't bother me.  In a lot of way, I find some of it more charming.  One I ran across recently that I had heard about, but never seen is, Ginga Tetsudo 999 or Galaxy Express 999 by Reiji Matsumoto. 

Reiji Matsumoto was born in 1939, the son of an officer in the Imperial Army Air Force, and from the age of eight onward he was drawing comics.  Like most artist of that era he was highly influenced by Osamu Tezuka's success in the early postwar years.  At age fifteen he created his own comic story, called Adventures of a Honeybee, and when he sent it to the comic magazine Manga Shonen, it received an award and was published.

After high school, Matsumoto joined the flow of young artist into the burgeoning Tokyo comics industry, and like many of them he began drawing romances with with starry-eyed heroines for girls' comic magazines.  During this period he married the pioneering woman artist Miyako Maki.  The first work that brought Matsumoto real attention was in 1970, Otoko Oidon (I Am A Man), published in the boys' weekly Shonen Magazine.  It was a comedy story of a student without a school, and young adults loved it.  It's about a semipathetic, humorously drawn hero, it's loving attention to the details of daily life, and its sexy female supporting characters became a trademark of Matsumoto comics.

Matsumoto's real fame has subsequently come from science fiction comics and anime.  In 1974, he worked on directing and designing the animated television series Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Cruiser Yamato or Star Blazers in the US) and created a comic story of the same name.  When it was later released as a theatrical feature, it triggered an unparalleled animation boom among children and adults, with billion-dollar implicatins for merchandising firms and comic publishers.  In the wake of Yamato, Matsumoto has created a string of science fiction comics with animation tie-ins, notably Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, and Sennen Joo (or Queen Millennia).  The Japanese market much like the American market have a tendency to milk the mark of demands, so these stories are first manga, then animate for TV, and then selected for theaters, along with endless sequels if the market still has the demand.

So what is so special about Matsumoto's work?  Through plotting, pacing, and his artwork, he is able to create a lyrical mood that's appealing universally--a muted feeling of melancholy and pathos that pervades even his comedy stories.  A lot of his male fans are ecstatic in their praise of his lavish detailing of what Japanese call meka, or mechanisms, and machinery--his depictions of spaceships, railroad engines, airplanes, guns, and gadgetry have a romantic aura about them that few other artist can achieve.

One of the things that holds true about the soundtrack to Galaxy Express 999  is that it too has this sense of romanticism or a tone-painted quality to it, much like the dream-like imagery of classical composers like  Debussy and perhaps Ravel.  Also I couldn't help but also think of the electronic composer, Isao Tomita,, who has created such beautiful works like Snowflakes Are Dancing, Holst: The Planets, The Bermuda Triangle, etc.

Galaxy Express 999 is a retelling of the manga and TV series, about a young boy (Tetsuro) in the future who witnesses the murder of his mother by some robots.  He is determined to avenge her death, and to do this he must be changed into a robot himself on a far distant planet, Andromeda, where he will be given his eternal robot body .  He must ride the Galaxy Express to get there, which stops at many different ports in space along the way, and he encounters many new characters along his adventure.  Before he leaves earth he meets a young woman who says she can aid him in his quest, whose name is Maetel.  Also along his way young Tetsuro grows up some, and learns many things about life.  I really enjoyed it, and although the Youtube video looks like it came from a VHS copy as it's just not very clean, I would love to own a copy on DVD.  I imagine the picture quality is much enhanced. It's a great anime from the 70's.


At 9:11 PM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

I've tried to be well-rounded, but sadly there remain gaps in my education both in academics and pop culture. I've yet to get through "Ulysses" by James Joyce despite two false starts -- I'll give it another go at some point but I won't pretend (sorry to Joyce fans out there) that I didn't find it a slog on the first two tries. And I've yet to view the core anime must-sees. Some day...

At 9:54 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

LOL, Richard, well, you're ahead of the game with two false starts. I haven't even attempted it yet. I will say, however, that I've sampled some anime, some I've enjoyed and others not so much. There's a wide variety out there, and it's a matter, like most things in life, trying to find the ones that appeal to you--which is why it's so difficult--culling down the search.

For me, I'm more inclined to enjoy the SF anime, either early or new. However at the same time I don't mind trying something that has been highly recommended. The anime I find less interesting is the dramatic types--I feel if I'm going to watch drama, I might as well watch some live action drama. So for me, it's an ongoing process.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Matsumoto is one of those anime creators who I have managed not to see much from. I started to watch one of his films, but it felt like it was a sequel to something and I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were. The film didn't stop to explain it either.

But he does have a large fan base, and is one of those directors who has a distinct non-AIC visual style. Sounds like "Galaxy Express 999" may be a good place to start.

I did see the mini-movie/music video he did with Daft Punk. Fun stuff, but I'm not sure that counts as actually seeing one of his movies/series.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Roman, I feel lost like that as well when I watch some of the anime on the Cartoon network. I can get some of it, but it helps if you get in on them at the beginning. At least you have a better gauge as to whether or not you're interested.

I have a friend that's a bit more knowledgeable than me on anime. I sent him an email about watching GE999 and he said the series vs. the movie is more in depth, which I would think it would be. He said the movie has to compress a lot of the plots etc. But since I had no prior knowledge of any of it, I didn't notice. I think you could go either way with it. He also recommended the Capt. Harlock series. I may post part of his email here later as it was fun to read and insightful.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger SFF said...

I really enjoyed this post El vox. You reminded me how we were forced to scrounge around for VHS tapes of anime and as a collector we thought that was pretty good once upon a time.

I had the whole Starblazers series on VHS.

Mind you Voyage Entertainment has basically taken those VHS tapes and put them on DVD which still sucks but it's something.

I have never had much interest in Galaxy Express or its creator's work though I did love Star Blazers. Hmmm, I really have to give him another look one day.

I think the first Evangelion film is awesome too. Glad you loved it.
I found the second film to be a good one, but I had difficulty with the fact it went off the rails from the original story.

Creatively I think it's a great idea and I applaud them for doing something else I just found it difficult but I'm still open to it and can't wait to see the third and fourth films one day.

I agree as well that the hand drawn animation is charming as you say. There is nothing like it. In fact, when they say 'they don't make them like they used to' these classic animes are truly evidence of that. That's a quote. I was planning on using that line in one of my blog posts.HA!

Anyway, great post. Great memories.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Glad you enjoy the post, SFF. That was a little part of the post, nostalgia. I too scrounged around looking at these weird titles that looked and sounded appealing, but I had nothing to gauge it on other than reading the backs of the VHS boxes.

It was back around the early 90's I ran into a small cache of anime on VHS tape, and I picked up a few of them just to try them out. I wish I had picked up some of the Gatchaman tapes, however, as I think that would have been a good purchase. Those were the ones with the Alex Ross covers, and he even endorsed them. Why I didn't grab them, I have no idea??

But like you said, this was back in the early days, and the web was still in the days of formation, so a lot of the time it was sort of trial and error.

You might want to give Galaxy Express 999 a try, you can sample it on YT, which is a good way to do so without spending the bucks.

But yeah, I still feel like a novice here, but when I do buy I would like to be sure I'd enjoy it. I often wonder if we'll ever see a Evangelion 3 or 4.


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