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Galaxy Express 999 (Manga)
999
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Dates of Publication:

First Series: 1977-1981 Second Series: 1996

Galaxy Express 999 (銀河鉄道999 Ginga Tetsudō Surī Nain) is a manga written and drawn by Leiji Matsumoto It is set in a space-faring, high-tech future in which humans have learned how to transfer their minds (but not their emotions) into mechanical bodies, thus achieving practical immortality.

The manga won the Shogakukan Manga Award for seinen in 1978.

The number, "999", in the title is pronounced "Three-Nine", as opposed to "Nine-Nine-Nine", "Nine Ninety Nine or "Nine Hundred Ninety Nine". Matsumoto was inspired to create Galaxy Express 999 by the idea of a steam train running through the stars in the novel Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa.

PlotEdit

A twelve year-old street urchin named Tetsuro Hoshino desperately wants an indestructible machine body, giving him the ability to live forever and have the freedom that the unmechanized don't have. While machine bodies are impossibly expensive, they are supposedly given away for free in the Andromeda galaxy, the end of the line for the Galaxy Express 999, a space train that only comes to Earth once a year.

The series begins with Tetsuro and his mother making their way to Megalopolis where they hope to get jobs to pay for passes for the 999. Along the way however, Count Mecha and a gang of "human hunters" kill Tetsuro's mother. Before she dies, she tells him to continue the journey they started, and to get a machine body to live the eternal life she couldn't.

Intent on killing Count Mecha to avenge his mother, Tetsuro meets up with a beautiful woman, Maetel, who is the spitting image of his dead mother. Maetel offers him an unlimited use pass for the 999 if he will be her travelling companion to which Tetsuro agrees. Along the way, Tetsuro has many adventures on many different and exotic planets and meets many kinds of people, both human and alien, living and machine. Increasingly, Tetsuro realizes that a machine body won't fix all of his problems. In fact, most of the machine people he meets regret the decision to give up their humanity.

Eventually, Tetsuro and Maetel reach the Planet Promethium, the final stop for the 999, but Tetsuro learns that it is ruled by the Queen of the Mechanization Empire, also named Promethium. She is Maetel's mother, and controls the planet by entirely mechanized human components. Maetel's mission was to bring young humans for that purpose. Queen Promethium plans on transferring Tetsuro's consciousness to a bolt for the heart of the planet.

Tetsuro doesn't understand why he has been betrayed by Maetel, but Maetel has plans of her own, and seeks to destroy the mechanized civilization. With the help of her father, Dr. Ban, whose consciousness resides in a pendant she carries over her neck, Maetel destroys her mother and the planet. Afterwards, Maetel and Tetsuro return to the Planet of Bats where Tetsuro tells Maetel his intention to return to Earth and lead it toward a new future. Maetel, proud of Tetsuro for his decision tells him she has something to take care of and should board first. However, Tetsuro finds a letter from Maetel telling him that it was time for them to part ways. Maetel had secretly boarded the 777, a nearby train, with the intention of "leading another boy to his future". However, it is unclear as to whether or not this means that the Mechanization Empire still exists elsewhere, or if Maetel will lead the boy to some other "future". The series ends as the trains both depart the Bat Planet.

2nd manga seriesEdit

In 1996, Matsumoto began a new GE999 series, set a year after the original, in which the Earth is destroyed and Tetsuro sets out to discover the source of the "darkness" that threatens all life in the universe.

This manga has been partially published in English by Viz.

CharactersEdit

  • Tetsuro Hoshino (星野鉄郎 Hoshino Tetsurō): The main character of Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro is a poor Earth boy who witnessed his mother die at the hands of Count Mecha. With his mother's dying wish being for him to obtain a machine body, Tetsuro embarks on the Galaxy Express with Maetel.
  • Maetel (メーテル Mēteru): The mysterious blonde woman who accompanies Tetsuro on the Galaxy Express 999. Maetel is in actuality the daughter of Queen Prometheum, ruler of the mechanized empire. Maetel is responsible for bringing youths from around the universe to the mechanized homeworld where they are turned into mechanized human components to serve the mechanized empire. Maetel is secretly plotting with her father, Dr. Ban (who is contained within the pendant around her neck) to destroy the machine empire, and finally does so when it is Tetsuro's turn to be turned into a bolt. Maetel's soul exists in the body of a human copy, which she occupies until it grows old and she exchanges it for a new one. It is explained in the movie version that she occupies a clone of the body of Tetsuro's mother, which explains the resemblance between the two.
  • Conductor (車掌 shashō): The Conductor is the main crew member of the Galaxy Express 999. He is an alien being with an invisible body; only his eyes can be seen while he is wearing his conductor uniform. The Conductor prefers to go 'strictly by the book' and frequently cites the Galaxy Express rule book, but occasionally ends up bending the rules and getting into adventures with Tetsuro and Maetel.
  • Claire (クレア Kurea): The dining car waitress on the 999, Claire has a machine body made of clear crystal glass. Unlike others who gave up their humanity by choice, Claire was forced into this existence by her vain mother. She works on the 999 in order to save up enough money to buy back her human body, which is stored on Pluto. Claire quickly befriends Tetsuro and sacrifices herself for him when a hallucination taking the guise of his mother tries to pull him out of the train. Her body is shattered, all that remains is a single glass tear which Tetsuro holds with him as a memento. Claire returns to life in the new Galaxy Express manga published by Matsumoto in the 1990s.
  • Captain Harlock (キャプテンハーロック Kyaputen Hārokku) and Emeraldas (エメラルダス Emerarudasu): Famous space pirates who are idolized by Tetsuro. Both have only minor cameos in the original manga.
  • Antares (アンタレス Antaresu): A well known bandit who sneaks aboard the 999 after their stop on the planet Titan. Antares despises machine people for the death of his wife and has many exploded bullets lodged within his abdomen. He warns Tetsuro to "shoot first, ask questions later". In the manga he lives in a large home with his many children
  • Count Mecha (機械伯爵 Kikai Hakushaku): The wealthy machine man who murdered Tetsuro's mother. In the manga, he is a minor aristocrat, and is killed by Tetsuro before he leaves Earth.
  • Queen Promethium (プロメシューム Puromeshūmu): Maetel's mother, and ruler of the mechanized empire. Once a gentle woman, Promethium created the machine empire believing it would be good for humanity. Promethium appears as a two-faced head in the manga. Promethium is destroyed with the destruction of Andromeda in the manga and television series.

Publication HistoryEdit

  • First manga series, serialized in Shōnen King (Shōnen Gahosha), 1977–1981
  • New manga series, serialized in Big Gold (Shogakukan), 1996-??

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