The Galaxy Railways
The Galaxy Railways is one of those things that simply screams Japan – a hybrid of Mech with Flying Trains with a bit of Star Trek thrown in. Sounds ludicrous, but what we have is an incredibly well put together series that seemed to go completely under the radar. Brought to us by the wonderful mind of Leiji Matsumoto, well known for series such as Galaxy Express 999, Space Pirate Captain Harlock and for having a hand in Space Battleship Yamato – each of these series takes place in an overarching galaxy and is generally well known as one of the masters of Sci-Fi anime. The Galaxy Railways is a 26 episode series with a second 26 episode series titled ‘Crossroads to Eternity,’ a series of 4 OVAs titled ‘A Letter from the Abandoned Planet’ which also serves as a cross-over with Galaxy Express 999.
The series takes place in an alternate future where flying trains are commonplace and are no longer restricted to low rail adhesion. Don’t worry, there isn’t a filler episode where the trains are delayed and replaced by Buses. The Galaxy Railways link the planets together and are guarded by the Space Defensive Force (or SDF) who tackle terrorism, alien life, and even meteors, all while ensuring that passengers are delivered on time. The series focuses on ‘The Big One’ a steam locomotive heavily based on the Union Pacific Big Boy and the Sirius Platoon, The Big One’s crew and most importantly Manabu Yuuki who follows in his Father and Brother’s footsteps after they are killed in the line of action.
The series starts off slow, focusing on Manabu’s interactions with his family, and later comrades as they tackle the mysteries of the galaxies – all usually self-contained stories within an overarching plot. For those who enjoy watching an episode or two, it’s easy to sit down and watch an episode or two while getting enough enjoyment out of each crafted episode. Running throughout the series is a multitude of themes, most notably Life and Death, starting with the death of his Father and Brother, Manabu refuses to use to use a gun to stop him killing anyone else. This is expanded upon throughout the series with death constantly stalks Manabu, however, the message of ‘everyone is entitled to live’ is cast aside with it being qualified by the addition of ‘unless they give up that right’.
Characters throughout the series continue to develop with almost no-one being left out. Some episodes that seem like filler early on become incredibly important later on as characters and inventions return. It really makes the world feel interconnected, that everyone has an important role to play.
The animation is incredibly well put together, while the art style may put off newcomers it still feels very classic – it’s safe to say that a lot of hard work went into making the series feel as if it’s on a grand scale. Even surpassing a lot of the work that gets put out these days. The Galaxy Railways is down to earth, you won’t find many modern animation tropes such as boob jiggling or needlessly bloody shots. Although there is an oddly placed hot springs episode. The trains are brought to life brilliantly with the use of CGI. As the series was released in 2004, we are at a point prior to the ‘usual gang’ of Funimation voice actors meaning the series actually manages to stand out in the crowd. With the story getting quite deep and detailed, I did find the dub to be easier to watch overall, however, the subtitled version seems more natural when it comes to the characters.
The downfall of the series is that, yes, it does take a while to start up with some episodes staying as filler and some scenes being rather confusing (again, that oddly place hot springs episode), but after the initial slog you’ll be so invested in the characters you’ll be enjoying it regardless. Another issue, at least for me was the main character himself. While Manabu is enjoyable enough and his morals are strong, he never seemed particularly interesting, perhaps the point was that he would forever be in the shadow of his father but he never seemed to excel at anything. Even if he was the one who fixed just about every issue in each episode.
If you are looking for a series where the characters ‘power up’ and develop powerful new moves against an army of monsters you are going to be disappointed if you are looking for a gag series you are going to be disappointed. However, if you want a series much like Star Trek, Firefly or one of Leiji Matsumoto’s other works you’ll be right at home. The Galaxy Railways is a must watch for anyone who likes sci-fi, drama or romance or anyone who enjoys anime on a whole – with enjoyable characters and a very fun theme, there’s something for everyone. As far as I’m concerned this is an essential anime for anyone who wants a fun series and one I will be watching again and again.