Stephen reviews: Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981)

adieugalaxyexpress999_1Adieu Galaxy Express 999 [さよなら銀河鉄道999 -アンドロメダ終着駅- Sayonara Ginga Tetsudo 999: Andromeda Shuchakueki] (1981)
AKA Goodbye Galaxy Railway 999: Andromeda Terminal (more of a literal translation, really)

Starring Masako Ikeda, Masako Nozawa, Kaneta Kimotsuki, Makio Inoue, Reiko Tajima, Kei Tomiyama, Youko Asagami, Toru Emori, Ryoko Kinomiya, Hidekatsu Shibata

Directed by Rintaro


As the title implies, this is the conclusion of the Galaxy Express series. But wait, didn’t I tell you all in last week’s review that this was the second film in a trilogy? Well, yes, but it’s a rather impromptu trilogy since the third film, Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, didn’t come out until the late ’90s, so Adieu was intended to be the conclusion. Actually, the original Galaxy Express 999 wasn’t intended to have a sequel either, so all three films in the trilogy were the end of the series. And none of them actually stayed that way. (Ok, ok, so Eternal Fantasy was followed by a TV series spin-off rather than a true sequel. So sue me.)

Of course, making a sequel to a film that doesn’t need one is always tricky business. Not only do you have to unravel the ending that had already been neatly tied up, but you have to then face the twin complaints that the sequel is either too much or not enough like the original. While I enjoyed Adieu quite a bit, hecklers will complain about it from both sides of the field. Probably simultaneously.

adieugalaxyexpress999_2Tetsuro already had his big revelation about life, and his character development is already complete, as is his revenge quest. The film also repeats the cameo appearances of Harlock and Emeraldas in nearly identical fashion. At the same time, though, Earth is now overrun by evil robots bent on galactic domination, and the film has suddenly turned into a war drama with a plethora of laser shoot-outs. Not only does this turn the film into an action flick, but it’s easy to cry foul on it for being darker and edgier just for the sake of being darker and edgier. Thus it is left with both a plot that is redundant to the original, and a tone that is completely divorced from the original.

I think this is a flawed way to look at the film, though. It has changed into a completely different genre, action adventure rather than philosophical drama. Judging it by the standards of the first film will only leave you unimpressed. Judge it as an action film, however, and it is filled with fun adventures that dwarf the first film at every turn. You can legitimately complain that as a sequel it doesn’t do its job, but if you can divorce yourself from those expectations, you’ll have a great ol’ time.

adieugalaxyexpress999_3Rintaro’s visual style is starting to take hold in this film as well. He puts in some amazing imagery that frequently left me spellbound. But it also hasn’t been refined to actually make sense. The 999 flies through some of the trippiest space scenes I’ve ever seen, including a random swirling pattern which looks like the kind of drug-inspired modern art masterpiece that common folk look at and say, “My five-year-old could do that.” The film also features some far more comprehensible visuals, like the ominous green-glowing ghost train, or the distorted phantom images of Queen Promethium.

Adieu doesn’t have quite the same inexplicable objects that the first film did, like that rocket-bicycle, but it does have some goofy looking robot security guards that wear kilts. It also has a lot of great action scenes that are just plain exhilarating. My favorite is the glorious destruction of a planet that reminded me an awful lot of Unicron in Transformers: the Movie.

adieugalaxyexpress999_4A planet exploded in the first Galaxy Express as well, but it didn’t look nearly as good. It’s amazing what a two-year difference can do for the animation quality. Adieu is clearly an early ’80s film, but it’s a much more polished and professional looking movie than its predecessor. Since you need good visuals to really sell an action film, this is very good for the enjoyment factor.

This isn’t a perfect film, though. It can be fairly predictable, especially with the Darth Vader looking villain, Faust. His similarities with Vader are especially suspicious when considered with the release date of Empire Strikes Back just one year earlier. Beyond Faust, the film also has some clumsy deus ex machina towards the end, and the entirely random appearance of some kind of black vortex looking thing named Siren left me scratching my head.

adieugalaxyexpress999_5I noted all of those failings while watching the film, but I was too busy enjoying myself to really be upset by any of it. Sure, Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a bit shallow and trite, but does that have to be a bad thing? Not every film can be full of deep meaning and literary merit. Some films are just simple fun. If you can accept that, then Adieu is a solid and entertaining movie.

But can a sequel made by a different director more than fifteen years later live up to its predecessors? Hey, there’s a first time for everything, right? Next week I’ll know for sure when I review the last film of the trilogy, Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy.

10 comments to Stephen reviews: Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981)

  • I love it when a sequel is made for a film that doesn’t need one…. NOT. Wish George Lucas had gone with that matra before making those damnable prequels.

    So when ARE you going to review the Police Adacemy series, Stephen? 😉

  • Remind me next time to spell check my comments…. DOH!!

  • As someone that loves a good series, I’m enjoying these reviews. The screenshots really intrigue me as well. It looks like a lot of imagination is up there on the screen. Trains and space, two things I love; I’ll have to watch these someday.

    • Stephen

      They do have a lot of cool visuals going for them. And if there is anyone who can accept the tone and content changes of the sequel it would be you.

  • “GALAXY EXPRESS 999” is up there in terms of popularity with that of STAR TREK in Japan. Yes, it is a classic “The Godfather of SF” in Japanese anime over there. Of course, it never became popular in the United States like “Macross” did, and it is a series with many allegories and the exploration of the human condition just like STAR TREK. It is one of those series that will wow you when watching it as a little boy, but when you grow-up… Damn, pretty much everyone is “bad” in real-life. The villains “are humans.” But, it’s fun to imagine that good characters are “good in film,” when they most certainly are not in real-life.

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