I have always heard of Galaxy Express 999 as one of those shows that people talk about but not many people have seen unless they are devoted to the classics. And among those fans people who have actually seen the TV series as opposed to the movies is fewer still. But I am surprised that no one who has ever watched the TV series has ever mentioned one thing that shocked me greatly. Almost everyone in Galaxy Express is amazingly amoral. Even Tetsuro and Maetel seem to often seem to plunge right into full on amorality.
Leiji Matsumoto is no stranger to having characters with a gray morality. Captain Harlock is a space pirate who will break the law whenever he sees fit. He will steal and kill without remorse if he needs to. But you always get the sense that Harlock has a strong moral code that we will not break. His moral compass is quickly obvious to the viewer. In 20 episodes I cannot make heads or tails of any sort of moral compass within Tetsuro and Maetel.
Galaxy Express 999 is a space fantasy but at its heart it is a western mixed with a Bildungsroman road movie. Instead of going from town to town on the railroad they travel on the Galaxy Express from planet to planet meeting strange new people and civilizations. Just like in a classic western you get the feeling that there are almost no laws and being fast on the draw is the only way to get justice. I have joked that people in Galaxy Express seem to murder everyone they meet until the finally run into someone who can solve their problems. It just so happens that a laser blast to the head solves most people’s problems permanently.
In these strange worlds were the inhabitants often live by bizarre, selfish, or nonexistent moral codes so you expect the protagonists to stand apart from those they meet. While Tetsuro and Maetel are often on a higher moral ground than most of the people they meet there is not much that separates them. Tetsuro often solves his problems by shooting first and asking questions later and has no compulsion against taking revenge on people who have crossed him. Matel knowingly wipes out the population of two high populated planets in episode 14.They meet several mass murderers who they let go simply because they realize that Tetsuro has a noble heart. In fact having a noble heart seems to excuse any crime you commit in the Galaxy Express universe.
I hope that this post does not turn anyone off from sampling Galaxy Express 999. These moral ambiguities in each episode lend themselves to some powerful and unique storytelling. By having the main characters be so morally neutral Leiji Matsumoto does not come off as preachy. The reader is forced to determine their feelings on each episode without the author telling you who is right and wrong. Wonderful shows like Kino’s Journey and Unprecedented Game have been clearly influenced by Galaxy Express 999. I am just hoping to start some discussion and interest in a show that takes a unique approach to the morality play.