Galaxy Express 999…

May 12, 2010

Whoa, haven’t written in a while.  I’ve had a tough month, actually.  Semi-identiy crisis, my back flaring up, so forth, so forth.  But the weather in Korea has finally become awesome, and so has my mood.  You know how they say ‘Today is the first day of the rest of my life?”  Well, yes, it’s a cliche as hokey as they come, but it also happens to be true.

As for my novel-to-be, it now stands at 265 pages.  I think I’ve crossed the halfway mark.  Sometimes, the writing flows out, sometimes, it sputters.  But overall, it’s chugging alone, just like a train.  And that, my friend, is a segue into today’s post about Galaxy Express 999.

I was eight when my family moved to the U.S. from Korea.  So I can’t say that I have a whole lot of clear memories of my days before I arrived in California dazed and confused.  Still, there are things that I do remember, some nice (playing with my then best-friend Moonsu; whom I’ve been meaning to look up one of these days… for the last ten years), some not (my parents fighting), and some a bit inexplicable.  And that’s where Galaxy Express falls into.  I used to watch this show on Korean TV every Sunday.

As a grown-up, I couldn’t remember the title, not even the exact storyline.  All I could remember was that involved a boy and a blond woman in a black fur coat and square fur hat that were riding on a train every week.  For whatever reason, I was mesmerized by the show, and I remember hating to go to church every week (I wasn’t quite a heathen then) because I never got to find out how any of the episodes ended.

Once I got back to Korea and made some Korean friends, that was one of the first things I asked them about.  “So, do any of you guys know about a cartoon where the characters just kept riding on a train…”  Boom, they filled me in right away.  “Eun-ha-cheol-do-999!” (that’s the title in Korean) Apparently, the show was way popular; almost everyone in my age group had watched it themselves or at least had heard of it.

So I was happy just to know that the show wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.  But since I started writing about certain childhood experiences in my novel-to-be, I got curious about the reasons I could’ve liked the cartoon so much.  So I did some Internet sleuthing, and after a click here, a click there, a cell phone payment here, and boom, I had the first ten (out of about a hundred) episodes downloaded onto my hard drive.

I watched the first three episodes in the last few days, and well, it’s been interesting, that’s for sure.  Trust me, this ain’t no Charlie Brown or Garfield.  Basically, Galaxy Express 999 takes place in a futuristic society where the rich pay to turn themselves into robots so they can live forever and the poor are left to suffer and die.  But apparently, there is a distant planet where even the poor can become the immortal robots if they can just somehow get themselves there.  So a poor mother and her boy–named Cheol-yi in the Korean version) set out to the train station so they can board the train to the distant planet (remember, this is the future we’re talking about).  But on the way there, evil robot guards kill the mother (it’s really, really sad, and may have sparked my attraction to melodrama at a young age), and little Cheol-yi is left to make the journey alone.  

Then the boy somehow meets up with Mattel, a mysterious blond woman dressed all in black (apparently, black is fashionable in any millennium) who takes him under her wing and helps him fight off more evil guards and gets him a ticket on the train.

In the following episodes, they keep riding the train while getting off to make pit stops at various planets, which are all interesting and different but basically pose a danger of some kind or another to our main characters.  The second episodes involves a pit stop on a planet which looks like a ghost town in a Western movie, and it culminates in a lying gunslinger and Cheol-yi fighting in a duel, which ends up with the gunslinger dying and regretting his lying, cheating ways.

In the following episode, Cheol-yi and Mattel visit a planet where everyone can do everything they want except trying to keep other people from doing what they want to do (very philosophical, no?).  Of course, you’d think the boy and Mattel would’ve learned by now just to stay in that train instead of venturing out every time they make a stop, but then we wouldn’t have a show.  So they venture out, and Mattel is promptly whisked off by some bandits, and the boy goes off to rescue her.  He eventually finds her lying in a field in her underwear, shaken but alive.  Then together, they head back to the train, while a narrator’s deep voice talks about how that planet’s freedom is really taking everyone’s freedom away.

So, all in all, we have a mother dying, a bunch of other killings (including the ones by a child), and an implied sexual assault all in the first three episodes of a cartoon presumably for children.  Yup, it’s Japanese (though dubbed in Korean) anime at its best, and no wonder I remember being so riveted, just as I remain so now (I can’t wait to watch the remaining 97 episodes).  I just knew I never really got around to growing up, and this is just more proof.  Seriously, it’s great, great stuff.  I’m actually going to Japan in mid-June (my first time, very excited), and I’ll definitely be on the look out for some Mattel souvenirs.