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"Galaxy Railways Station 3 - The Vastness Within": Sci-Fi for Lifetime?

Have you ever confidently set out on a journey, only to find yourself headed in the wrong direction? No? Look, work with me here. Such has been my experience with Galaxy Railways (GR), which, after the exciting space opera of the Manabu, Louis, and an entirely unFreudian train, seems to be moving toward being a soap opera. This trend intensifies in Station 3: The Vastness Within.

Where's Ripley when you need her?Of course, they say appearances can be deceiving, and that must work for Leiji Matsumoto. After fooling me into thinking his intergalactic railway police series was the second coming of Space Battleship Yamato, Matsumoto seems to have switched gears to Galaxy Express 999. This volume is very light on action, and in fact the first two episodes contain none at all. Instead the focus is on a little romance, some Twilight Zone mysteries, and family drama. Not that this is necessarily bad stuff, but it isn’t particularly thrilling and the writing continues to be rather formulaic.

Station 3 contains four episodes. In “Forget Me Not” a routine mission takes our heroes’ Sirius Platoon to the planet where leader Captain Bulge’s old flame lives. We see their difficult courtship play out through flashbacks. “Twilight” sends Sirius to evacuate a doomed planet, where they encounter an old woman who mistakes Manabu for her long lost son and insists he play the part. Next Manabu accidentally boards the “Train Bound for Fate,” which travels a route determined only by the whims of destiny. On board he is overjoyed to encounter childhood friend Subaru, but their reunion is cut short when alien forces attack the train. Finally in “Bond,” Manabu and Louis are assigned to protect Louis’ estranged father President Drake, who is en route to give a controversial speech. While Louis fumes over years of parental neglect, a bold assassination plot rapidly unfolds.

In this volume we learn that it is a broken heart that has driven the enigmatic Bulge to be such a hard taskmaster and workaholic. The encounter with Louis’ parents implies that her devotion to her work may be inspired by a desire to rebel against daddy. Otherwise, Manabu takes center stage as usual, thankfully acting a bit more mature this time. The kindness of the old woman reminds him of his love for his mother, and a flashback with Subaru shows that Manabu fought for justice even as a child.

second volumeA number of interesting issues are touched upon in these stories. In contrast to the eternally patient girlfriends often found in anime, there is a surprising dose of cold realism in Bulge’s relationship. We see that like most Japanese employees, the members of Sirius hardly ever take vacations, except for Louis, who boldly declares it is their right. Perhaps she speaks the mind of a new generation of Japanese workers. The overwhelming importance of the Japanese family is illustrated when the old woman, finally spent after decades of tireless devotion to her son, tells surrogate son Manabu as he carries her that there is no greater joy for a mother.

Finally, in an apparent shot at President Bush, Drake delivers to loud cheers a strongly antiwar speech that renounces the use of force as a foreign policy tool, and promises to withdraw forces from a conflict area and reduce military spending. I wonder what real conflict area Matsumoto might have had in mind….

Apart from a brief gunfight in “Train” that vaguely recalls Aliens, the only genuine excitement in this volume is supplied in “Bond.” President Drake is menaced by a team of unstoppable Terminator-like cyborgs, a traitor from within, and finally a warship. It’s a fun ride, and hopefully an indication that the gloves will come off again in the next volume.

The art design continues to be great, but as with the Mooned by Manabu, the actual animation quality is brought down by way too many static scenes. I’m beginning to think most of the animation budget was used up on the first volume.

Mooned by ManabuThe primary extra is again a Japanese cast recording session, this time for the first half of “Twilight.” Although this was an interesting feature on Volume One, there’s no real need to see another session, especially since there are no bloopers to lend spontaneity. I did note that not much effort appears to be spent fitting words to the characters’ specific mouth movements, but perhaps that’s asking too much.

We also get another CGI short of the bizarre Mr. Stain on Junk Alley, which recent Funimation purchasers will be well acquainted with. In Volume 7 Binoculars, the usually selfish cat beast Palvan adopts a lost kitten. Look for the throwaway shot of a random character getting immolated for a taste of the series’ whacked out humor. This show really should be on Adult Swim.

Fans who enjoyed the second volume of Galaxy Railways will probably want to continue on to Station 3 The Vastness Within. I don’t imagine it will garner many new viewers though, and those craving excitement should look elsewhere. Fortunately the teaser for Station 4 promises mass destruction, although I have a feeling I’ve been fooled by those words before.

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