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Galaxy Railways Station 4 Leaps of Faith: The Thrill is Back

by on May 24, 2006

It was commonly claimed in the golden years of Japan’s economic miracle that its companies succeeded because they focused on long-term results, unperturbed by occasional short-term setbacks. It seems a similar viewpoint is beneficial when regarding Galaxy Railways, which I came close to abandoning after the Captain Murase and the boys of Vega Platoon. The series roars back to life with volume 4, the appropriately titled Leaps of Faith.

Captain Murase and the boys of Vega Platoon, but it does restore the action and excitement sadly lacking in recent adventures. No sitting around having tea this time. Every episode is a life or death situation, though some are more gripping than others. Each story is devoted to developing a different member of the supporting cast, while star Manabu plays backup.

In episode 15 “Joint Forces” a huge meteor shower threatens a space station, and Sirius, Spica, and Vega platoons must work together to protect it. However by the book Spica captain Julia’s irritation with Vega captain Murase’s impulsiveness causes friction in the ranks. Unfortunately this episode is a bit tedious, full of petty bickering interrupted occasionally only to shoot at rocks. Matsumoto junkies will note a couple wearing Space Battleship Yamato uniforms in a bar scene. Sadly the camera doesn’t follow them.

Much more exciting is “Comrade,” which opens with a pirate attack causing a casino train to crash-land on a planet with a dangerously corrosive atmosphere. Sirius rescues the passengers in the nick of time, but an attack from a vicious alien beast strands Yuki on the planet. There’s real tension as the beasts close in and time runs short. Some discussion of androids’ humanity emerges, as the self-absorbed evacuees argue for leaving the “machine” behind, and Yuki wonders if she will ever dare to tell Manabu of her feelings for him. I’m sure anyone with experience working in Japan’s travel industry will be able to relate to the obnoxiously demanding passengers depicted here, one of whom even slugs his rescuer for perceived tardiness.

Some stewardesses go the extra mile (vertically)“Armored Goddess,” the inevitable Twilight Zone episode, finds Sirius investigating a crash on the treacherous planet Haaga Loo, home to the legendary Blue Flame jewel that is rumored to guarantee eternal youth. The only survivor is the ravishing but devious treasure hunter Irene Summer, coincidentally David’s old flame. It’s a small universe indeed. The reunion is cut short when Irene slips away to search for the jewel, and David sets off in pursuit determined to win her back. It’s nice to see David get a rare starring role, although the cautionary message about vanity is rather old hat.

“Life and Death” contains an unusually large dose of continuity, and suggests that a grand conspiracy against the Space Defense Force may be underway. One of the alien warriors previously seen in episode 12 infiltrates SDF headquarters to steal data, leaving a bloody trail of troops in her wake. Manabu is injured in an encounter and Bruce, fearing the possible loss of yet another partner, orders him to stay behind while the others hunt the creature. Lots of excitement in what is easily one of the series’ more violent episodes, borrowing heavily from Aliens.

Although the art design is still excellent, the severe paucity of movement makes many scenes visually inert. The use of still shots with one static object slid across them looks gallingly cheap. I understand that Galaxy Railways was produced on a presumably modest budget for a Japanese cable channel, and I’m thankful their patronage allowed its creation, but it’s embarrassing to have the occasional scene that doesn’t look as well animated as Yamato 30 years earlier.

And your point is?The primary extra is an unusually interesting commentary on the episode “Life and Death” from ADR director Chris Cason and voice actor John Gremillion (Bulge). Instead of the typical mindless gibberish, this time we get an insightful discussion of the challenges of voice acting in general and Gremillion’s experiences in particular. It strikes me that one reason English dubs are often weaker than the original Japanese dialogue may be that each character is recorded separately as opposed to all together.

Also included is “Clay,” another surprisingly emotional installment of Mr. Stain on Junk Alley. This time Stain creates a clay bust of himself that unsurprisingly comes to life and possesses his cat Palvan’s body. At first horrified, Stain soon becomes attached to his clay doppelganger and is conflicted over whose companionship he values more.

Station 4: Leaps of Faith is an exciting return to form for Galaxy Railways. It just goes to show that a little mortal peril goes a long way toward focusing the audience’s attention. Now if Matsumoto would just tackle the series’ many chaste relationships, which are badly in need of some moral peril.

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