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Both tell the story of a boy named Giovanni, who, while going to get milk for his mother, decides to take a rest under the starry sky and...suddenly finds himself aboard a magical train. His best friend Campanella happens to ride with him in the same car. The train in question seems to ride along none less than The Milky Way, heading for an unknown destination. Both boys somehow know that they are on a journey across the universe, but decide not to worry much and enjoy the ride. During the course of the story, they meet various characters and see incredible things. This a Mind Screw tale peppered with a good bit of religious of symbolism; but it's that special kind Mind Screw -- the kind where you can actually understand most things if you give them a good bit of thought.
The film changes all but a few characters from humans to anthropomorphic cats, but that's neither here or there. Also, to honor Miyazawa's love for Esperanto, the Universal Language the film was alternatively named "Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo". All signs and "chapter names" in the film are also in Esperanto.
Can be viewed on You Tube, here (Japanese, with English subtitles). There was also a surprisingly decent dub released in 2001 staring Veronica Taylor and Crispin Freeman, but it's nigh-impossible to find the DVD for less than $70.
Not to be confused with Galaxy Express 999.
As of February 24, 2011, a stage play based on the novel has been translated and performed in English, with the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts, producing the debut.
The anime provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: Some things in the book Miyazawa didn't specify, so Gisaburo had to use his imagination. The director also added the blind conductor to the story.
- Afterlife Express
- All Just a Dream: Somewhat subverted.
- An Aesop: Two, actually. Use your life to the fullest while you still have it, and accept the hardships of the real world.
- Bad Export for You: The only DVD with English subtitles was released in 2001 in limited amount. The transfer source was the laserdisc copy, which had a VHS picture quality. In 2002 the Japanese got anamorphic widescreen DVD, with much better picture. Why do the Japanese get all the cool stuff??
- Downer Ending
- Esperanto, the Universal Language: All signs in the film are written in it. The movie's alternative name is mentioned above. This was done because the original book's author loved that language.
- Fridge Brilliance: What is required if you're to fully understand the story.
- Kids Are Cruel: Played straight with Giovanni and Campanella's classmates (especially Zanelli), who tease Giovanni about his missing father (who has failed to return from a fishing trip) and frequently ostracize him. Averted with Campanella and Giovanni, who are very thoughtful and courteous kids; even the way Campanella died makes it obvious that he's the exact opposite of this trope.
- Mind Screw: That special, rare case, when all becomes clear near the end.
- Scenery Porn: The visuals and locations play an important role in telling the story, so much attention has been paid to their design and they are frequently focused upon.
- The Stoic: Campanella.