The Call of Destiny: Enter the Surreal World of Galaxy Express 999’s Creator Leiji Matsumoto


As many fans know, galaxy and destiny are two keywords for Leiji Matsumoto (松本 零士)’s hit manga Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト), Space Pirate Captain Harlock (宇宙海賊キャプテンハーロッ) and Galaxy Express 999 (銀河鉄道999).

During a panel in Japan Expo, the 81-year-old mangaka explained a little bit more about the inspiration of his legendary space manga.

Before creating the epic space manga, Matsumoto made his debut with “The Bee’s Adventure” in Manga Shonen in 1954 under his real name, Akira Matsumoto (松本晟). In a young age of 16, he was invited to draw manga series for Shōjo Magazine for around two years.

Matsumoto explained that he wanted to create shōjo manga at the very first beginning after watching a French movie, Marianne of My Youth. It also paved his way to create several delicate yet beautiful female characters in his later work, such as Maetel from Galaxy Express 999 and Kei Yuki from Space Pirate Captain Harlock.

▲ Maetel from Galaxy Express 999

“I was intrigued by the acting of Marianne Hold with her character in Marianne of My Youth. She was so elegant and beautiful that I wanted my characters to look exactly like her. That’s why I created Maria of the Silver Valley in 1958. Later on, I was able to model my female characters on actresses like Eleanor Parker and Danielle Darrieux,” he said.

The road of becoming a mangaka was never easy for Matsumoto, especially when his father was a pioneer aviator who had trained in inter-war France with aggressor squadrons. After World War II, his family moved to Kokura in Kyushu and he was asked to become engineers just as his brothers.

However, even with the objection from his family, Matsumoto decided to pawn his record collection to make a one-way 24-hour train journey to Tokyo to work for the weekly magazine.

“At that time, it took a full day and night to get from Kokura to Tokyo. But I never felt exhausted. For me, it was a train towards my dream. I always think of what would happen if I had not taken the train, perhaps I would not be here now. It is destiny that brings me here. This precious memory also became a great inspiration for creating Galaxy Express 999,” Matsumoto said.

The sci-fi environment of Galaxy Express 999 was completed after he read the novel “Night on the Galactic Railroad” by Kenji Miyazawa (宮沢 賢治). The 1977 manga series sets in a spacefaring, high-tech future in which humans have learned how to transfer their minds and emotions with perfect fidelity into mechanical bodies, in order to achieve immortality.

The story follows Tetsuro Hoshino, a ten-year-old boy who desperately wants an indestructible machine body. He starts a journey to seek eternal life on Galaxy Express 999, a space train that only comes to Earth once a year, to find his machine body at the end stop, Andromeda Galaxy. Along the way, Tetsuro experiences adventures on many exotic planets and encounters different people, both human and alien, living and machine.

“I was mesmerized by the idea of a steam train running through the stars in the Night on the Galactic Railroad. As the galaxy is the farthest distance that humans can find, I thought it would be romantic to tell a story that spans across the galaxy. It is also a story about destiny, depicting the bonds between humans. I always believe that the encounter of humans helps us survive in times of crisis,” he added.

At the end of the panel, Matsumoto entertained his fans with a live-drawing session. In only fifteen minutes, the legendary mangaka finished the stunning drawings of Captain Harlock and Kei Yuki from Space Pirate Captain Harlock.

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