The Train Conductor and Maetel.
The Train Conductor and Maetel.
Image: Toei

Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 is a beautiful and often somber rumination on what it means to find happiness in a star system that’s defined by class inequality and brutal struggles to survive. Everything about the series, like its surprisingly kinetic action sequences and its deft use of moving leitmotifs, made the story feel like poetry. This is true both of the original series featuring its Japanese voice cast and of the more recently produced dubs (which are questionable).

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Galaxy Express 999, for those who aren’t familiar with the series, told the story of Tetsuro Hoshino, an orphaned child, and his glamorous guardian Maetel as they rode the titular space train on their way to a planet where people could become virtually immortal by transferring their consciousnesses into mechanical bodies.

The poetry comparison is not quite true of the dubbed versions of Can You Love Like a Mother!? and Can You Live Like a Warrior?, two recap specials explaining some of the series’ larger plot points, which were produced by Harmony Gold in 1985. They only aired that same year before essentially disappearing from television altogether. Though the specials hit the same beats and twists that were featured in the main series itself, they both also included significant new moments broadening out the series overall, meaning that for many, it was always impossible to know the whole of Tetsuro and Maetel’s story. But that’s about to change.

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Discotek Media, an Orlando-based DVD publisher that specializes in anime and Japanese cinema, recently announced that its production team managed to get their hands on copies of the two dubbed specials, and after an intensive restoration process, they’ll both be made available to watch in stunning clarity for the first time in years.

As one of the first anime franchises to make its way to the U.S. before having one of its movies released theatrically, the dubbed Galaxy Express is distinctly reflective of the way that Western production companies saw anime as an art form that needed heavy localization and narrative editing in order to make it work for other audiences. Keeping in style with the original Galaxy Express 999 film that first was first released in America in 1981, Tetsuro and Maetel are reimagined as “Joey Hana-Cana-Boba-Camanda Smith” (literally) and “Catherine” in Can You Love Like a Mother!? and Can You Live Like a Warrior?

Beyond simply changing their names, production company Harmony Gold gave its take on Galaxy Express a decidedly different tone overall by way of swapping the series’ iconic opening and closing themes out for much less haunting tunes that don’t convey the sadness that plays such a big part of the story. Where Maetel was written to be aloof and somewhat cold out of a desire to protect herself and Tetsuro from those who would harm them, Catharine’s portrayed as being considerably airier and not exactly pressed about the fact that her life’s constantly in danger. Like Tetsuro, Joey’s a grubby doofus who doesn’t know his way around the galaxy, but compared to his undubbed counterpart, Joey lacks the sort of deep loneliness that drives him to connect with various people as he’s riding the train through space.

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What is impressive about Discotek’s upcoming release is just how much of a jump in quality there is in these new versions of Can You Love Like a Mother!? and Can You Live Like a Warrior? It’s unclear just how many, if any, clean copies of the original movies are still floating around, but the company managed to somehow piece them both together completely with their audio crystal clear in a way that highlights just how wildly different the dub was.

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The small bit of comparison between what Discotek initially got its hands on and the remastered finished product makes it clear for the first time in decades. We’ll all be able to finally witness the two compilation movies as Harmony Gold intended, which might just end up being a little more inadvertently chuckle-worthy than anticipated. Kitchy as Harmony Gold’s dub was, especially compared to subsequent dubs produced by other studios, it’s an important part of Galaxy Express’ history that played an instrumental role in bringing the franchise to where it is today, which is reason enough to give these iterations of Can You Love Like a Mother!? and Can You Live Like a Warrior? an earnest watch.

Discotek Media’s second volume of Galaxy Express will be available for purchase on July 28.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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