By this point in Galaxy Express 999, Tetsurō and Maetal encountered three rather prominent examples of how humans and cyborgs struggle to survive in a universe where indifference and outright harmful attitudes prevail – the first episode even included a scene of Tetsurō exacting revenge against the hunter who killed his mother on Earth, in a grand display of bitterness and anger towards a system seemingly constructed specifically for a hierarchy that heavily favors the preservation of financial and social inequality. The protagonists left behind a planet where material wealth (and the desire for it) informed an immense cultural/social division; the wealthiest members of society could enjoy numerous amenities at their disposal, while the impoverished citizens languished in torment. Tetsurō’s desire to obtain a robot body can be understood through this lens – he sees in the robot a sort of liberation, a new life that promises an escape from the hellish landscape of the poorer classes that he once inhabited. A metallic body offers him the opportunity to forego his mortal existence; even though he would still be susceptible to injury (he killed Count Mecha without any hesitation, after all, demonstrating that even robots cannot escape death), his spiritual body remains intact within a new frame that reduces, or even eliminates, the aging process. The promise of immortality would not remove all social ills, however – people can remain prejudiced and thoughtless in their behaviors, as we could see with those whom Tetsurō met on his travels thus far. On Mars, he saw how lives can still be ruined by materialistic desires, even though a robotic form can be achieved – Geronimo still exhibited desires that ultimately brought about his demise, and the cemetery in Syrtis Major contains the remains of innumerable laborers who died constructing the town.
The Mars of Galaxy Express 999 illustrates how human ambitions can cause extreme grief and pain; much like Earth, the desire for materialistic gain consumed many people, and the unfortunate souls who sacrificed their lives for the sake of a system that saw them as disposable did so for an idealized life that never materialized for the survivors. Wealth brings with it indifference – the rich will remain dismissive of the poor, regardless of the situation or the environment, and in their absence develop desperation among the poor who remain in a harsh, unforgiving landscape. Tetsurō’s continued journey aboard the Galaxy Express brings about new opportunities to learn lessons about the universe; Antares, the “antagonist” of this episode, reveals himself to be more interested in providing for the children he raises, rather than his own interests. He sees the space-faring train as an opportunity to steal necessities and return home – he must act aggressive because the universe is a dangerous place. As he later explains to Testurō, showing mercy to others may get him into trouble – people do not always act nicely overall, and would take any initiative they get to kill him and abscond with any valuables he may possess. Tetsurō has direct experience with this – Count Mecha displayed this callousness towards humans on Earth, illustrating how people with mechanical bodies can develop a new prejudice about mortal beings they once identified with. Antares’ defiance at the idea of obtaining a robot body baffles Tetsurō a little; the boy never encountered someone who sincerely avoids making the transition to robotics, instead preferring to remain mortal and active in a universe that places great value on cybernetics. His opposition, however, makes sense in the light of his attitude – he does not want to abandon his family like he did his wife, whom cyborg hunters killed while she and Antares attempted to leave with stolen property.
The scene where Antares studies Tetsurō and Maetal with the X-ray device to determine whether they’re human, and the following scene at his abode, shows Antares in a more relaxed light – he clearly trusts the two, enough for him to relate the story of his wife’s death. His despair at remembering the event likely informs the advice he gives to Tetsurō – danger lurks around every corner, and one cannot expect an opponent to provide mercy in combat, especially in a universe where those who cast aside their mortal bodies for robot forms regularly treat those the perceive as “beneath” them horribly. Tetsurō’s own experiences attest to this fact; Count Mecha provided a great example of the hierarchical nature of society constructed on the belief of perceived superiority over others due to circumstances beyond the others’ control. Poor citizens of a planet such as Earth have no real method of upward mobility, aside from luck; the wealthier citizens established a prohibitive system of unnecessarily convoluted steps to attain status and social freedom, and actively maintain that system so those who live on the lower rungs of society cannot obtain the same benefits. Sometimes, the richest echelons even abandon the poor to an unfortunate fate, as could be seen on Mars – Geronimo showed desperation in the face of a rigid social structure that developed as the wealthiest members of society escaped the planet.
With Antares, we see someone capable of traveling through space by subverting the law – a thief like him can move more freely by circumventing the legal networks that would otherwise have prevented him from riding the Galaxy Express. He has no real use for a system of laws that prohibits him from helping his family; he may be rough, as he threatens others and steals from them, but he acts this way to provide for numerous children who accept him as their caring father. When Antares suggests to Maetal that she remain with him, he reflects on the wife he left behind – he recognizes his own bad behavior in abandoning her, and likely sees Maetal as a chance to reconcile with that memory. Maetal declines, even going so far as to remove data of the location from the train’s database; she knows she cannot replace Antares’ wife, and that Antares is doing quite well for himself in his home regardless. The thief’s situation is unenviable – he resorted to thievery to help his children – but Tetsurō recognizes Antares as a man who would place his family’s safety over his own; in fact, Antares extends his philosophy of good will to Tetsurō by stating he is welcome at his home at any time. Maetal’s reflections on Antares as she returns to the train show a nice sentiment – she sees in Antares a man who once held high ambitions for himself, but ultimately discovered he could not endure the dangers of space alone as he grew older. She sees Tetsurō as having similar ideals about himself; she is there to protect him, much like how Antares wishes to protect his children from harm.