Galaxy Express 999 Episode 5: Melancholy on Pluto

As Tetsuro and Maetal continue their journey, they reach the final destination of their home solar system, the frigid dwarf planet Pluto; Maetal provides some key information by revealing Pluto’s nickname, the Planet of Indecision, which it received because people experienced regret while residing here. That sort of melancholy expressed by inhabitants can be understood through the figure of Shadow, the woman who supervises the massive graveyard outside the city walls – she, like so many fellow residents, is a cyborg who dispose of her mortal body in exchange for a robotic one, and she shows remorse for her decision, wishing to return to her original form. In order to achieve that goal, however, she must obtain the soul of another; her fateful encounter with Tetsuro provides her with the opportunity, and she will stop at nothing to ensure she can use his soul to complete to transfer back to her previous flesh-and-blood state. Thus, she presents herself as a fairly selfish individual who would be willing to sacrifice another person to accomplish her task; her desire to be beautiful again, in her original body, motivates her to abduct Tetsuro for that purpose, even going so far as to disguise herself as Tetsuro’s mother to appeal to his own attachment to his mother.

This reveals an important aspect of Tetsuro, as well as reinforces the overarching theme of humanity’s relationship to technology; as determined as he may be to procure a robot body, Tetsuro remains attached to his mother, who perished at the hands of Count Mecha in the first episode. He perceives the robot as a means of breaking free from his poverty-stricken life, a perspective he developed while on Earth; cyborgs are seen as a bit of a status symbol in the world of Galaxy Express 999, as they ostensibly symbolize the sort of freedom of movement that the poorest member of terrestrial society could not afford. Cyborgs do not have to worry about mortality or injury – they have the presumed capacity to withstand more extreme temperatures, as seen on Pluto, and Tetsuro likely bought into that image, since he wanted to enjoy the freedoms he sees in the cybernetic life. Understandably, however, he maintains his emotional connection to his mother, who risked everything to ensure her son’s happiness and survival – her tragic murder on Earth, a victim of an arrogant cyborg hunter who disregards humanity, weighs on Tetsuro’s mind, and Shadow managed to lure him away from Maetal by appealing to his familial ties. Shadow shows no reservations in her decision to trick Tetsuro – her regrets over dispensing with her mortal frame encouraged her to make a rash decision in order to reverse the process, and she sees in the young boy a means of fulfilling her desire to return to her former beauty.

Maetal, herself, experiences melancholy while on the dwarf planet – she explains that one of her friends passed away on Pluto, and she visited the site of her friend’s burial while visiting the graveyard. The unnamed woman’s, like so many others, can be found encased in the ice surrounding the city – the graveyard that Shadow protects is the burial ground for the deceased, as well as the discarded bodies of those who exchanged their mortality for cybernetics, as explained by Shadow herself. This emphasizes Pluto’s nature as the “Planet of Indecision,” as many people who made the transition to a robot state feel regret for this decision – Shadow, in particular, exhibits this guilt explicitly, as she bemoans her cyborg identity and maintains her former body in temporary stasis while she searches for a human soul that would allow her to transition back. The image of the frozen people underneath the surface of the ice is a sorrowful reminder of the dangers seemingly inherent in technological progress – while the universe of Galaxy Express allows for robotic replacements, such a concept only intensifies social inequality, as the wealthier members of society utilize the robot body while the poorer members languish in squalor, unable to enjoy the same social mobility as their more affluent colleagues.

The episode concludes with Maetal and Tetsuro leaving Pluto; Maetal convinces Tetsuro to spare Shadow the indignity of having her mortal body destroy by appealing to a woman’s desire for beauty. This scene would have been handled quite differently today; it implies that women have an innate desire for physical attractiveness, a fairly ridiculous assumption to make. Shadow’s covetous yearning for a return to her mortal identity is best understood as a reflection of her indecisiveness – she regrets discarding her previous state, trading that youthfulness for a body without a face. This aspect of the episode reflects the general theme of indecisiveness that pervades the series – numerous people exhibited a similar regret for their own decisions, as they made them under the impression that it would somehow improve their lives. Technology can both improve or have no effect on one’s particular issues, and the five episodes thus far revealed how systemic social problems have not really been resolved by advancements in technology; without a conclusive means of addressing these problems, they will remain perpetually, regardless of the setting. Pluto, specifically, offers a great method of illustrating that principle – people on the planet feel stranded, and the massive graveyard serves as a reminder that social issues still exist in a universe where robotic replacements are possible.

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