Don't be fooled. Despite it's old styled character designs, this show is from 2003. It's original iteration, the first telling in this universe, Galaxy Express 999, is from the late 70s, early 80s after all. The series is from space opera veteran Leiji Matsumoto (Captain Harlock, Star Blazers, Arcadia of My Youth). The short credits and the way the show was presented (and also FUNimation placing three commercial breaks into the show instead of the typical two, which I've noticed they do for older, shorter shows) made me think the show was from the early 90s. I was surprised it was so recent. The animation itself doesn't look dated, but the way Leiji designs his characters (and everything else) has changed little over the years; though there's certainly nothing wrong with that.
In Galaxy Railways people travel across the universe on space trains. And these are trains as in trains - with steam locomotives and cars, and they even launch and land on rail tracks. It's a little strange, since they can basically fly around all over in space. There are "rail lines" in space, that the average train follows along by going through rail gates. Each train is enclosed within a magnetic shield, so you could open up the windows if you wanted to and not get sucked out into space. The SDF trains (the universe's military force) seem to be able to go anywhere in space with or without plotted rail lines, but still must use designated warp gate locations. It's a...unique design choice. I don't have any problems with it, but it was kind of hard for me to believe. The reason why these people fly around in trains as opposed to, I don't know, space ships, isn't explained.
Galaxy Railways focuses on Manabu Yuuki, a young SDF member following in the steps of his father and brother who were both killed in action as SDF members. Manabu's father Wataru was the Captain of Big One, but sacrificed himself and the engine to save his crew from a surprise attack by a large (and foreign) space battleship. His brother Mamoru dies while out on a mission with the Space Panzer Grenadiers (elite SDF forces). Manabu ends up back on Big One, now under command by Schwanhelt Bulge, a former member of Wataru's crew. The rest of the crew (known as Sirius Platoon) is comprised of the laid back David, harsh but caring Bruce, fellow SDF newbie Louise, and the android nurse Yuki.
The series focuses mostly on Sirius Platoon and Big One as the team travels across the universe stopping terrorists, protecting stations from meteor storms, rescuing stranded trains and passengers, and fighting off a vicious alien race from another dimension. Throw in some character backgrounds and progression, lots of explosions, plenty of gun fights, and you've got an emotionally charged and action packed series on your hands.
It does have its problems. The plot is a little confusing near the end. The reasons they're being attacked by this mysterious alien race are a little unclear because it's explained a couple of different ways. Initially it seems there's another force behind them, but by the end of the series it's explained with another reason, and the second unknown force remains an unresolved entity. There's also the idea that everyone's fate and destiny is already set, and for the most part no one really bothers to change this. At least not until destiny starts spiraling out of control when the alien race crosses into their dimension to wipe them out. A woman they refer to as The Supreme Commander (it's actually two...two entities...but they're in one person...or something, it's not really clear) watches over the destiny of everyone in the universe. I don't think she has any control over it; for the most part she just stands there and lets things happen so even if she did have control, she doesn't exert it in any real way. Somehow Manabu gets into a lot of situations that he's not supposed to, which doesn't really make a lot of sense. So all in all, I'm not really sure how that element of the created universe is supposed to work.
The names of these guys...gave me a lot of giggles. Every time someone called Captain Bulge just that, I let out a juvenile giggle. And the android nurse, Yuki...I swear she calls herself a Sexaroid, whatever that is (though I should think it's probably obvious). Bruce's full name is Bruce J. Speed. Then of course the trains....Big One, Flame Swallow and Iron Burger. So yeah, now you see how immature I really am.
To wrap things up, Galaxy Railways is a 26 episode series licensed by FUNimation. There are two direct sequels, currently unlicensed in the states - The Galaxy Railways: A Letter From the Abandoned Planet (4 episode OVA that takes place between the first and second series of the show), and The Galaxy Railways: Crossroads to Eternity (another 26 episodes). Both follow Sirius Platoon's remnants on further adventures in the universe. I should note now that I nearly didn't watch this series because the English voice acting in the first episode was nearly intolerable. It doesn't get much better, but you get (sort of) used to it after a while. Whether it was worth that...I'm not sure. It's an entertaining show, but I don't feel like I would have been missing out had I not bothered to watch it. If you're a space opera fan, it's probably a must, being a Matsumoto creation, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the show. Watch it if you're looking for something different.
Image (top to bottom, left to right): David, Bulge, Bruce, Yuki, Manabu, Louise.