Reviews of yesteryear: Night on the Galactic Railroad

Unlike a lot of anime films, Night on the Galactic Railroad isn’t based on a game, a manga or a light novel. It’s based on a children’s story written by Miyazawa Kenji. It’s a novel that’s unfinished. Miyazawa was still polishing the middle of the piece when he died in 1933. The novel was posthumously published as it was and it became a classic work of children’s literature. In 1985 it was made into an anime film. How well does it work? Let’s take a look and find out.

We open with our protagonist, Giovanni attending classes. Giovanni attends school with all the other cats… Yes, cats. All the characters in this were replaced by anthropomorphic talking cats, most of which need to put on pants. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s not originally about cats. That pointless change aside, Giovanni goes into town to get milk for his sick mother while all the other cats are attending the starlight festival. Giovanni stops to rest on a hill when he hears a train. A train that stops right in front of him. He gets on board to find that his best friend, Campanella is there as well. The two ride to a variety of different locations but what’s their destination and what’s waiting for them when they arrive? I’m not going to give that away, even though it’s kind of obvious. The symbolism in this is pretty effective and it ties together nicely. I’m not even going to complain about it being kind of heavy handed since this is a kid’s movie. The film does have some flaws though. There are some really slow stretches, especially in the beginning, where nothing of value happens. Changing all of the characters to cats would be fine, albeit pointless, but there are three human characters introduced later which doesn’t make sense. At least keep it consistent. The reason that Giovanni’s on the train is pretty weak as well, especially when you figure out what its nature is. They also separate the scenes with chapter cards which show a mostly black screen with some words like “Giovanni’s Ticket” or “Apples” which doesn’t really work in a film. It just serves to bring the action to a grinding halt for several seconds each time.

This film is more about the journey than it is the characters. The characters in this are a little deeper than those found in Animal Crossing, but they’re still kind of shallow. And, honestly, they aren’t as much fun. Giovanni and Campanella have a pretty good connection and Giovanni does develop a bit as a result of his experience, but aside from that there’s not much to the characters beyond their roles.

The art in this is a bit dated. To be fair, this movie is older than I am so that’s only to be expected. The art actually does hold up quite well. The backgrounds are very well done and nicely detailed. There are some spectacular environments in this film, especially when they’re showing constellations and representations thereof. The characters are the real weakness. Not because they’re mostly drawn as cats, but because of their expressions. Most of the time the characters either look slightly surprised or just blank. Actually, that might explain why most of the characters are drawn as cats. Since it’s more difficult to identify expressions on animals, it may have been a deliberate effort to conceal the fact that the artists only knew how to express dull surprise.

The voice acting is pretty good. Both Tanaka Mayumi and Sakamoto Chika do well in their roles. The rest of the cast is decent enough, although most of them don’t say much. The music in this is really well done. It goes perfectly with the art to maintain atmosphere.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There are only two important female characters. Giovanni’s mom, and the inexplicably human girl they meet on the train and they never meet.

My final rating for Night on the Galactic Railroad is a 7/10. It has some weaknesses in terms of story but overall it has aged pretty well. It may not be as good as the novel but it’s still a solid film and I think it’ll prove to be enjoyable whether you’re a child or not. Tomorrow we end this week of film reviews with Kara no Kyoukai 3: the search for more money… I mean Tsukaku Zanryu.

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