This column was originally written and published as a Libertarian View column for the Seguin Gazette on April 7, 2017 as "‘Galaxy Express’ as allegory: Human or machine?" The version of this column has been updated since its original publishing date.
Ever since my article on the 1948 animated short, Make Mine Freedom, I’ve always watched several of my favorite films over and over again to see if I’m able to find a good example on how things like “free healthcare” and “free college” isn’t as great and wonderful like liberals tend to put it. It wasn’t until recently when I remembered that one of my favorite animated films, Galaxy Express 999, had a wonderful example of this case.
Galaxy Express 999 is a 1979 Japanese animated film based on the manga of the same name drawn and written by Leiji Matsumoto. The series focuses on the adventures of a young boy named Tetsuro who rides on the intergalactic railway, Galaxy Express 999, as he hopes to get a free machine body, so he would be able to live for eternity. He is accompanied by Maetel, a young woman who looks exactly like his deceased mother, on his way to the Andromeda galaxy, where the “free machine bodies” are said to be available. Matsumoto's manga was adapted as a televised anime before Toei Animation decided to create the film adaptation while the series was still airing at the time. The film itself is an abridged retelling of both the anime and the original manga, and even though it has its changes, it still remains as a highly acclaimed film.
As Tetsuro’s adventures in the film begins, he and Maetel arrive on the planet Titan, where Maetel is captured by a group of bandits lead by a man named Antares, who expresses hatred for machines due to how one of them was responsible for the deaths of the parents of the orphans that he takes care of. Soon after, Tetsuro arrive on Pluto with Maetel, where it is revealed to be a graveyard for all of the humans who eventually got machine bodies, and he meets a machine woman named Shadow. She eventually takes Tetsuro to show him her body, and she begins to hold him to feel the warmth of a human body, since machine bodies are always cold, before Maetel tells her to let go of her, since it was her choice to get a machine body and that she knew the consequences of getting one. As the film goes on, Tetsuro understands that whenever a human gets a machine body, they end up losing several of the abilities that made them human, and he eventually decides not to get a machine body. However, when he reaches the 999’s final stop, he finds out that the humans who want machine bodies end up with a worst fate than losing their humanity.
As I watched the film in recent years, I found the “getting a machine body for free” and the loss of humanity after getting one reminded me of many liberals who call for the government to provide “free healthcare” or “free college,” and the what would happen if both would actually be provided by the government. As we’ve already seen with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), people realize that the government providing healthcare cost taxpayer money along with people under Obamacare not being able to go to the doctor of their choice. As with government provided college, everything would be paid by using taxpayer money instead of the students applying for student loans, scholarships, and grants. So, technically, “free healthcare” and “free college” are not actually free, and that there is a pretty hefty price for anything “free” that is provided by the government. Just like Tetsuro would’ve have to give up his humanity to pay for a “free machine body,” and giving up your humanity is a pretty hefty price altogether to pay for a cold, unfeeling machine body.
Along with the film eventually received two sequels, Adieu Galaxy Express 999 and Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy. All three films and, as of this post, the first 76 episodes of the original anime series (with the remaining episodes set for release this Fall) is available to purchase on Blu-ray from Discotek Media.