Honestly, the story itself is quite mediocre to me, the ending being especially puzzling. After all of his travels and the death of his friend, the main character (Giovanni) literally goes home to give his mother some milk.
What I do find interesting is the religious connotations behind the story. The views presented seem somewhat opposing, though the author manages to fuse ideas from various 'religions' together and make them align.
The milky way is first discussed in a scientific setting, in Giovanni's classroom. Later, as he and his friend travel between stars IN the milky way, it becomes apparent that the train is some sort of transcendent vessel, bearing each passenger to their afterlife. I think it is more reminiscent of the Christian religion, the idea of a heaven in a lofty place, inaccessible to the general populace.
Text on the print itself reveals the designers' intent to convey that the story is indeed about Christianity for some part, because it reads: "Even though it be a cross that raiseth me. Nearer, my God, in Thee". The cross could refer both to the Crucifix, or the Northern Stars visited on the journey.
Regarding the prominent appearance of apples on the print, here's an extract from Anime Introspection: In "Christianity, apples symbolize knowledge and defilement. NotGR however, reclaims that image. Here, they represent people understanding their limitations as individuals and accepting community - and the necessity of making sacrifices for humanity’s greater good - as a way to make up for their flaws. NotGR stresses over and over again that people value humanity or some abstract conception of “life” over themselves, and that this path leads to profound spiritual contentment." This concept and the fact that the designers emphasised it on the design, impressed me more than anything. Even the tiny trees on the border print have little glitter apples on them.
Another part of the design that I like is the tickets. They're labelled with the names of some of the constellations which are stops for the rail train, and is a super cute touch.
The cranes are actually herons, and in the story, there is a man who catches them to make candy out of them! I don't find the story that great, but I do appreciate the ideas that Miyazawa conveys, and the ultimate question posed: "what is true happiness?"