THE PLOT THUS FAR
In a future where science fiction is reality, Dr. Boynton creates a super-robot in his deceased son’s image. Named Astro Boy, the robot can swim oceans, leap over mountains and even fly into space – but he can’t replace the doctor’s son. Abandoned and disowned, soon Astro Boy is befriended by Dr. Packadermus J. Elefun of the Institute of Science, and together, they embark upon an amazing adventure. With super strength, rocket-powered flight, a selfless heart and a kind demeanor, Astro Boy fights a never-ending crusade against the forces of evil!
WHAT WE THOUGHT
Astro Boy is the first Japanese anime series, being created in 1963. It was also the first anime I was exposed to, again in 1963. Needless to say, I remember it vividly and was ecstatic to discover some of the series was out on DVD. Many of the tropes one finds in the current anime are present here. In fact, one episode known as “The Silver Comet” or “The Vehicle White Planet”, may well be the precursor to Speed Racer.
The character of Astro Boy began life as a comic book (manga) in Japan, written and drawn by master cartoonist Osamu Tezuka. Debuting in 1951, his actual name was Tetsuwan Atom, or Mighty Atom, and he was initially a supporting character in a Shonen boys magazine story called Atom Tashai (Ambassador Atom, or Captain Atom as it has sometimes been called). Tezuka was a medical student at the time, but eventually his career as a cartoonist took precedence and he abandoned his medical career (after receiving his degree) and produced Mighty Atom comic strip stories for eighteen years.
The story of Mighty Atom has become a modern myth in Japan. Dr. Tenma, the director of the Ministry Of Science, suffers the loss of his son Tobio in a traffic accident. The brilliant man goes mad, and dedicates the Ministrys resources to building him a new son. The robot is born on April 7, 2003. Tenma, not being quite right in the head, comes to see the new robot as human; but after some time he comes to realize that the robot is not growing. His madness lifts just enough for him to see the bitter truth, and he becomes angry and sells the construct to a robot circus. Professor Ochanomizu, who has taken over at the Ministry from the departed Tenma, spots the robot there. The professor brings the robot back to the Ministry and becomes his guardian. From then on, Mighty Atom becomes a hero for peace in Japan, aided by his tremendous 100,000 horsepower strength, rocket-powered flight, and other abilities. Eventually, his supporting cast grows to include a robotic family, classmates from a local elementary school, their teacher Mr. Mustachio, and assorted friends and foes. Mighty Atoms futuristic world is inhabited by many other robots, and the stories often acknowledge their difficulty in co-existing with humans in a dignified way.
With Mighty Atom such a lasting success, it was a natural property to bring to television. Tezuka himself was highly involved in the creation of the TV show, one of the very first Japanese cartoon shows (often it is said to be the very first, but apparently there were others). It was a production of Tezukas own Mushi Productions. It aired Sundays at 5:30, and became a huge success in Japan over its 193 episodes. It found acceptance in America as well, when producer Fred Ladd adapted the show for an American audience. New scripts and English dubbing were used for the existing animation of many but not all of the Japanese shows, eventually resulting in 104 English language episodes of the newly christened Astro Boy. The first season of 52 episodes debuted in the U.S. in September 1963, just eight months after first being shown in Japan. Oddly, the show was syndicated, and never did appear on the NBC network despite being handled by NBC Enterprises. Despite this, NBC was thrilled so much with the show that they advanced monies to Tezuka for the second batch of 52 episodes, thereby allowing him to use better animation for the following season. (NBC largely did so because Mushi was doing them for Japanese television anyways, and NBC did not want the new batch of shows to be sold to an American competitor.) That second season, however, would be the last one that NBC would be involved with. They were more than satisfied with 104 episodes, and did not care for the increasingly violent and yet cerebral stories. Mighty Atom would continue in Japan, but Astro Boy would only get reruns in the U.S.
The show has a number of strengths, including the mixture of characters. Dr. Elefun is as noble and dedicated as you could imagine, but also quite funny, especially as he tries to help Astro Boy find a balance between his gentle heart and his need to use his atomic powers to defend the downtrodden. The overall message of the show of course is that those with power have a responsibility to protect the weak, a message that our selfish times could stand to internalize. Of course, we also see that violence is usually the called-for action in the face of evil.
The new show celebrated the 40th anniversary of Tezukas original ASTRO BOY anime and premiered in Japan on the characters fictional birthday of April 7, 2003 with state-of-the-art animation and visuals that kept the same classic style as the original Astro Boy manga and anime. The series debuted in America on the Kids WB Network and Toonami in 2004.
There is a fine retro appeal about this new take on Astro Boy that harks way back to its sixties roots and gave us in 2003 an animated series that looks like nothing else of recent years. While animators have always been influenced by Tezuka Osamus creation there have been few who have tried to emulate his style exactly and that is what makes Astro Boy a fresh looking series to this day. If we look at Astro he hasnt changed a great deal; hes still the same youthful bot, with pointy hair, big boots and nothing but steel underpants for clothing. His diminutive size makes him an underdog, yet we see this means nothing which in turn makes him a fine example of proving the point that size doesnt matter; that you can face up to bigger challenges and succeed, though Astro does have a few tricks up his sleeve. And this brings us to some slight changes in Astros character.
The DVD comes with the third block of ten episodes of the series’ classic original run. The original audio dubs into English are there, sorry fans of the original Japanese. But, you get A/V Quality that looks like it has finally been restored. Sadly, there are no other special features. I’d recommend a rental.
RELEASE DATE: 09/15/09