This week with the release of the DVD “Astro Boy: Ultra Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1,” Geeks of Doom looks at the oh-so-cute robot in a three-part series.
Let me set the scene (cue Theramin music — no wait, this is not supposed to be scary. Cue something more along the lines of Leftfield or perhaps some early Orb track). As is the case, some beret-wearing, bespectacled Japanese guy decided to draw some pictures and scribble some comic in a desperate bid to convince the world that robots are the way of the future. He mused that man and machine could co-exist in a wondrous, clean and fresh mega-tropolis of perfect functioning symmetry. This was in like…1952? The guy was Osamu Tezuka; quoted once as saying, “Father-san, being a doctor is friggin boring. Hai! I’m gunna draw pictures of robots and shit instead, and spawn a whole industry and genre. Hai!” Probably. Tezuka is the alleged god-king of Manga — and his mammoth contributions to the world of animation are largely available only in Japanese. To see his world, go to www.tezuka.co.jp, and trust me, it is a whole world. He has produced so much material that it?s mind blowing. Kimba the White Lion ring a bell? Metropolis?
But to the business at hand…Astro Boy, or if you want to be pedantic about it, “Tetsuwan Atomu,” which roughly translates to “Mighty Atom.” One of Osamu’s first comic strips, Astro Boy was a black-and-white TV series from 1963 to 1966 in Japan. It was the cartoon that first adopted the style that later became known as anime. Oh yeah, you heard it here (as if you didn’t know)! A full color version was produced in 1983, and this was translated into English. Then in 2003, a considerable amount of animators and producers and so on got together to “polish” Astro Boy for the 21st century. There is rumored to be a movie coming out in 2005 — wait, 2005 is over! Damn it, Google lied to me again.
The main theme in all three of the televised iterations of our beloved Astro Boy keep loosely to Osamu’s original story. Astro was created by the genius robot developer Dr. Tenma / Boyton / Balfus (the names change depending on which version you’re watching). The good doctor was so utterly lost by the death of his son, Tobio / Astor Boynton III / Toby, that he devoted his life to building a brilliant robot capable of human emotion — oh, and having shit loads of cool space gadgets and lasers and rockets and stuff, like most kids these days! His ever-failing experiments turned him into a maniac, and he was banished from the Ministry of Science after he destroyed everything to do with the experiment in a fit of rage — which might have had something to do with losing his son! That sort of stuff can mess a guy up. After this event, Professor Ochanomizu / Dr. Elefun / Dr. Oshay salvaged Astro from the wreckage (in one version) or saved him from the clutches of an evil robot circus overlord (in another version). Either way, Astro was blessed with being the most powerful robot ever. He was later presented with a sister robot and parent robots to help him integrate with humans. His irritating spoiled brat of a sister, Astro Girl / Uran / Zoran, played the odd pivotal role in some of the more morally laden episodes.
Imagine you are a huge, powerful world beater of a scary robot, with a name like Pluto or Atlas. Nothing could possibly be more demorilizing than being destroyed by an innocent, naive little boy with such vomitous manners, nicities and social graces. It’s enough to make you want to crush him to death at once. AAAAARGH! Despite Astro’s annoyingly childish and sweet facade, his ability to stop speeding trains, falling space stations, and science labs, and to annihilate massive robots — most of which were created with the express goal of pummeling Astro into pieces — is very endearing. His ability to save planets, creatures, humans, other robots, political figures, refugee robot engineers and so forth is very cute. Plus, he can shoot enormously powerful laser beams from his hips, hands, eyeballs, and fingers and illuminate huge cavernous wastes with powerful lights from his eyes. He has hearing that is enhanced a thousand times, a heart that can sense criminal activity within humans, and strength equivalent to 100,000 horsepower! That is 1,250,000 light bulbs in his chest!