Anime Spotlight: Astro Boy

Astro Boy, which is known as Tetsuwan Atom in Japan, started out as a manga by Osamu Tezuka. Through his Mushi Production studio, Tezuka brought the character to life in a black and white anime series in 1963.

Astro Boy became the first successful anime series to air on Japanese television, and it was also the first series that featured regular characters and an ongoing plot.

NBC Enterprises acquired the North American rights to the series, which was dubbed into English and renamed Astro Boy; some of the characters’ names were also changed in the dub. Of the 193 episodes that were produced in Japan, only 104 were dubbed and aired in the United States.

The story of Astro Boy is set in the year 2000, in a world where androids and humans co-exist. The title character is an android built by Dr. Tenma, the head of the Ministry of Science; in the English dub, Dr. Tenma’s name was changed to Dr. Boynton. The doctor had built Astro Boy to replace his son, who was killed in an accident. At first, the doctor treated Astro Boy as if he were his real son, but over time, he realized that an android could never truly replace a human. After making this realization, Dr. Tenma sold Astro Boy to a cruel circus owner.

While performing in the circus, Astro is discovered by Professor Ochanomizo (who was renamed Dr. Packadermus J. Elefun in the English dub). The professor is the new head of the Ministry of Science, and he frees Astro from the circus. Astro lives with the professor, who treats the android with both love and respect. Later in the series, Astro is given android parents and an android sister.

Astro Boy has superior powers and skills, as well as the ability to experience human emotions. He becomes a crimefighter, and usually fights robot-hating humans, berserk robots, and alien invaders.

Additional Astro Boy Series

In 1980, a remake series for Tetsuwan Atom was produced in Japan; this series was titled Shin Tetsuwan Atom. It was brought over to other countries under the title of Astroboy. This series placed more emphasis on Astro’s robotic skills, and the storyline was somewhat darker in comparison to the 1960s series. This series is set in the year 2030, rather than in the year 2000. 52 episodes of the series were produced in Japan, but only 51 were aired in the United States.

In 2003, another Astro Boy remake series was produced. It was created to celebrate the birth date of Astro Boy, as well as the 40th anniversary of the 1963 series. This series combined the playfulness of the 1960s anime with the darker and more serious science fiction themes of the manga and the 1980s anime series. 50 episodes were produced for this series.

Astro Boy Theatrical Film

A computer-animated theatrical film for Astro Boy was released in October 2009. The film is set in Metro City, which is a city that floats above the planet. While some of the basic ideas from the original Astro Boy are present in this film, this telling felt like somebody was taking concepts from the Metropolis anime film and the Battle Angel Alita anime and inserted them into this story in order to make it different from the previous incarnations of Astro Boy.

I have the most familiarity with the original 1960s anime; I have seen 52 out of the 104 that were shown in North America. I have also seen the 2009 film, and well as bits and pieces of the 2003 series from when it aired on North American television.

While the 1960s anime series did have its faults, it’s probably the best incarnation of the story that I have seen. Perhaps if I had seen more of the 2003 series, my thoughts would be different on this point. What I remember of the 2003 series seemed to be pretty good, but I never saw enough of it to be able to say it was truly better. The original 1960s series has a charm to it that I think the 2009 film lacks. Perhaps if the film hadn’t tried so hard to differentiate itself from its source material, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more.

Astro Boy is highly regarded for being one of the earliest television anime programs. While the original series may not have the look that we have come to expect from anime, Astro Boy ultimately helped to open the door for the anime programs that followed behind it. And the fact that the series was remade not just once, but twice, proves just how important of an anime that Astro Boy really is.

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