From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Astro Boy

A little while ago a teaser trailer was released for Astro Boy, a 3D CG-animated theatrical film from Imagi Animation Studios (who also created the latest TMNT movie). The film has a star-studded cast, including Freddie Highmore as Astro, Nicholas Cage as his creator, Dr. Tenma, and Kristin Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane, and others. The film is scheduled for release next year, when presumably, you’ll believe a boy can fly (and shoot rockets from his shiny metal ass).

This isn’t the first theatrical outing for Astro Boy, nor is it the first time he’s been animated. To back up for a moment, Astro Boy was a Japanese comic, or manga, created by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), who many consider the father of anime, essentially the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. The original manga serial of Tetsuwan Atom (“The Mighty Atom”) ran from 1952 to 1968, and spawned a highly popular anime series in 1963. This is most notable because it was not only the first anime, but it was the first anime to hit the US shores, as Astro Boy; NBC ran 104 of the 193-produced black-and-white episodes, which have been released by The Right Stuf on DVD. Here’s a look at the opening of this historic and influential animation:

Another TV series ran in 1980, which was also based on Tezuka’s manga and treated the material a bit more seriously. In color this time, only 52 episodes were produced, and 51 aired in the US. This set is also available on DVD in the US.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Astro Boy, a new TV series was produced by Tezuka’s own production company and adapted by Sony Pictures for broadcast in the US on the WB and the Cartoon Network. Though updated for modern audiences with sophisticated animation and storytelling, the show did not perform well in the US. It still serves as an excellent introduction to the story (as does the translated manga, published by Dark Horse) and is available on DVD. All the dubbed episodes are also on Hulu, where you can check them out for free, beginning with the first full episode, “Power Up!”.

And for purists, the original Japanese episode, fan subtitled in English, which IMHO is preferable anyway):

Astro Boy is a big deal in Japan, where Niiza City in Saitama prefecture actually registered him as a resident on April 7th, 2003, his fictional date of birth. Whether he can find a new audience in the US, or please his existing fans in his new CG form remains to be seen (I’d say, probably not), there’s no doubt that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the boy wonder.

Incidentally, if these character designs look familiar, you may have seen them before. Tezuka often recycled them throughout his many manga series, and many of these characters were used in the 2001 anime film Metropolis, based on his 1949 manga of the same name, also translated by Dark Horse Comics.

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