by Zac Bertschy,

Astro Boy [2003]

Astro Boy [2003]
The discarded project of a sinister scientist, little Tetsuwan Atom never asked for the powers he received; but thanks to the genius of Dr. Ochanomizu, he lives. Dr. Ochanomizu, intent on creating the world's first thinking and feeling robot boy, powers up little Atom and goes about trying to teach him the basic lessons of life. Nothing's ever that simple, though, and Atom gets in to some serious trouble, eventually earning the ire of his fellow citizens. When Metro City's power generator, the GloWorm, runs berserk, only Atom can save the town. Will Atom gain the trust and respect of his public? Is Dr. Ochanomizu's experiment a success?
Sony claims that they're spending more than three times the normal amount on Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom. After seeing the first episode, there's no way anyone can argue with that statement. Astro Boy is, far and away, the most beautiful, gorgeously animated thing to ever appear on Japanese television. It is not an exaggeration to say that the animation in this series rivals that of most big-budget anime films; the quality is that good. No expense was spared, no corners were cut. You won't see someone move behind something before they start talking. There are no still head shots with flapping lips. They claim there's CG assistance here, but I certainly can't tell; there's no CG obviousness anywhere in a single frame of this show. This must be an entirely new technique, and the results are astounding. Hands down, Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom is the highest quality anime series I've ever seen.

But what about the story? Is Osamu Tezuka's original vision intact? Tezuka was a moralist, a man of high ethical character. His comics bled with subtext and meaning, and his themes were usually the same. Tezuka strove for peace between all races, and non-violent solutions to violent problems. Thankfully, this new Astro Boy series retains every bit of Tezuka's pacifist spirit. The creators of the series refused to let foreign hands dictate how little Atom would solve his weekly problems, and it's a good thing, too; any slight misunderstanding of this character would have resulted in a lame Megaman-esque pile of shounen action junk. Thankfully, this is not the case. Atom is a pacifist and does not fight unless it's absolutely necessary. He tries his hardest to solve his problems without violence, instead attempting to gain an understanding of the pain his foe is dealing with. In the first episode, his solution to the Gloworm's problem is to become a martyr and absorb the excess energy that's causing the Gloworm pain. The Gloworm has destroyed a large chunk of the city in a rage, but Astro Boy, ever the forgiving hero, opts for understanding and compassion. It's obvious how Tezuka felt about violence, and his heroes always took the high road when it came to fighting; it's refreshing and uplifting to see that spirit remain intact in today's cynical, violence-obsessed media landscape.

The philosophical core of Tezuka's original work is also intact. The first episode raises many questions about man's relationship to technology, and it seems especially poignant and valid in today's society. Atom is compassionate and good, but his peers still largely reject him. Dr. Ochanomizu struggles with his scientific partners, who don't understand the purpose of a robot that can feel and care. While this all sounds a little drippy, it's presented in an elegant manner that doesn't come across as being didactic or preachy. Tezuka's first goal was to entertain, and Astro Boy does that with amazing flair. Despite being largely pacifist in tone, there's still a lot of exciting action in the series. The original from the 1960s was considered fairly violent and dark for a children's show simply because it explored themes that no other children's show did (and in order to properly portray those themes, some violence was necessary.) It's amazing, then, that this new Astro Boy series comes along a full forty years later and does the same thing, once again bringing something fresh and original to the television landscape and raising difficult questions that no other children's program does. When this series hits the airwaves in the fall of this year on Kids WB, expect it to be much more popular with adults than with children. The kids will love the action, but the adults will really be impressed by the complexity of the story and the deep, philosophical underlying themes.

In all, Sony has done an admirable job resurrecting everyone's favorite robot boy. The first episode is executed flawlessly and the show should be a resounding success when it does finally arrive on American shores. Modern anime fans may find Tezuka's character designs off-putting; his decidedly retro style might not find a huge audience among today's huge-breasts-big-pecs-crazy-hair-laser-sword-loving crowd, but for those with more discerning tastes, Tezuka has always fit the bill when something with a little less flash and a little more soul is in order. Astro Boy is beautifully animated, endlessly engaging and wonderfully challenging, and should be a hit with audiences of all ages this fall.
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A+

+ Jaw-dropping animation, wonderful scriptwriting. Perfection.
Nothing. It's perfect.

Kazuya Konaka
Keiichiro Mochizuki
Keiichi Hasegawa
Hirotoshi Kobayashi
Chiaki Konaka
Chiaki J. Konaka
Kenji Konuta
Sadayuki Murai
Ai Ota
Keiichiro Mochizuki
Tomomi Mochizuki
Music: Takashi Yoshimatsu
Original creator: Osamu Tezuka
Character Design: Shinji Seya
Art Director: Hiroshi Katō
Chief Animation Director: Shinji Seya
Animation Director: Shinji Seya
Mechanical design:
Shinji Aramaki
Takeshi Takakura
Sound Director: Masafumi Zanma
Director of Photography:
Hajime Noguchi
Hirokata Takahashi
Executive producer:
Haruyuki Machida
Takayuki Matsutani
Ryuuichi Mori
Producer: Tsuneyuki Morishima

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Astro Boy (TV 3/2003)

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