Step into the time machine because we're going to a place beyond color and reason. The year is 1963 and Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy is flying through the airwaves. The futuristic vision of 2003 was full of boy robots, fencing sphinges, and furries of course. Let's crank it up to 100,000 horsepower and take a look at one of the biggest pillars of anime.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Andy Heya Micchy! I know TWIA is usually about covering the recent past, but I was feeling a little forward thinking this week. What shows could we possibly see years if not decades down the line? To that end I think it's time to head to the far far future of... the year 2000.
Micchy In fact we're looking so far ahead that the color hasn't even gotten here! The internet in the year 2000 can only handle so much data, dangit.
Turns out 1960's 2000 is a lot grayer and weirder than the one we got, but it did have children dying in Teslas so chalk one up for Tezuka's power of prophecy.
I mean, Astro Boy takes under an episode to declare that robots have human rights too, which is a lot quicker to the point than that MLK Simulator game that David Cage put out a while back. Osamu Tezuka in 1963 was thinking way ahead of the curve there.
The experience of watching Astro Boy in this day and age is a strange cocktail of workhouse animation, basic story beats, and completely insane and disconnected plots. How much of this is due to Tezuka himself or what I assume is very liberal old timey translation is lost on me since all we've got to go on is the English dub, which has a very Rocky and Bullwinkle show vibe to it.
Well, considering the script (adaptive script and ADR direction?) is very prominently credited to an entirely different guy, I'd say it's fair to assume there was a fair bit fudged in translation. But as a time capsule of sorts into what TV anime was like in the very beginning, Astro Boy is pretty neat. Its historical significance alone doesn't make the episodic plots make any more sense, but it's still neat to have this available.
I honestly think the viewing experience would've been enhanced had Funi somehow included whatever old commercials aired with it, as this is such an interesting time capsule. It's easy to dismiss a lot of old shows as the good parts get included in future productions and the bad parts left behind, but Astro Boy really just goes places right out the gate. If one episode isn't vibing for you it's easy enough to hit next and see something completely different. I mean I sure didn't expect to go from Tezuka brand WORST DAD to "Welcome to Mars there's Aliens now" so quickly.
It sure doesn't take long for the show to go from "Astro Boy is a specimen of cutting-edge technology" to "we make girl robots by stamping boobs on them." It moves quick!
As far as the aliens go though, I'm mad that the first thing that pops into my head is the Juralian designs in Chargeman Ken!. Tezuka deserves better than to be compared to Chargeman Ken!, even if he did establish labor practices that contribute to today's overwork problem in the anime industry.
This is what happens when you let robots start building other robots! Or something! Look the fear of automation replacing human workers has some different context nowadays, but considering those labor practices it sure isn't surprising the end message of that episode is that robots are too stupid and dumb to do the work right, and people need to just be less lazy and work harder as demand increases.
And as bad as Chargeman Ken! is you've already invoked David Cage's Never Actually Been to Detroit, which is arguably worse and also did an inferior job on the robots stealing jobs thing than this 1963 cartoon.
Look, even relatively wackadoodle Tezuka is thematically consistent: people gotta have integrity, Astro Boy is a good boy, anthropomorphic animal ladies are hot.
Okay maybe not that last one but consider: fencing sphinx
Someone somewhere has this cel framed and it is their pride and joy.
We also get the first example of DeviantArt going too far with their fetishes as they try to combine them all into one OC.
Hey, you should totally trust Dr. I. M. Sinister to not inflict body horror on tiny morphin' robot children!
I love how that episode, in which Dr. Evil escapes prison, manipulates a child robot, holds a man at gunpoint, and then tries to pull a gem heist, ends with him being forgiven because his death robot causes an earthquake that ruined his plan. Cool crimes but nature almost killed you so even Stevens I guess, please don't do anything else bad in life Dr. Sin!
Well, episode 5 is apparently his last appearance in the whole show, so I suppose we can assume he set his life straight after that. Can't imagine his name helps too much with that whole "regaining trust" thing though!
I can only assume this is what led Go Nagai to name a man that looks like this Dr. Hell and no one questioned anything about his motives until he tried to take over the world. Thanks Tezuka!
To be entirely fair, Dr. Sinister is a product of the same English dub that gave us the large-nosed Dr. Packerdermus J. Elefun, so we can't quite pin this one on Tezuka.
1960s translators were very good at names. That said there happens to be a few uh, dated, choices in both the dub and visuals.
It's clearly a product of its time, and at least we can view and comment on it now rather than it being locked away in some kind of D-branded vault, possibly guarded by cute crab bots while the frozen body of their creator awaits his resurrection.
Oh for sure. Imagine not being able to witness Dial Boob Mom Robot in all its cheesy 1960s glory. This is history, like it or not.
Relics gonna relic. Like, Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture is kind of a jerk no matter if it's 1963 or 2004, and we as a people have to come to terms with that and try to do better here in the present.
Some things are timeless. See: Astro Boy's very nuanced take on gun violence
Astro Boy's stance is very well thought out. He does murder with his fists, so why would he need a gun? I do appreciate the very small attempts at social commentary done in the clunkiest ways. When you don't even have a continuing plot or storyline everything just kinda happens, and that part of that time manages to mix in some basic societal messages that were plenty relevant at the time and still are today is worth commending. Though someone needs to teach Astro about invasive species.
Look, he takes the time to explain that this plant might be a friend, but you should still eat your spinach. Astro Boy's trying his best to be a good influence on the kids out there. He might lose his head a little too often to be one though.
Robots are surprisingly flexible in this future.
You'd think there'd be some important components whenever any of them take a hit but they keep on trucking. Organic things though? Different story.
It's kinda surprising how few robots are destroyed on screen when the series opens with a dead child.
Should've picked up some Meiji Marble Chocolate smh, this wouldn't be a problem if they just listened to product placement.
It's no Pizza Hut but I'll look into it. And some of this
While we're on the subject of Tezuka's wild predictions for 2000, how about this bottle-shaped coke vending machine? I too want a vending machine that births soda bottles by hug.
A+ merchandising opportunity right there for the taking.
I gotta say that I'm glad I took the time to check out Astro Boy. While he is an iconic Tezuka character I'm more familiar with his other characters like Black Jack, Dororo, and Unico. That said, I do prefer where there's a little more structure than what the beginning of Astro gives. I know that later on there are some multi-episode plots but I don't think I have the attention span to make it that far in this day and age.
That's totally fair! As for me, I prefer my nonsensical children's sci-fi anime in smaller doses than 25 minutes, so I'll be sticking to Chargeman Ken! for a while yet. Still, I'm glad I finally got the chance to watch a bit of the OG Astro Boy. Not every TV anime can claim to be the first!
Right! Important to remember that every show you watch today owes to Astro being brought over. So the next time you're looking at janky anime tiddy remember to thank this special boy.
The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide is here! Check back every day for fresh takes on this season's new shows.
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