Astro Boy is easily Osamu Tezuka’s most popular work. Why shouldn’t it be? It was the first anime to tell an overarching continuous story and it was the first anime brought over to America back in the 60s! It was recently made into an American CG feature film for crying out loud!
But the manga is where it all started. It was originally serialized from 1952 – 1968 and thanks to Dark Horse Manga it was brought to America in 2002. The first volume is actually volumes 1 & 2 combined into one book. It begins with a “new” origin story written by Tezuka in 1975. These collections do not follow the original serialization but rather what Tezuka wanted released when Kodansha collected the volumes. The other stories range from long arcs to quick one-offs, but none should be ignored.
I remember watching Astro Boy every once in awhile on TV and being thrown off by the primitive, yet ground-breaking, animation. It had the”classic” American dub that always sounded so weird, see Speed Racer, and not truly enjoying it. Well I am sure that is because I never did a marathon of the series! These stories are clearly made for children but not in the way American cartoons are made for children. These stories work extremely well with the manga medium and Tezuka shows that he fully understands how to progress a story without becoming long winded and boring.
Like all of Tezuka’s works there are underlying themes that seem to speak better than say…G.I. Joe’s PSAs, and never does he become preachy. By using the medium of manga and Disney styled characters, Tezuka is able to convey socially conscious themes in a manner that children can understand and learn from. Most of the stories in this volume also include “new” drawings of Tezuka himself introducing the story and talking a little bit about the theme or just some fun trivia. These pages seem very real as Tezuka is expressing his personal thoughts himself and not through a fictional story.
Don’t let all this talk about being made for children stop you adults out there from reading Astro Boy. It is not dumbed down nor is it boring and stupid. It is quite intelligent and involving. Some people, like Dan, might be put off by the cartoony style of the characters but that is what makes Astro Boy work. Tezuka has varied exaggerated expressions that make the comedy and emphasis so enjoyable, and honestly if it was “realistically” drawn it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Tezuka litters these stories with great comedic timing that don’t distract from the story but rather make it much more fun and really got me involved in the story. I couldn’t stop turning the pages not because I was hung on suspense or mystery but because I was having fun. Not only was I having fun but the allegories within made me think and realize how universal and timeless these themes are.
If you have any interest in anime or manga you owe it to yourself, not just for historical reasons, to read Tezuka and especially Astro Boy to see how fun and enchanting this medium can be.
Pick your copy today and enjoy Astro Boy!