Vital Stats:Title: Astro Boy
Japanese Title: 鉄腕アトム
JP Publisher: Kobunsha/ Kodansha
Licensor: Dark Horse
Mangaka: Osamu Tezuka
The StoryA brilliant scientist creates a superb robot to replace his son, who died in a car crash. For some reason, he gifts his son with abilities like flying and shooting machine guns out his ass. Then he realizes that a robot can't grow up, and sells the robot off to a vendor. Exactly what happened to the robot during that time frame is unknown, but some time later a genius scientist who also happens to be the head of Japan's Ministry of Science. Professor Ochanomizu "adopts" Astro Boy, who attends school like a normal human, and saves the world from robots and vicious humans, like abormal robots.
The release I'm reviewing here is Dark Horse's copy of volumes 1 and 2 of a later release of the Astro Boy manga, I believe by Kodansha. This collection features Astro Boy in its entirety, 23 volumes (22 books in English, since the first two were released as one volume), and at least in this volume, each of the new stories (not each chapter, but each unique arc) also features a Tezuka-drawn "introduction," starring Tezuka himself. Some of these can be mildly disconcerting as it's hard to tell when they end and the story begins (since they sometimes actually take place theoretically right before the story starts), but it's charming and insightful enough to be well worth any tiny difficulty there.
As for the content itself...this is a manga that was last drawn over 40 years ago, and started 57 years ago, and it was aimed at kids even then. So these are primarily tales of good versus not-good, if not entirely evil-- I was impressed at how well Tezuka was able to incorporate motivations for a couple of those not-good characters, though others are somewhat more of the black-hat twirling-moustache type). They are truly "sophisticated," I think, only in the context of its era and its target demographic.
This particular volume, however, is clearly aimed not at children but at manga afficionados, and anyone who is interested in the history of manga and a classic title should most assuredly pick up at least this book, if not the entirety of the series. If you're curious about the story entirely of its own merit, there's definitely plenty of enjoyment to be had: even a jaded reader like myself finds some joy in Tezuka's fourth-wall-breaking asides and notes (like a large robot with the words "too big to draw" on it), and it's particularly fascinating to read this volume after having read the first few of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, a modern, darker take on the same themes of human and robot living amongst one another.
However, it is still a kids' series, so if you're looking for something darker or deeper, you'll probably feel mildly unsatisfied with Astro Boy on its surface. (Those with a more scholastic bent will have a lot of fun picking apart aspects of the manga that have influenced current artists, as well as deeper meanings behind Tezuka's stories, characters, and words. And I would love to read the resulting essays!)
I would actually like to see a release of Astro Boy that was more aimed at kids, though. I still think that it compares favorably to a lot of kids' stuff coming out these days.
IF, THENIf you like these manga, you might like Astro Boy.
- Black Jack
- Speed Racer
Release Info:Released: Sept. 17, 2008
Length: 424 pages
- Foreword by Frederik L. Schodt
- Tezuka's own interspersed intros to the stories
- A Tezuka biography