Astro Boy: The Complete Series
October 13, 2005
This latest incarnation of Astro Boy (2003) is an update of the classic anime created by Tezuka Osamu that was one of the key shows that fueled a cult following the genre had in North America. All 50 episodes of this series (including 29 that never aired in the United States) are included in this box set. But be forewarned, this is NOT the original black and white series but a more contemporary update.
Dr. O’Shay activates Astro Boy by using all of the city’s power to give him a jump start. Unfortunately, the surge overloads the city’s power system which turns the robotic power-controller, Magnamite, into a potent threat. With his numerous appendages, he resembles a gigantic, mechanized octopus. Not only must Astro learn to master his powers (which include flying and super strength) but also figure out his past.
Most episodes pit Astro against some kind of bad robot, like Atlas, Astro’s equal, created by Dr. Temma (who also built Astro), or an “invisible robot” who commits numerous robberies. There’s also the Neon Express, a robotic super train that goes out of control. In his downtime, Astro faces prejudices from other, human, children who resent his robotic super powers. It’s a society where robots are subservient and so Astro is something of an anomaly – a robot with free will and this is addressed in “Atlas” and its follow-up, “Astro vs. Atlas,” where the evil robot attacks the city in an exercise of robotic free will. Astro steps up to show that he can use his free will for good. In “Robot Hunter,” Astro squares off against an android that hunts innocent robots and dismantles them for sale on the black market.
Each frame is filled with an amazing amount of detail for a TV show. Through Astro’s first tentative flying lesson, we get a good sense of the scale and density of this futuristic city. The animation harkens to a caricature-style with Astro’s big eyes (reminiscent of old Disney cartoons) while the scientists have big noses. It’s traditional elements of anime—blurring backgrounds to convey fast-moving action, giant robots and very detailed technology—that would seem cliché if it weren’t for the fact that Astro Boy pioneered a lot of these techniques that are so commonplace now.
While this incarnation is no substitute for the original, it is faithful enough to please old school fans. The quality of the animation is excellent and the stories well written. It is a sobering reminder at how timeless Astro Boy is, especially compared to the current crop of anime that populates Saturday morning TV which comes off as nothing more than a fleeting fad.