tek's rating:

Astro Boy, on Fuji TV
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Well, what can I say? I suppose I should start by saying this is probably the most classic anime ever, created by the god of manga himself, Osamu Tezuka. Without this show, there might not be any anime at all... or at least it would be different from what we know as anime today. Well, I also want to say that it isn't always completely clear to me whether the title should be written as "Astroboy" or "Astro Boy," but the latter does seem to be a bit more official, even if it's at least as common to see the former. I should also say that there have been a few different series over the decades, but this is the original. I think it must have been dubbed more than once, and the names of characters were probably never the same in the English dub as in the Japanese, but what's more confusing is I don't think they were always the same in different English dubs. What's more, it doesn't seem like everyone can always agree how to spell a given name, but I'm going to do my best to write them in my review as they are in the version I'm watching.

Well, I don't recall if I ever saw the series when I was a little kid, but I feel like I might've seen a bit of it. Then too, it's possible I saw some of the 1980 series, which was in color. Or not. In any event, I've been watching the original series (from the 1960s) on Adult Swim recently (2007-08). I feel a certain obligation to pay my respects to the series, as an anime fan, you know. Of course, in some eps the sound isn't very good, and even if I turn it up a bit too loud I can't necessarily make out everything that's said. But most of the time it seems okay. Also I need to note that there are less episodes dubbed into English than were made in Japan. And I suppose I've missed some eps, but then I also can't tell if they're necessarily being run in proper order.

But enough preamble. I suppose I should explain what the series is about. It's about a super-robot named Astro Boy ("Atom" in the original Japanese version). The first episode starts in the far-off futuristic year 2000 (okay, allow yourselves a little wry grin). Cars were all controlled by computers or whatever, so people didn't actually have to do any driving, themselves. (Hey, we're getting there, okay?) Anyway, one day a young boy named Astor Boynton (Tobio Tenma, in the Japanese) was riding alone in a car, and somehow there was an accident, and he died. His father, Dr. Boynton (or Dr. Tenma), was head of the Institute of Science, and was driven mad by his son's death. He forced everyone at the Institute to spend the next year building a robot (with 100,000 horsepower strength, the ability to fly, and various other sorts of powers), who looked just like Astor. He named the robot Astro Boy.

Years pass (though as a side note, it seems like future episodes are said to be set in the year 2000, so clearly someone wasn't paying attention to continuity), and Astro Boy learns all he can, but Dr. Boynton is upset that Astro isn't growing like a real boy would, so he doesn't love him anymore, and sells him to Cachatore, the ringmaster of a robot circus. This of course makes Astro Boy very sad, because he thought of Boynton as a father. Cachatore forces Astro Boy to fight other robots for his audiences' amusement, which appalls one audience member, Dr. Packadermus Elefun. (Ochanomizu in the Japanese; his English name is a play on the fact that he has a very large nose, and in fact I thought he was called Dr. Elephant. I suppose I should also say alot of character names in the English dub are kind of dumb jokes). He wants Cachatore to stop these fights, but the ringmaster refuses, since he has licenses for everything in his circus. Still, Astro Boy refuses to destroy the other robots after defeating them, which makes Cachatore mad, so he says he won't give Astro Boy any electricity. He's shut away with other robots who are no longer of use to Cachatore, who are all weak from lack of electricity, so Astro Boy shares his with them.

When there's a fire at the circus, Astro Boy and the other discarded robots save the lives of the audience, and Astro himself saves Cachatore, though he has very little energy left. When the ringmaster later wakes up in the hospital, he still refuses to free Astro Boy, but Dr. Elefun, the new head of the Institute of Science (having recently replaced Dr. Boynton) informs him that a new Robot Bill of Rights has been passed, so all robots are free. This greatly upsets Cachatore, who had paid alot of money for Astro Boy, but now the law is on Elefun's side, so Astro goes with the good doctor to live at the Institute.

Well, after that most episodes seem to be just about different adventures Astro Boy has, fighting evil robots or aliens or monsters or criminals or whatever, from week to week. But there's also a running theme of robot rights. I dunno, despite the fact that robots are now free, sometimes it doesn't quite seem like they are. There's still a fair amount of prejudice, I'd say, and if they're not slaves, at the very least they're second class citizens. So Astro Boy has to deal with that, and try to change the minds of some humans, as well as some other robots.

I should also mention some recurring characters. In one episode, Astro was upset about not having parents, so Dr. Elefun created a robotic mother and father for him. We see them from time to time, of course, but they don't seem that important to the story, as far as I can tell, other than making Astro Boy happy, I guess. At some point Elefun also created a sister for Astro, named Astro Girl (Uran, in the Japanese). There's also a private detective named Mr. Pompus, who sometimes gets involved in Astro Boy's adventures. And a police inspector named Gumshoe, who doesn't like or trust Astro Boy, or any robots, apparently. And the police chief, McClaw (though I always thought his name was McLaw), who is on Astro Boy's side. Though he seems to be kind of ineffectual and also kind of a stereotypical Irish-American cop, familiar in the era when the show was made (or perhaps a few decades earlier). Astro also occasionally hangs out with kids his age (or rather his apparent age), most notably a boy called "Specs," who seems to me like a bit of a bad influence on Astro Boy. There may be some other recurring characters I'm forgetting, but of course, the only really major character aside from Astro Boy himself is Dr. Elefun, who seems like much more of a father figure than the robotic father he created for Astro....

Anyway, that's all I can think to say about the plot, for now. Well, I've read that the series was somewhat revolutionary in that it had a continuing story, but personally it seems pretty episodic to me, so far. Maybe that's just because I'm more used to some shows today with much more serial storylines, but then again I must admit that there's certainly a more complex plot to each episode (even if it is self-contained) than other cartoons of its era. In fact the series is probably still deeper than many of today's American cartoons. But... I do keep waiting to see if eventually a truly serial storyline will develop in the show.

Meanwhile... as important as I believe the series to be, I can't say I necessarily enjoy it quite as much as I'd like to. I mean, I do enjoy it, but I can't really love it, y'know? Maybe I'd like it better in Japanese, because I'm not sure how faithful the English dub is. I don't have alot of faith in American companies of that era to be true to the original version. Nor do I feel they'd put much faith in the intelligence American audiences of the time who would be watching such things. Man, I could go on and on about the things I don't have faith in, but in the end, I don't even know if the original was that much better. Certainly I can say one of the things I mainly notice about the series is the visual gags, which of course require no translation. Alot of the time they can be pretty stupid or just silly, in my opinion, but then again alot of the time they can be really funny, and almost the best part of the show. Alot of the dialog doesn't seem that well written (at least in English), and... I dunno. Sigh. It can all seem too cartoony to me at times (especially the over-the-top voice acting and silly accents, at least of guest characters), and doesn't always make quite as much sense as it might. But even so, as I've said before, there are some deeper themes, some real drama and pathos, in the midst of all the sight gags, robot battles, silly names, and whatnot. Even if I'm watching out of a sense of duty, it's not really a duty I mind... and I must admit the show has been slowly growing on me. By the time I've seen much more of it, I may rate it higher.

There was, as I mentioned, a 1980 remake, but I can't do any sort of review of that. However, there was another remake in 2003, which I did see some of. There's also a CGI movie that came out in 2009.

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