I love Astro Boy. He’s so layered it’s insane. At first you just understand that he’s a great kid with a pure, adventurous, spirit. Did I say kid? I meant robot. But he’s got really great A.I. because he was build by Dr. Tenma. You know, to replace a son that he lost in a car accident. He’s also one of the greatest weapons the world has ever seen (can’t risk losing another son). So I’m not sure if he’s a human or a robot, and that’s a line that frustrates Dr. Tenma enough that he’s sold to a circus. It’s cool though, Dr. Ochanomizu (or Dr. Elephant to some) rescues Astro (or Atom to some) and his sixty-year history begins. Saving people, stopping global conflicts, and rescuing pet dogs – what most pleasant kids get up to.
All of that is explained in less than thirty pages in the first volume of Astro Boy. It doesn’t get into any of the genius that Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, imparted to his most popular creation. Nothing about his star charts, or how he gave up a career as a doctor to draw, or how much he actually drew or…..I think we’ve touched the tip of the iceberg on this idea: I’m basically bowled over any time that I think of Astro Boy and his creator.
There’s little about Astro Boy that won’t appeal to a child, but what’s really a testament to his character is how well his earnestness can speak to adults too. Astro has the moral compass to decide what’s right, but more importantly he has the power to fight for his ideals. It’s not the teen-angst that is the fondation for so many superhero comics (I’m looking at you Spider-Man). There’s no toils over whether or not action should be taken. It’s simple: something bad is happening, and it will be stopped. That’s what Astro tries for. What makes Astro Boy stay with the reader even more: he doesn’t always win. Sometimes even the most advanced robot in the world is not enough to stand before the strength of a driven thief, or a corrupted governement. At home, he’s not even good enough for his own father. The fact that Astro, and those around him, can suffer real loss makes his story so much more powerful than the typical children’s story.
I don’t want to go too much longer, but take a look at the art when you can. Tezuka does this meticulous job making believable technologies, and mapping out the circuits and metal work that makes up Astro, and on the next page have characters barking like dogs, or cartoons intentionally in the way of a character monologuing. Despite all of the planning that I know went into Astro, if Tezuka wants to say he’s broken? Tah-dah! A curley cue. What we’re made to accept by his cartoon shorthand never ceases to impress me.
If you want to learn more about Osamu Tezuka I recommend that you pick up The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.
I’ve also been reading Pluto. One word: WOW. Pluto is the eight volume manga by Naoki Urasawa. I was initally hesitant of it, because I found it so different than Tezuka’s work. After reading through the first volume, I knew that I needed more. The biggest difference in Urasawa and Tezuka is the art. Urasawa has a beautiful style, but it’s far more realistic. There’s a page in volume four where the impact of this registered with me physically. Astro lands. We had seen Astro walking and talking, but actually seeing him going from mid-air to ground, drawn so much as a young boy? I reeled as it dawned on me that this is what Astro looks like to every character that I’d ever seen interact with him in a Tezuka comic. They had been cartoons before, and I understood the emotions behind the stories, the humor, but I never saw Astro as a real human before. Urasawa gave that to me. I was impressed before, but it was that moment that sealed the series as one that I would treasure.
Despite Urasawa taking Astro Boy to a whole new world, the way that I’ll always prefer him is as a cartoon. There’s more trust and energy in that Astro. Pluto is definitely not a story that relies on humor, not the way Tezuka does. As much as I love it, it could never look that real and still have characters have their dogs drive cars.
And I don’t think it could keep a straight face if it had to introduce my favorite aspect of Astro’s design:
Yup. Machine guns in his butt. I have no idea what the tactical advantage to this is, but I will forever think it is the most awesome thing.