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Astro Boy: Volume 1

Score: 88%
Rating: Not Rated
Publisher: Sony Pictures Home

Region: 1
Media: DVD/1
Running Time: 202 Mins.
Genre: Anime/Action/Family
Audio: English, Portuguese, Spanish


  • Episodes
    • Power Up!
    • Rocket Ball
    • Atlas
    • Astro vs. Atlas
    • Destination Deimos
    • Into Thin Air
    • Rainbow Canyon
    • Neon Express
    • Franken
    • The Venus Robots

There is great potential for confusion with fans of Osamu Tezuka's manga work and the original Astro Boy anime series from the '60s. This release from Sony Pictures is NOT a collection of the original '60s material, but a long-running series redone for audiences in the '80s. We say "long-running" in the sense that there were plenty of episodes, but US audiences weren't given a fair chance to experience the series when it ran, due to some tight constraints on when and where it was shown. Let's face it: Anime now enjoys a place in the media spotlight that is very different than 20 years ago. A series like this appearing on our shores today is a major event, but only because audiences are more enlightened.

The Tezuka "look" is distinctive, and fans will immediately recognize how this series was an homage to the master, with some creative liberties taken. The comparison to today's anime style will be obvious, and Astro Boy holds up reasonably well. It doesn't have the artistic, hand-drawn style of Miyazaki, but it also doesn't stress computer animation and the elaborate technical drawing present in so many modern series. Probably this falls closer to Miyazaki on the art/science curve of animation style, but the storyline and characters are what really drive Astro Boy. The original manga and anime series were groundbreaking in many ways, not least for introducing and popularizing new styles of visual storytelling. Any fan of anime and manga will find the beginnings of a beautiful friendship in Astro Boy: Volume 1.

Astro Boy: Volume 1 is the first of a five-part series, showcasing how Astro Boy arrived through 10 short (30-minute) episodes. Fans of Saturday-morning fare will immediately notice that there is a higher quality of story being spun here. Things aren't black-and-white in the futuristic world where the story takes place; robots are everywhere, but only as servants to people. The echoes of Asimov, and other writers that have pondered the moral implications of robots becoming quasi-human, can be felt everywhere in the early episodes. What right does Astro Boy: Volume 1 have to even exist? Is the Professor to be lauded as a visionary for creating the world's most advanced robot, or should he be pilloried and run out of town? Should a robot that looks like a human and has feelings give us hope for the future, or (think of the human reaction to Cylons in Battlestar Galactica) prompt disdain and revulsion?

Not all these themes are delved into right away. The first 10 episodes are mostly setting up the main characters. We meet Astro Boy and the Professor, along with a dark, mysterious stranger (there's always one!) that seems to have a stake in the super-robot's creation. Perhaps the staging of these episodes is intended to be true to the original vision for Astro Boy, but there are gaps in the story right away that may have viewers scratching their heads. Rest assured that future episodes will go into more depth on the backstory of Astro Boy. For now, just enjoy the cast of bad guys that we can expect to make things difficult for Astro Boy throughout the series. Dr. Tenma as the brooding and secretive figure is exposed in the episode "Rocket Ball", where Astro Boy also gets to demonstrate his considerable strength and ingenuity. Skunk, another pivotal character in the series, is also introduced during the episode "Into Thin Air," along with what appears to be another super-powered robot.

Robot-to-robot and robot-to-human interactions are what keep things really interesting during these early episodes. Humans question each other's motivation and often mistreat the robots that serve them. Robots are pure in their intention, but can be manipulated by humans with serious consequences. The message is very simple: Be careful when you start tinkering with science. This links directly back to Japanese sentiments in the post-WWII period, as the public absorbed the enormity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with general atrocities of the war. Astro Boy in this light is not all that different from the inspiration for Godzilla, a figment of apocalyptic imagination that envisions the consequences of wielding great scientific power. The difference is that Astro Boy is Godzilla's alter ego, a ray of hope against a skeptical and manipulative force.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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