The world surrounding Astro Boy is absolutely torn to shreds in the last five episodes beginning with "Night Before the Revolution." Ideas of robot equality and the awful treatment of robots by certain groups of humans combine and boil over, with the Blue Knight making another appearance. If the Blue Knight represents robot animosity toward humanity, Tenma is the worst face of humanity against robots. Tenma, we come to find out, is torn between his love and hatred for everything Astro represents. On one hand, Astro presents the image of Tenma's beloved son, lost in an accident. On the other, Astro shows the heights to which robots can rise when they are empowered with emotion, creating hostility and resentment on the part of humans. Tenma isn't immune to this latter emotion, and is further weighed down by feelings of inadequacy as a father for how he handled Astro's "real boy" counterpart, Tobio.
This stuff is likely to go right over the heads of younger viewers, so even Astro Boy: Volume 5 includes a few one-off episodes like "Avalanche" and "Into the Dragon's Lair." Not that young children won't understand the ideas of robots wanting to be free, but they don't have the historical and cultural context adults do, such as understanding real-world horrors of slavery and bigotry. This volume includes a short "Making Of" feature that talks about how difficult it was for Japanese animators to work with an American liaison during the creation of this series. Content that felt very true to the legacy of Astro Boy and the approach taken for Japanese audiences wasn't always right for the US, but the sense at the time was that a nice compromise had been reached. Watching this series of 10 episodes proves that to be true, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Astro Boy collected as it is here makes for a great historical document; the animation and production style is somewhat dated, but not so much that kids will feel like they've traveled back in time. Astro Boy is incredibly compelling, just the kind of principled crusader on which kids love to project themselves. Parents won't find much objectionable material here, unless you count strong action and a few spooky moments. The subtext to the series will be lost on most kids, but makes adult viewing that much more enjoyable. If you're strictly an otaku, you'll know Tezuka's work and may have even caught a few of these episodes previously, but the complete collection is a first. We'd have wished for more special features and better sequencing of the episodes, but nitpicking aside, this is a true classic that US audiences have a chance to catch in its entirety for the first time in two decades. As Astro himself would say, "Let's Rocket!"