Astro Boy is a classic shōnen manga authored by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), serialized in comics magazine Shōnenin 1952-1968. Its huge success led to an anime adaption in the 1960s, followed by TV series, movies and video game adaptations. It also spanned remakes such as The Original Astro Boy by Ken Steacy et al., which was serialized in 1987-1989 in an American magazine NOW Comics, and Naoki Urasawa’s famous series Pluto, published in seinen magazine Big Comic Original in 2003-2009.

After losing his son Tobio in a tragic car accident, Dr. Tenma designs a boy-robot in a desperate attempt to recreate his lost child with an immortal body. At first this manages to compensate for his loss, but upon seeing that the artificial boy will never grow and realizing the futility of his endeavour, Dr. Tenma mercilessly sells his creation to a travelling circus. For some time the little robot performs there under the name Atom (“Astro” in English version), but soon he is rescued by kindly professor Ochanomizu, who realizes his potential and takes charge of his upbringing: Atom is upgraded, learns to fly and gains many other superpowers, which the uses to protect the weak and – in accordance with Tezuka’s anti-war, pacifistic stance – perform good deeds in the name of peace.At the same time he attends school, makes friends and experiences usual human emotions, like any other normal boy.

Osamu Tezuka first introduced the idea of an android hero in 1951, when he drew a sci-fi series Ambassador Atom (Atomutaishi, 1951-1952) for comics magazine Shōnen. At that time, the artificial boy was only a minor character, but as he proved to be popular among readers, Tezuka made him the hero in a comic he named “TetsuwanAtomu” (ie. “Mighty Atom”), and surrounded him with various supporting human and robot characters. The series quickly became a great hit, not only due to Tezuka’s proficiency in drawing and engaging storytelling, which did not shy away from heavy topics as death and abandonment (a very raw theme for young readers growing up in the early post-war era), but also due to its protagonist’s likeable attitude of “a 21st-century reverse Pinocchio”. (Schodt 1996, 245) The story soon became the first of the many manga stories made into anime in Tezuka’s own animation studio Mushi Production, and one of the very first anime series overall.  It was also the first serialized Japanese anime which – under the westernized title Astro Boy – made a foray into US television and successfully ran on NBC in 1963-1965, despite being rather heavily censored due to the supposed violence and other elements, which were deemed offensive at that time. (Schodt 2007, 86) The character of Atom became immensely famous in Japan up to the point of being awarded a citizenship in Niiza city in Saitama prefecture. He also became a mascot for many institutions and events:  in 2007 he was chosen as an official Japanese envoy for overseas safety, and he is to be a mascot for the Japanese rugby team in Rugby World Cup 2015.

— Anna Krivankova

See also: Osamu Tezuka

Further Reading

  • Tezuka, Osamu, and Frederik L. Schodt. Astro Boy. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2002.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996.
  • Schodt, Frederik L. The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/anime Revolution. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2007.