Astro Boy (1980) 40th Anniversary

It’s the 40th Anniversary of Astro’s colour version this year!

A fact which makes me realise that this particular show and I are getting on a bit (I’m pretty close to the same age now :D). Of course, we all know that Osamu Tezuka first had Mighty Atom debut back in the early 1950s, so the character is really getting on, but he’s also one that has remained beloved.

After the 1980s remake, there was the 2003 TV series and then a 2009 CGI feature film, and a few even more recent spin-off/versions of the hero. From memory, there’s also French production around 2019, but I can’t remember the details.

And related, there’s a still-forthcoming adaption of Pluto which I’m excited about – but basically, all this is me trying to say that I’m happy to see Astro is still someone folks want to see in action.

Astro Boy was the first anime I saw, but of course I didn’t know it was ‘anime’ then. I would have been watching re-runs in the late 1980s and I still remember that it seemed very different from other animated shows. It struck me as far ‘sadder’ actually – more willing to take the gloves off for difficult moments.

It also had everything I was looking for as a kid; a fantastically different future world, robots, battles, heaps of variety in character design, bold voice acting and even a bit of humour.

Perhaps more importantly, it had things I didn’t quite understand at the time – characters didn’t always act in ways that I grasped at first, but made me want to keep watching, to find out why they made the choices they did.

But it had something else too…

Atlas!

As much as I was definitely onboard with Astro saving the day, Atlas was compelling in a different way.

He had such a commanding voice to my young ears, he was powerful, and had a killer design and more, he was steeped in mystery. Atlas also stood out to me because he was connected to an ongoing narrative (to some extent), which immediately made him more memorable compared to other characters, since Astro is quite an episodic series.

But I think the most important thing about Atlas was that he was probably the first example I’d seen of a redemption arc – but I won’t spoil things here. Instead, I’ll just say that for one of the antagonists, he is portrayed sympathetically enough at times, so that as a kid (and probably when I re-watch the series) I felt for him.

Years later, I found out that Atlas had a fairly different role in the 1950s and 1960s and so that’s part of why I’ve only seen few of those episodes from the black and white series. I also discovered (when I received a very cool tin/boxed set for one birthday or another) that Australian broadcast had skipped over the true opening – and thus I was missing some key information about Atlas.

It’s been maybe ten years since I last watched all the 1980s Astro episodes but I did use the The Wreck Of The Titan in class one year, which is probably a fair example of what I think of when I consider Astro to be a kids show that doesn’t shy away from the sad moments.

So for the 40th anniversary of the colour series I think I might do a few more posts on Astro Boy over the next few months!

And as a final note (something I’ll probably come back to in another post) – the 1980s version has a great jazz fusion OST (well, not all tracks are such).

But during the ‘Astro vs Atlas’ battle theme, which I’ll try include below, I think it’s clear that the Seatbelts gave a nod to this piece in their Cowboy Bebop opener Tank!

Metropolis (Metoroporisu)

Metropolis (Metoroporisu) 2001

Metropolis was fascinating and I know I’ll watch it again – mostly for the visuals and direction rather than the story perhaps (which is kinda conventional but not boring by any stretch).

But setting that aside for a moment, another aspect that I found really interesting was the many links to one of my all-time favs: Astro Boy.

Now, obviously I’m writing about a 2001 adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga – so his style is all over the film and the ‘look and feel’ of these 1949 heroes and villains are one day developed further when he creates Astro Boy, and then of course, tweaked again in this 2001 film. It was nice to see a lot of those hallmarks really faithfully recreated by the Madhouse team actually, and maybe not unsurprisingly considering Tezuka’s successor/collaborator Rintaro was at the helm.

So what I got to see was something enjoyably out-of-step with the chronology; it was really fun to see a host of familiar faces – like Skunk, that seemingly immortal jerk! And of course he’s not the only one, you’ll notice Ban/Daddy Walrus, Kenichi/Astro, Duke Red/Temnu+Dr Elefun among others too (and for those like me who crave some comparison images, I’ve put a few shots below).

(I tried and failed to find a gif showing Kenichi’s bulky/Astro-like legs and even kinda Popeye arms, but you can see the development/reiteration of characters here.)

The other aspect that Astro/Tezuka fans who might not have watched Metropolis yet will notice is the way the heroes seem to be striving for robots to be treated fairly – and a common theme to sci-fi; that the villains are quick to blame robots for all the ills of society. I won’t go into the plot here, but that’s one of the key motivators for villain Rock, who is a pretty nasty fellow.

Another somewhat recurring theme I think most folks will have noticed across a certain amount of anime (and one which appears here too) is an attraction to Christian themes and symbols, and so in Metropolis there is a Tower of Babel/pride element to the film which is pretty effective and makes for a big finish too.

While I’ve been sorta rhapsodising a bit about some of the irregular things I liked, I want to say again that while the level of animation and setting detail is stunning, the story isn’t as strong. For example, I felt like the main characters (esp Kenichi and Tima) didn’t really get enough time to interact and build their relationships. Or maybe I just wanted more dialogue and a touch less CGI?

And maybe I was a bit disappointed in the story balance because Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) is credited with the screenplay – so on paper, it sounds pretty ace, huh? Rintaro directing an Otomo-penned adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s manga! With just those elements alone the film should be Out of This World Good – and in many ways it is… but I dunno, maybe if it had been a little longer? Had room for just a few more scenes between characters here and there?

Still, despite my gripes – it’s surely a modern classic, and one that brings together that Golden-Age* Science-Fiction feel, social issues and a Film Noir aesthetic (right down to its jazz OST) really well.

5 Stars

Quickly, I’m mentioning again how much I enjoyed the direction – I’m really curious as to how much storyboarding was inspired directly from the manga actually.

But in any event, here’s one aspect I loved: compositions like these really show the immense scale of the city and add to the kind of latent menace to the place too, and the idea that the characters are really facing something mammoth.   

* Maybe I’m a little off re: the exact era/influence here, but it doesn’t feel like New Age sci-fi of the 60s and 70s and it’s doesn’t feel like 20s/30s pulp either.