Saturday, March 1, 2008

What's so Great about AstroBoy?

So, why is it that, after 50 years, people still talk about this little atomic robot kid?

There is an easy answer to that, and it has a lot to do with history. Anime is many things, but one thing it is not is new. It has an incredibly rich, deep, and in my opinion, fascinating history. The international popularity of anime has certainly grown exponentially in recent years, but it didn't happen overnight. Depending on what your definition of the word "anime" is, you could say that the Japanese "Tetsuwan Atomu" (Mighty Atom) was the first anime series ever. It was definitely the first anime to be translated and marketed outside of Japan, which definitely played a significant part in the development of anime as both an art form and a business venture. So, whether we're talking about pioneering anime in its home country, or being the first anime to be enjoyed all over the world, AstroBoy ushered in the era of Japanese animation on both sides of the ocean. He absolutely belongs on the first page of the first chapter in the book of anime history.

But is this history enough of a reason to keep AstroBoy around?

No, it's not just that he's the first that makes AstroBoy great. It's that he's great that makes him so great!

So now, the question is what's so great about AstroBoy?

On the surface, AstroBoy looks like an innocent diversionary tale for children about a doe-eyed robot boy who fights against bad guys. Go deeper and you'll find that it's anything but just a simple kids' story. AstroBoy deals with big, important issues. Civil rights, racism, man vs. technology, science vs morality, war, and death are all topics that are dealt with. That's some pretty heavy stuff! Yet these things are all brought to light in ways that are accessible to everyone without sacrificing any of the action or excitement. What's most amazing is that these complex and often dark subjects never compromise the positive and uplifting nature of the main character.

AstroBoy is a good guy, through and through. What makes him interesting is that he represents all that is good about humanity, and yet he is not human. He's loaded with weapons, but only fights for peace. Even in incredibly complicated situations, he is so moral and pure, often to a naive degree, and he always does the right thing despite not always understanding why. He's such a a truly heroic character that even the most jaded of individual can't help but to cheer for the little guy.

There are story elements in AstroBoy that are just as socially and culturally relevant today then they were when they were first written. That's a big reason why AstroBoy will never really go away. The level of depth to the story of this Mighty Atom has certainly been influential on other creators who gone on to create stories of their own. This is often what sets Japanese animation and comics apart from the rest of the world and makes them special, and AstroBoy helped to set that standard for quality of storytelling. It helped to make what we know as modern day manga and anime what they are. Even as technology continues to catch up with imagination, and even as new characters and new franchises are introduced to new fans, there will always be something to learn from that kid robot who started his adventures half a century ago.

So, as important as it is to acknowledge AstroBoy as the forerunner to the anime phenomenon, it isn't fair to him to stick him in the front just because he was the first. He deserves to be there! He's not just some cute character who happened to star in an old show and comic. He's an amazing character who is part of a complex and imaginative story with far reaching implications to our own lives. He's been on a wide array of exciting and imaginative adventures. He's raised questions about the the role of technology and what it means to be human. He's a symbol for everything that anime stands for as a valid form of expression and entertainment. And, above all, he's a fun character who makes people happy worldwide. That, my friends, is why AstroBoy is so great.

Plus, he shoots lasers out of his fingers. How cool is that?



Guy said...

Thank you, Ninjatron, for this great tribute to Astro Boy. You clearly show that Astro Boy is a hero for the future as he was for me when I was a child many years ago. I plan to recommend your tribute to my Astro Boy friends as well as other friends who ask me the question that your tribute answers so well... "What's so great about Astro Boy?"

Francesco said...

Very nice tribute to the beloved character.
I lived a few years in Japan, and I watched a documentary on tv, about the life of Osamu Tezuka.
They pointed out the historycal importance of Tetsuwan Atom, especially in Japan, since at first it was a very tragic story, about a scientist who replaced his dead child with a robot. It was the time after WWII just ended, and the japanese goverment was concerned on the impact of mangas on children. So they asked Tezuka sensei to turn his character into a hero, as a model figure for youth to follow and give hope for the future.
It is indeed an important message that stands tall among the hall of fame of imaginary creations, and it cerntainly deserves to be remembered as you mentioned in your article. Thank you for posting.