Review: Astro Boy (1980)

Directed by: ,
Cast: ,

Distributed in Australia by:

Astro Boy started off as a manga for children in the 1950s, and became a household name internationally with the release of its first anime series in 1963. However, creator and master animator Osamu Tezuka was reportedly not completely happy with the original anime, and went on to remake the series in 1980. This time, it again showcases the action and adventure seen in the original series, but it also incorporates much more of Tezuka’s philosophy and thinking. The result is what is now widely regarded as a classic anime series.

Dr Boynton is a scientist whose passion and expertise lie in the creation of robots. When his son is killed in an accident, he creates a boy robot with the same appearance and personality as his son, and equips him with some incredibly powerful weapons. However, Boynton soon realises the robot’s inability to replace his lost son, and rejects him. The boy robot ends up in a robot circus and is constantly abused by the circus owner. Saved by a kind scientist Dr Elefun, this marks the beginning of Astro Boy’s new life and many extraordinary adventures…

Some of the plots will feel very familiar for today’s audience because of other works having used similar concepts over the years. Each of the 51 episodes has its own usually densely-plotted story, but the continuity from one episode to the next is often missing. For example, one episode features our young hero being chosen as the captain of a space mission, and then in the next, he is back at school being bullied by his fellow students. Because of this, I have found it easier to enjoy one episode at a time, rather than trying to watch a few episodes continuously.

Considering that Astro Boy was made 30 years ago, it is understandable that the animation appears unsophisticated and the choice of colours often seems a little strange. An example is the bright orange appearance of Atlas, a robot who seeks to rule the world and take revenge on those who mistreat robots. On the positive side, while the character design is simple, it actually adds to the charm in many cases. Astro Boy himself, with his characteristic spiky head, great big eyes and cute face, is immediately recognisable. Also having a kind heart and the willingness to help others, many viewers will find it hard not to fall in love with this little character. Many of the other robots in the anime also feature interesting and unique designs.

What really stands out are the themes that run through the entire series. One is the relationship between humans and technology. Here is a world where humans and robots live together in the same society. While humans are dependent on robots to carry out tasks to make their lives easier, they are also fearful of robots’ superior powers. Even Astro is constantly accused of crimes and destruction. It is in fact a human character, Skunk, who is the real criminal in the series. He is a heartless man who manipulates robots to help him carry out crimes, and represents people who misuse technologies.

Another central theme of the series is the concept of robots being a part of society and having equal rights. Just like a human child, Astro longs for affection, acceptance and understanding, but because he is a robot, he is instead faced with discrimination, rejection and prejudice. The question of whether robots who are capable of thinking and have feelings and emotions should be given the same rights as humans is an interesting one, and may well become the topic of heated debates in the future as modern technologies make further advances.

For me, this Astro Boy series bring back fond childhood memories. It is a great adventure story that is both moving and meaningful. I do want to point out to our readers that the version that I have reviewed here is the English-dubbed version, and I personally prefer the original Japanese language tracks. I will finish up by posing a question: in another 30 years’ time, will people still love Astro Boy and enjoy hearing stories about him as much as we do today? Well, I certainly believe so.

9 robot energy cassettes being replaced out of 10.
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