Astro Boy 19
May 25, 2008
Now we’re closing in on the end of the series and I finally find a story that I can be interested in. Tezuka introduces the volume by explaining that people were dissing on Astro Boy in the 60s because a student revolution was happening and apparently everyone was rallying around characters who were underdog-rebellious kind of characters. I assume this is a reference to Kamui, but Kamui must’ve been a hit RIGHT AWAY if that’s what the allusion is. Anyway, Tezuka’s editor convinced him to try and make Astro into a bad guy, and apparently what little popularity Astro Boy still had disappeared instantly. He says he never really recovered his reputation after that, which is kind of interesting.
This volume is about one and a half stories, the first one is about a robot named the Blue Knight who can inexplicably rebel against and injure humans. He rallies all robots around himself successfully when Ochanomizu is captured and someone else begins to take harsh measures against all robots in response to Blue Knight’s crimes. Astro doesn’t play the bad guy in this story… quite the contrary. He sides with the robots when the villain takes away his parents, but he’s against hurting humans the entire time. While there are simple themes raised in every other story, this one probably does the best job of any of the other ones I’ve read of calling into question the nature of the relationship between humans and robots. It was a genuinely good read, which is not something I often say of Astro Boy stories.
The second story is a direct followup to the first, which ends with Astro getting his artificial intelligence destroyed. Ochanomizu does his best to try and repair him, but only Tenma knows how to revive Astro, and Tenma won’t do it unless Ochanomizu turns ownership over to him. In a bizarrely out-of-character move, Tenma sets all his robots against all humans to take over the world, Astro among them. He seems to take it relatively well when they run out of his control. This is the one where Astro genuinely turns into a bad guy, since Tenma wipes his AI and Astro the blank slate runs wild with world domination in his head. It’s true, it’s not a very good story, and I can see why it was so unpopular. Not only is it totally out-of-place to see Astro acting that way, it’s also not a really good move for Tenma. Tenma isn’t really a “good guy,” so to speak, he’s more of a quiet loner with anger issues, the kind of guy who’s a sulky genius at work then goes home and is cruel to his family or whatever. He did sell Astro to the circus, but he’s not the kind of guy you can imagine wanting to take over the world.
Anyway, that story carries over into the next volume, I assume. As out-of-character as everything is at the moment, it’s still better than most Astro Boy stories, though.
Note to self: Hamegg plays a minor role in the first story, assistant to the bad guy or something. He’s still a great character.