Astro Boy 23

November 30, 2008

Yay, last volume of Astro Boy!

I was actually pretty excited about this.  The last two volumes are mostly short chapters, as opposed to the books that each have 2-3 stories in them.  The last volume was pretty awesome, if I remember right.  This one was less so, since it was comprised of shorts from a magazine called “Second Grader” that tied into a new Astro Boy anime from the early 80s.  There’s some red flags right away.  Also, the stories originally ran in color (which doesn’t look good in black and white), and the art is not quite up to Tezuka’s usual standard.  I would say that was because 50s-60s Astro was a more retro style that he’d ceased to use, but the last story is  Shounen Jump story from 1976, and it looks great.  Maybe the cartoony style was just for “Second Grader?”  Dunno.

The stories are each only around 10 pages long and are sort of simple, jokey stories.  Astro’s superpowers are slightly revised, and most of the stories involve a gigantic robot wreaking havoc and Astro stopping them, then cracking wise in the last panel.  Nothing is a serious threat, and nothing really gets going over the space of ten pages.  It makes me appreciate the older stories a lot more.

So, I go ten years without once reading any reference to the Mannekin Pis in manga, and I read two volumes in the space of 24 hours that reference it.  Momo, residing in Brussels, makes reference to letting Sumire see it in volume 13 or 14 of Tramps Like Us, and its used as inspiration for an extra superpower for Atlas in one of the earlier stories in this volume.  It was actually the only story I liked, because the superpower involved Atlas peeing on his enemies from above and blowing them up.  When fighting Astro Boy, Atlas threatens to pee on him, to which Astro responds “That’s not cool, Atlas.”  It’s truly one of Astro Boy’s finest moments.

The only other story I wound up enjoying was one where a baby elephant’s mother was killed and Astro was trying to find it a substitute mother that could feed it.  The first candidate was a gorilla with enormous breasts.  The subsequent candidates were all different animals, all with enormous breasts, but mounted low on their bodies so that they kind of looked like genitals.  It was really, REALLY weird.

The last story in the volume is a longer story that ran in Shounen Jump.  It’s of the same type as the earlier stories… it runs about 50 pages long and has a moral at the end about humans polluting and needing to stop, blah blah blah.  It’s okay, but there were far better stories than that in the series.  Lamp was in it as the ambassador to Iran, which was kind of cool.

Astro Boy 22

October 12, 2008

Much like GetBackers, I was really shocked with how much I enjoyed this volume of Astro Boy.  This and the next volume are supplementary stories, published after Astro Boy’s initial run.  I had thought there was only one volume of these stories, which is why I was so surprised.

The supplementary stories are WEIRD.  There’s an essay in the beginning of the volume by Tezuka explaining the context for all the stories, what magazine they appeared in and what theme he had been asked to write with.  Sometimes this is important (for instance, one of the stories he was asked to write on the subject of standardized tests, which he didn’t know anything about), sometimes it’s not important (one of the stories is a one-page gag where Astro and a girl robot explode when they kiss).  Some of the stories don’t actually have all that much Astro Boy in them, and he may appear for only a few pages or even one panel, as a gag.  One of the stories is a Black Jack story, with Astro as the client.

My favorite story in the volume was actually one that resembled the old Astro Boy stories more than any of the others.  It was long, and had a pretty deep and very human message.  Astro appears at the very beginning and the very end.  The story is set in the future, and a young couple being persued breaks into a Robot Museum and starts Astro up, asking for his help.  They relate their story to him, where they live in a society where humans are now raised by robots so that they may fight in a Running Man-like game against one another for the robot’s pleasure.  This particular couple has escaped and they want Astro’s help evading authorities.  Astro grants their request, and then disappears while the moral of the story plays out.  It is not entirely unexpected, but is kind of disturbing.  I liked this story A LOT, and it makes me want to read a volume of Tezuka’s non-series-related short stories, if such a thing exists.

There’s a couple different stories that play off the anime ending of Astro, where Astro apparently is flying some device into the sun and doesn’t return.  Both stories do vastly different things with this idea.  I’m kind of disappointed the one where Astro Boy travels through time didn’t pan out into a few more chapters.

The Black Jack story… yeah.  It was weird seeing Astro Boy so obsessed with revenge and cast in a more negative light.  I also liked that Tezuka took advantage of the fact he was appearing as a regular boy, and had him in the classroom with Shibugaki, Kenichi, and his other friends in a regular little boy role.  The ending… er.  I was expecting Black Jack to double-cross Astro and then come through in the end anyway, because I know that’s what he does.  The way he “comes through” at the end was really cheap and nonsensical though, and I hope that’s not something that happens often in Black Jack stories.  I’m a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t spot Black Jack when I bought this volume months ago.

A lot of the stories are also crossovers with other stories, and a lot of Tezuka’s other characters appear throughout.  For my own reference, Hamegg and Lamp both appear in at least two stories each, but neither has a very major role.

I’m a little sad that the volumes I liked the best were all things that didn’t actually appear in the regular run of the series (the three that have the excellent origin story that I liked so much are also from after the series concluded).  I’m happy that these stories are collected like this though, and I’m also glad they appear at the end of the series.

Astro Boy 21

July 20, 2008

This volume is lots and lots of old stories.  Some are only a few pages long.  Some are longer.  The first Astro Boy story isn’t here, but Tezuka mentions that these were mostly among the first, and it was the first appearance of a lot of characters, like Tawashi and several of Astro’s classmates.

Some of the art anomalies are more noticeable in this volume than usual.  I think these chapters ran in color originally, but it’s also highly possible that the artwork is several generations removed from the original source, but it’s very fuzzy.  It’s probably an issue of the originals being in color though, because occasionally there will be a few really sharp pages that appear randomly together, and Tezuka is sort of notorious for continuously redrawing and reworking his stories.  There’s also a chapter which has weird formatting issues where it looks like he added a piece of paper under the original and drew the edges that way, or had to crop the edges of the original panels to make them smaller, something like that.  It was something he mentioned in one of the very early volumes.  There’s also a transition page consisting of a single orphaned panel that looks really weird.

This set of stories is actually better than normal just by virtue of being really old and bizarre.  At one point, Astro is given some sort of “computer disease” that you have to smile at.  Far removed from your standard computer virus, it just corrodes Astro’s insides.  He fights some pretty awesome robot bombs, some aliens during a trip to Mars, and he even fights a Frankenstein’s monster robot alongside some sort of robot cult.  Weird things happen, like Shibugaki constantly picking on Astro, and a really bizarre scene between Shibugaki and Astro’s dad.  Kenichi appears a lot more frequently in the early stories, and he gets a chance to be a friend as well as lose heart in Astro… and Shunsaku Ban even gets to use his real name and occupation as PI.

He also has a chapter where he saves some underwater slaves stuck digging a uranium mine in a gigantic mechanical serpent.  This chapter is weird in several ways, and is probably the most bizarre Astro Boy story I’ve ever read.  At one point, he slams his head and sort of misshapes it.  He does his feats at night, causing him to do some weird stuff during the day.  A couple times, Astro uses the help of a girl living on an island.  We are mercifully spared a caricature, but it’s still sort of implied that the island’s inhabitants are cannibals.  Stranger still, Astro only saves two of the slaves.  As far as I remember, the rest are left underneath, unless he leaves it to the two who escaped to alert the authorities and free them.  But they seem more concerned with tracking down Astro Boy.

Astro Boy 20

June 14, 2008

I don’t know.  I really didn’t like this volume.  A little more than half of it is dedicated to the continuation from the last volume of the story about Astro Boy being evil, except it did everything interesting it was going to do last time, and now all we’re left with is some horribly out-of-character stuff… and a trip to Africa.  Yeah.  You can imagine how that is.  Most of the story takes place in Africa.

The second story was kind of cool.  On the way back from Africa, Astro and Tenma stop in the desert and rescue a boy from the 4th dimension who has the power to invoke the past for brief periods, but only if his life is in danger.  They rescue him because he is literally being kept as a slave, and is periodically drowned and beaten so that his keeper can pull jewels from the past.  Well, Tenma rescues him, then kidnaps him so that he can pull a fresh Astro from seven years ago and… raise him to be his son.  He promises this time he’ll be good and won’t sell him to the circus.  Stuff happens at the end that really, REALLY doesn’t make sense, but it’s a pretty cool story.  I probably would have liked it a lot better if it hadn’t followed the other one.

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.

Astro Boy 18

April 21, 2008

I was underwhelmed by the stories in this volume of Astro Boy, I must say.  Tezuka mentioned in one of the other volumes that this series of Astro Boy volumes was published with the better stories in the early volumes in case the series got cancelled early.  That wasn’t very encouraging news for me, because I’m in the final section of stories now.  The ones in this volume just… weren’t very good.

The best one was probably the one with Atlas, which introduces the “Omega Factor,” a piece which makes robots capable of both good and evil… in other words, they do things that most robots wouldn’t normally do, like hit humans, since most robots are programmed with only good intentions.  The “Omega Factor” makes Atlas process things more like a human would, and thus makes him a more “perfect” robot.  I thought this was interesting since I’ve just read a huge chunk of “Pluto” by Naoki Urasawa, and the idea of robots doing (or being able to do) bad things as a result of thinking more like humans and why this would make their AI “perfect” is sort of central to the plot of that series.

Most of the volume is taken up by the story “Robot Spaceship,” which is about aliens who are able to raise the dead and cause a lot of problems.  It was very long and not all that interesting, though there were some notable battles, an undead character, and a tiny Astro-bot that manages to cause a lot of problems for the aliens.

There are two other very short stories at the end of the volume which lean heavily on morals.  One is about not listening to kids who tease you, and the other one is about… not stealing?  Not getting eaten by rock-munching aliens?  I don’t know.  It just wasn’t that cool.

Astro Boy 17

April 9, 2008

I actually read this yesterday, and I realized it was kind of a coincidence when I got to work since it was Astro’s birthday and all. I would have posted about it last night, but my internet was down, unfortunately.

I wasn’t very into the stories in this volume. The first story was “The Frozen Human.” I did like the short explanation at the beginning that Tezuka gave. The story is set around the Aztec temples, and he mentions that when it ran, people in Japan weren’t familiar with the Aztecs and thought he had totally made them up based on the Egyptians. When they made the chapter into an episode of the anime, he said they changed the setting to Egypt, and when the same episode ran in America, it was very popular because people thought it was a lot like Lawrence of Arabia. The actual story… hm, it was okay. It seemed to jump around abruptly a lot more than a normal Astro Boy story.

The only thing I liked about “Gademu” was what the giant monster-like robot was made of. I thought that was pretty amazing.

Fuhrer ZZZ confused me. At the beginning, Tezuka mentioned that he started drawing the story with the President and the Fuhrer as the same person. He abandoned this partway through (after dropping a hint which made no sense later) because he says he thought it was a stupid idea. When I figured out what was going on, I thought that would’ve been a pretty good twist, so I was excited to see what the better idea was. It… was far from a better idea. I was in shock.

“The Face in the Rock” was okay. It was a short one, and I liked the way the trap was set up in the end.

“Space Parasites” delivers what it promises. We get all sorts of parasites, like tree parasites, giant rat parasites, human parasites, etc. It seems like the actual story would have been avoided if humans had just allowed the aliens to take over rats and stuff like they asked, it seems like there would be no harm in that. But nooooo… we just had to pick a fight, apparently. The fact they turned into humans was a good twist that wasn’t used enough, because it meant that Astro couldn’t beat up the parasites in that form.

One thing I always forget to mention is the fact the police use puppy cars. I always laugh whenever I see them, because it’s just so RANDOM, and I remember being driven crazy at first, because it’s a joke which is never alluded to by any of the characters. It’s just cool in Astro Boy’s universe for the police to drive around in puppy cars. I started reading Pluto a few days ago, and the cars were referenced. I was hoping things were going where I wanted them to when Tawashi and Nakamura started talking about the car redesign and Tawashi mentioned he wanted a fierce design that struck fear into criminals… and then I died when Ochanomizu completed the joke later.