Astro Boy (1963) Ultra Box Set 1 -

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  • Audio Rating: C
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
  • MSRP: 129.99
  • Running time: 1220
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Astro Boy

Astro Boy (1963) Ultra Box Set 1

By Mike Dungan     June 26, 2006
Release Date: March 28, 2006

Astro Boy (1963) Ultra Box Set 1
© Nozomi Entertainment

What They Say
The very first anime ever produced, Osamu Tezuka's (KIMBA, THE WHITE LION / HI NO TORI / METROPOLIS) original 1963 - 1964 ASTRO BOY delighted children around the world with its touching stories and compelling characters. In the U.S., many will remember this popular children's series which aired on TV during the 1960s.

Now, this groundbreaking series returns for the first time ever in a stunning new collector's edition that includes the first 52 episodes of the original black and white series as seen in the US, restored to pristine detail, and featuring never-before-seen footage and brand new exciting extras.

The original boy-robot with 100,000 horsepower strength and courage! In the year 2000, Dr. Boyton creates a super-robot in his deceased son's image. He calls the robot Astro Boy. Astro Boy can swim oceans, leap over mountains, even fly into space on his own power. However, Astro Boy can't replace his son; Dr. Boyton becomes dissatisfied with the boy robot and disowns him. Astro Boy is befriended by Dr. Packadermus J. Elefun of the Institute of Science, who guides him through his adventures. Endowed with super strength, rocket-powered flight, a selfless heart and a kind demeanor, Astro Boy fights a never-ending crusade against the forces of evil!

This ultimate Astro Boy collection is perfect for both retro enthusiasts and adults who were delighted by the series' touching stories and compelling characters during its 1960s TV broadcast! Contains DVD Set 1 (episodes 1-52), PLUS a special collector's booklet, and an entire DVD full of extra bonus material, including part 1 of an interview with series producer Fred Ladd!

The Review!
With the original English masters destroyed more than 30 years ago, TRSI goes to great lengths to give us as close to a definitive release of Astro Boy as we're ever going to get.

For my primary viewing session, I listened to the show in my native language of English, because that's all that's offered, other than two episodes in Japanese on the extras disc. Of course, Astro Boy was shown on American television decades before there was a market for consumer ownership of television shows. If you wanted to see it again, you watched TV reruns. The show was originally licensed by NBC Enterprises and was dubbed by Fred Ladd for syndication, rather than for inclusion in the NBC lineup. The cast consisted almost entirely of three people; Billie Lou Watt as Astro Boy, Ray Owens as Dr. Elefun and Gilbert Mack aas Mr. Pompous. They also provided every other voice in the show. The three of them were later joined by Peter Fernandez, who would become best known as the producer, director, writer and voice of Speed Racer.

The original English masters of Astro Boy were destroyed in 1975. We can look back at it as mind-bogglingly foolish, but at the time, it made economic sense. With the age of the DVD upon us, the resultant boom in home market releases of every show under the sun and the corresponding rise in the popularity of anime meant a demand for the release of Astro Boy on DVD was expected. The Right Stuf Intl went to extraordinary lengths to find the best surviving duplicate masters they could. The English audio track can't be reproduced, so some of the episodes sound rather poor. In two cases, it seems there is more tape hiss than dialogue, but those are the exceptions. Most of the audio responded well to a computer-enhanced clean up. The vast majority of these 52 episodes sound wonderful. The performances of the three main actors are a joy, fun and lively, with some surprisingly heartfelt moments. It's even more surprising when you remember there weren't any computers to stretch, move or shoehorn dialogue into a given set of mouthflaps. They just had to do it over and over again until they got it right. This is a landmark of English voice acting, one that holds a place of pride in my collection.

Video was the one thing that TRSI was able to go back to Japan for, and they did it quite a bit. The video quality is beautiful, with only one tape break visible in the entire release. The black and white video is never too dark or too light. I didn't see any macroblocking or other video artifacts in any of the 52 episodes. Considering this show and I are almost exactly the same age, I have to admit it's looking better than I am.

This is one of the nicest looking releases I've seen in quite some time. It comes in a sturdy chipboard slipcase. The colors are black, white and red, with plenty of grays. On the outer slipcase, Astro poses dramatically in front of a cityscape with spotlights behind him. On the other side he standw with Astro Girl again against a futuristic cityscape. Logos and headshots adorn the spine and top, with the specifications and copy on the bottom. The inner slipcase features an image of several machines and a red heart, meant to look like the inside of Astro's chest. Inside the box are 6 DVD thinpaks. 5 are double thinpaks with 2 discs each. The last is a single case with the extras on its own DVD. Each of the five double cases has a reversible cover. You can choose between images of Astro being created by Dr. Boynton or fighting an evil giant. The DVDs feature detail images from the two sides of each cover. Which ever side you choose, the art is the same black and white with red highlights as the box images. The back of each cover shows Astro in a classic one-hand-on-hip and one-hand-raised pose, with stills from each episode in two bands near the bottom. There is also a booklet with an article about Osamu Tezuka, another about the birth of Astro Boy, several pages of design sketches, and a episode guide to all 52 episodes in this collection. Over all, the packaging is beautiful, clean and sharp and well laid-out.

With the extras on their own disc and no language set-up menu, the menus are simple and straight forward. Astro stands to the left, with the episode number and titles on the right. The cursor is an outline of Astro's head. There is no transition animation, so it loads quickly.

The extras are on their own disc. There is an interview with Fred Ladd, where he explains the origin of Astro Boy, both in Japan and the US. Calling it an interview might be a bit of an overstatement, as he isn't asked any questions. It's clear someone simply wound him up and then got out of the way, as he talks and talks and talks. He's very passionate about Astro Boy, it's clear he's very proud of what he created in turning it into a show for American children in the early 1960s. Also included is a gallery of Astro Boy merchandise. Finally, there are two episodes of the show in their original Japanese: episodes 1 and 20. The subtitles to those two episodes are rather Spartan. Even with my limited knowledge of Japanese, I could hear some things that weren't translated in the subtitles.

Content: (Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One day in the year 2000, the young Astor Boynton died in a car accident. His father, Dr. Boynton, the head of the Institute of Science, decided to create a state-of-the-art robot in his image. Once he was created, he named him Astro Boy. Astro Boy was built with 100.000 horsepower, jets in his feet, and machine guns that came out of his rear. He was a quick study and learned everything Dr. Boynton taught him. But there was one thing he couldn't do. He couldn't grow. After several years, Dr. Boynton grew dissatisfied until he couldn't bear to look at Astro Boy any more. He finally sold him to a circus. The unscrupulous owner made Astro fight other robots, and when he disobeyed, he was denied energy to replenish the energy he lost. Dr. Packadermus J. Elefun, the new head of the Institute of Science, saw what was happening to Astro and all the other robots in the circus, but was unable to win their release. In a beautiful piece of animation, we see Elefun walking dejectedly away from the circus. It's night and there is one strong artificial light source nearby. The camera begins over him and slightly to his left, then pans down and around until it's behind him. Meanwhile, his shadow rotates from behind him to in front of him as he walks away from the camera. In only a few seconds, the scene rotates though all three axes. More importantly, it masterfully shows Elefun's dejection. Later in the episode, a fire at the circus nearly kills the circus owner, but Astro Boy saves him. Instead of being grateful, the circus owner sees it as simply Astro Boy doing his job as his property. But Elefun wins in the end when it's revealed that robots have been given their freedom. From that point on, Astro Boy lives under the kind guidance of Dr. Elefun.

Once free, Astro Boy embarks on all kinds of adventures with robots, aliens, giant snails, monsters, mobsters, undersea creatures, even Cleopatra. In episode 3, "Expedition to Mars," Astro Boy is asked to command a crew of humans to Mars to look for a lost crew. There is great friction between Astro and the ship's second in command, which leads to mutiny just as aliens attack the crew. The writing of the dialogue was especially good, and the story was not the standard "monster of the week" formula. Episode 21, "Satellite R-45" was the first episode where I saw some deliberate rewriting of the script. A father and son are at odds, and just before the father walking towards his son's cabin on the satellite with a knife and a look of murderous intent. Rather than have the image of a father intent on killing his son, there was narration that explained the father was standing guard over his son to protect him from the aliens that were threatening the satellite. More rewriting was evident in episode 29, "Memory Day." The Japanese tradition of floating small boats downriver to honor the dead was changed slightly. Instead of honoring the dead, it was changed to honoring the ones who had left Earth to colonize alien planets. Since the person being honored was a child who was also a gifted inventor, it was better to say he left Earth instead of dying in one of his experiments. Generally speaking, these sorts of rewrites were minimal, and would only be noticeable to someone with some intimate knowledge of Japanese culture. To a 10-year-old boy in the 1960s, it was just another cartoon.

There were other episodes that I enjoyed, from the magnificent Ronald Colman impersonation by Ray Owens in episode 45 "Ditto" (including quoting his famous "It is a far far better thing I do") to the all-out western fun of episode 50's "Westward, Ha!" The last episode, "The Space Lion" was a surprisingly moving episode. Astro Boy attempts to save the Earth from aliens who are trying to subjugate the planet by making it snow uncontrollably. But he is defeated, and Dr. Elefun carries his lifeless body through the snow to the Robot Hall of Fame, declaring that with his last breath, he will lay Astro Boy to rest in his rightful place of honor. What happens next is the sort of avant garde storytelling that could only have come out of the 1960s.

In Summary:
I preceded Astro Boy into this world by exactly one month. So I grew up with him, watching the show through its syndicated run in the US from the early '60s to the early '70s. Now, 40+ years later, I can finally relive this part of my childhood. I would be lying if I said that I remembered much of these episodes. But that initial image of Astro's face against an explosive background and the musical flourish is something that's ingrained in my memory. But Astro Boy is more than a trip down memory lane for old fanboys like myself. It's more than simply a document of anime history, both in Japan and the US. It's a really fun show. I watched the final 19 episodes in one day, because I was enjoying it so much. The "monster-of-the-week" syndrome seems to have escaped the adventures of Osamu Tezuka's little boy robot. Instead, it was one engaging story after another. Astro's adventures entertained me like very few modern anime series have in a long time. Tezuka's faith in the goodness of humanity and his unshakeable belief in fairness and equality are neatly encapsulated in Astro Boy. It's a message we still need to hear, even 6 years after this story of the future was supposed to take place. TRSI has done exceptional work bringing back something that was once considered gone forever, and they should be applauded for their efforts.

English Language,Part 1 of an interview with series producer Fred Ladd; Original Japanese Episode 1 (with English subtitles), Original Character Art Gallery, Merchandise Gallery, A Collector's Booklet featuring "The History of Astro Boy",Osamu Tezuka biography

Review Equipment
NEC CT-2510A TV, Pioneer 440 codefree DVD player


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