It's official: this cynical reviewer in his late 20s enthusiastically approves of a children's manga.
What They Say
Writer/Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Translation: Frederik L. Schodt
Adaptation: Frederik L. Schodt
Created by the late Osamu Tezuka, a revered animator and cartoonist (who created over 150,000 pages of comics in his career!) considered the Walt Disney of Japan, Astro Boy was the first manga series to be adapted to animation and became a worldwide phenomenon, making Astro Boy the Mickey Mouse of anime - a jet-powered, super-strong, evil-robot-bashing, alien-invasion-smashing Mickey Mouse, that is!
This edition combines the first two volumes of the collected Astro Boy, featuring over 400 story pages in one collection!
This release is essentially Dark Horse's first two Astro Boy paperbacks put together into one package. It retains these volumes' form factor (about half an inch thinner and shorter than a standard paperback manga release) and left-to-right page ordering. I'm conflicted about this packaging style: on the one hand, I understand that there're economic and consistency issues with unflipping artwork issued six years ago just for this one release; on the other hand, it feels a little backward (no pun intended) to get a new release in 2008 that's printed left-to-right.
Tezuka's artwork style is pretty simple here, but it suits the story well. Though this collection represents a decade of Tezuka's work, the artwork is surprisingly consistent throughout -- probably in large part because Tezuka touched up some of the older stories for Astro Boy's first paperback release in Japan. Unfortunately, Tezuka's artwork is often cramped in this release, because the small page size combined with large white space at the edges have squashed the readable area down much further than standard American manga releases.
The foreword contains a note that Dark Horse chose not to edit any of Tezuka's artwork and warns the reader that his portrayal of some races could be considered un-PC today. (For what it's worth, I didn't notice any problematic artwork in this volume. I appreciate Dark Horse's no-editing stance nonetheless.)
Because of the reduced page size and relatively large margins around the artwork, the text is printed in a small typeface that can be difficult to make out in spots. Otherwise, the English adaptation reads well. Translator Frederik L. Schodt provides a short introduction where he explains some of the editorial choices made in his translation, like the character naming (mostly the Japanese originals sans honorifics, excluding Mr. Mustachio and Astro Boy himself) and handling of puns.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
As an obvious tie-in to the forthcoming CGI Astro Boy movie, Dark Horse has collected the first two previously released volumes of their Astro Boy manga in this lower-priced omnibus release. The collection's organization might throw some people for a loop at first, because it isn't a chronological retrospective. Copying the chapter order picked by Tezuka and/or his staff for Astro Boy's original Japanese paperback run, this volume includes six story arcs from the manga's entire print run, starting with a version of Astro Boy's origin story illustrated in 1975.
The bulk of this volume's contents are made up of three larger stories: 1961's "The Hot Dog Corps", 1960's "His Highness Deadcross", and 1961-1962's "The Third Magician". "Hot Dog" tells a relatively involved story about the abduction of Mr. Mustachio's dog Pero, his conversion into a humanoid robot named #44 by the villain Dr. Junkovitch, Astro Boy's infiltration of Junkovitch's underwater base, and a rocket chase to a diamond mine on the moon. "His Highness Deadcross" opens some time after the election of President Rag, the world's first robotic president. As a response to Rag's pro-robot policies, the secret Deadcross society kidnaps Mr. Mustachio to try to blackmail Rag into backing down; when this fails, Deadcross kidnaps Rag himself and replaces his electronic brain with one programmed to be obedient to Deadcross's leader. "The Third Magician" describes the robot magician Kino's run-in with the villainous human magician Uno, who wants to use Kino's ability to walk through walls to steal valuables from museums. After Kino refuses to explain how he performs his trick, Uno clones Kino into the titular third magician and uses the clone to frame Kino for robbery.
Besides these three major stories, three shorter one-shots are included in this compilation. The first is the origin story I mentioned earlier, appropriately called "The Birth of Astro Boy". 1961's "Plant People" is a straightforward morality tale about a visitor from another planet who comes to Earth to warn its people about robots who are coming to steal its water. The closing chapter "White Planet" is another short story with an overt moral lesson, this time about the value of family and friendship. In this story, the human boy Koichi's raceship White Planet is destroyed just before a big race, leading Astro Boy to install himself into the remains of White Planet so that he can guide Koichi to victory.
Tezuka seems to have picked up a reputation in North America for writing and drawing Important Works of Immense Scholarly Value. The reality is that a lot of Tezuka's stories were aimed at a fairly young audience, and series like Astro Boy are filled with fairly straightforward superhero stories containing simple moral lessons. I'm not saying that adults should shy away from Astro Boy -- Studio Ghibli and Pixar have already proven that North American adult audiences can accept well-crafted children's entertainment -- but readers expecting to pore through this volume looking for complex underlying themes about humanity against technology or what have you should be prepared to be disappointed.
Because Astro Boy is such a beloved property around the world, reviewing this manga is actually a little daunting. When its black-and-white TV adaptation aired on NBC in the 1960s, it almost single-handedly created an entire generation of American anime fans. I was born about 20 years too late to be nostalgic for Astro Boy's famous American TV run and about 20 years too early to be in its target audience today, so I was actually a little afraid going into this review that I wouldn't like it ... and that I'd wind up having to commit the sacrilege of giving it a bad review.
Fortunately, Tezuka hasn't let me down: even without the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, I honestly had a lot of fun reading through the stories in this collection. The plots and morals in this collection are simpler than in most manga I review -- mainly because the North American manga market is heavily skewed toward a slightly older crowd -- but I didn't feel like Tezuka committed the sin of talking down to his audience. I also really like the variety of the stories included here, with stories as short as 15 pages placed next to longer storylines closer to 200 pages in length. The fact that they aren't organized in chronological fashion will probably frustrate purists, but it gives a nice sampling of the series's evolution during its 30-year lifespan.
Although my complaints about the packaging still stand, at the price point Dark Horse is charging I'm willing to overlook them. This is a great, accessible way for manga fans to get an introduction into Tezuka's gigantic body of work, especially for younger readers who might be the most appreciative of Tezuka's no-frills storytelling style.