Astro Boy (1963) Ultra Box Set 2 (of 2) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2006
What They Say
The very first anime ever produced, Osamu Tezuka's original 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 with its catchy theme song which aired on TV during the 1960s!
ASTRO BOY returns for the first time ever on DVD! In this stunning second collector's edition, you'll find the final 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 an amazing collection of extras!
The original boy-robot with 100,000 horsepower strength and courage! In the year 2000, Dr. Boynton 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. Boynton 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!
DVD Set 2 contains episodes 53-104, PLUS an entire DVD full of extra bonus material, including Japanese episode #193 - the final episode, never before seen in the US!
The Right Stuf finishes the Astro Boy rerelease with the final 52 episodes released in the US, plus a host of extras.
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 three 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 as Mr. Pompous. They also provided every other voice in the show.
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 this collection, there are more episodes that have suffered the ravages of time. In several episodes, the audio quality if terrible, and even the sound of the projector couldn't be removed from some of them. However, the 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 surprisingly well-preserved. There are occasional instances of dirt, scratches or other blemishes on the tape, but they're rare. Interestingly, one of the episodes features some color, as red was used with the black and white. 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.
As with the first collection, 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's seen flying in front of one of his robot enemies. 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. 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 flight, with stills from each episode in two bands near the bottom. There is also a booklet with an article about Osamu Tezuka, several pages of advertising art, and a episode guide to episodes 53 through 104. 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. The second half of an interview with Fred Ladd is concluded. Three episodes in Japanese are featured. One is a rare outsourcing job. The Mushi production team wanted a short vacation, so they contracted with Studio Zero to produce episode 34. Studio Zero had never animated a show before, but it was made up of some of the best known names in manga. Shinichi Suzuki was the only person with animation experience. The rest of the team was Shotaro Ishimori (later called Ishinomori) who created Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider, Fujio Fujiko which was the pen name of Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko who created Doraemon, and Jiro Tsunoda who created Ushio no Hyakutaro and Kyofu Shimbun. With the exception of Suzuki, all were trying to animate the episode while still working on their own weekly or monthly manga stories. Once the show was aired, the film was lost, so it was never seen again in Japan until a copy of the show was found in America 39 years later. This episode doesn't have a subtitle for the episode, rather, it has a subtitle for the commentary by the three surviving members of Studio Zero: Suzuki, Abiko and Tsunoda. Episode 56 is subtitled normally, but what makes it interesting is that it's the only episode of Astro Boy that was made in full color. It was meant as a pilot for a character named "7". However, the new series was never made, and the episode was only shown in black and white, both in Japan and the US. The colors are fantastic, considering both its age and the fact that it was a first effort by Mushi Productions. Finally, episode 193, the final episode aired in Japan, is included, the first time it's been seen in the US. A fascinating extra is a half-hour long clip of deleted scenes, showing the US version and the Japanese version. It's eye-opening to see what was cut from the US version to make it more palatable to US viewers. Sometimes it's subtle, but sometimes there are whole scenes removed. The other interesting extra is a featurette made by Mushi Productions showing how Astro Boy is animated, including new animation just for the feature. It's a great look both at how the show was made, and how social mores have changed in the last 40 years. Be sure to check out the room full of girls. One thing listed as an extra is a "Fred Ladd Tour Gallery", but try as I might, I could not find it. It's not on the main menu, nor did I find it while searching for easter eggs, although I did find two of those.
Content: (Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In these 52 episodes, Astro Boy continues to save the day, time and time again. His family also grows, as he is joined by an older brother, Jetto. Jetto was the first attempt by Astro's creator to make the perfect robot. He was as strong as Astro, but his brain wasn't as advanced. Jetto is a happy-go-lucky older brother who likes to help others, but his efforts don't always work the way he intends them. Other than the late addition of Jetto to the cast, there isn't any storyline. All the episodes are stand alone episodes. However, a few characters, like the circus owner who bought Astro in the first episode, come back again, as does a few of his previous adversaries. Some episodes deal with intolerance, by highlighting the robots struggle to live on equal footing with humans. In one episode, humans and robots go to war with each other, all because of a minor playtime squabble between a couple of boys, one human and one robot. Some episodes deal with environmental issues, such as when Astro finds an egg that belongs to the legendary Phoenix. The danger of greed is another common theme, such as when a greedy oil magnate puts together a dangerous robot in the hopes of making a few bucks off him, or when a greedy construction company owner puts people at risk when he tries to build a highway and tunnel through the mountains using shoddy materials and ignoring safety concerns. Through it all, Osamu Tezuka's innate belief in the good of people and respect for all life is apparent in every story.
Astro Boy was being created at a time when people were still learning how to make anime, and the resulting episodes ranged from silly to sublime. There are many scenes of surprising lyricism and eloquence. A sunrise over the African savannah takes its time to develop. In another episode, a camera view of people discussing plans moves up and outward to reveal the city that is in danger, even as the people continue to make plans. There are camera angles and points of view that simply aren't used any more, and they're just as fresh now as they were in 1964. All the advances in animation techniques and tools made in the last 40 years are no substitute for being a great filmmaker with a great story to tell, and that's what Osamu Tezuka was. The Right Stuf has gone to great lengths to bring his story back to America after being lost for 30 years, and that is something to celebrate.
English Language, Deleted Scenes, "Behind the Scenes at Mushi Studios" Featurette, Part 2 of an interview with series producer Fred Ladd, Original Japanese Episodes #34 #56, and #193 (with English subtitles), a Fred Ladd Tour Gallery, an Original Character Art Gallery, a Merchandise Gallery, Collector's Booklet featuring "The Cinema of Osamu Tezuka", Original Astro Boy Advertisements, Line Art, Episode Guide
NEC CT-2510A TV, Pioneer 440 codefree DVD player
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: C-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: All
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Running time: 1200
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Astro Boy