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[Astro Boy (1963)]
AKA: 鉄腕アトム ; Tetsuwan Atomu (the character's original title, "Mighty Atom")
Genre: Action/ Sci-Fi
Length: Television series, 52 episodes, 25 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available streaming on crunchyroll.
Content Rating: G/All Ages (mild violence.)
Related Series: 2 series remakes (in 1980 and 2003); a 2009 CGI film; Little Astro Boy (2014 series); Go, Astro Boy, Go! (2019 French/Japanese series). Two spinoffs: OVA series, Atom: The Beginning (2017); and Net animation, Pluto (2023)
Also Recommended: Atom: The Beginning; Pluto
Notes: Based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka

This (the 1963 series) is in black & white.

This review is of the 2-set Mini DVD collections (first 52 episodes, on 10 discs), released by Nozomi/Right Stuf

Astro Boy (1963)


"Dr. Boynton" (Umataro Tenma in the original) creates a robot boy to replace the hole in his heart created by the death of his own son Tobio/Toby. But he grows displeased with "Astro" (AKA Atomu in the original), and Astro finally ends up in the care of a Dr. Packidermus J. Elefun (Professor Ochanomizu, to Tezuka), who employs Astro's power to tackle crooks, alien invasions, and general robot mischief.


"You have kind instincts," he said, "and with a heart you would indeed be a fine creature" - the Tin Woodman to the Patchwork Girl, in The Patchwork Girl of Oz

Grampa started on the DVD sets on this one a while back, but was watching it near bedtime, and you KNOW how that is with Grampas. So he had to re-watch a lot of it to catch the stuff that went on while he had drifted off, and by the time he finished, Right Stuf (which had licensed it) had been assimilated by the Funimation/Crunchyroll Borg.

Now mind, as I'm writing this, the two "mini' sets I watched are still available on Crunchyroll Store, but who knows for how long? And if the merger means their end, I'm going to miss Right Stuf's Nozomi/Lucky Penny imprints of classic series like this one. And while yes, I know, Streaming Is The Way (it's been Decided, though not by ME), I liked the freedom to watch a show when I felt like it, and not at the discretion of a streaming service. But if you want to own a show, it looks like the only remaining major challenger to CrunchyMation (or is it FUNiRoll?) for video licensing in the U.S. is Sentai Filmworks.

Concerning the 2-set Right Stuf release under review, Right Stuf has an apologia, on each of the 10 discs, for the sound quality, stating that "the English masters" of the series were destroyed in 1975. I would have liked some more explanation for how that happened, but, even more, I would have liked a Subtitles option, since the sound quality was admittedly bad, AND since the problem is compounded by the aging ears of folks watching for the nostalgia. (I was 8 years old when this was originally released. Grampa probably mentioned that before, but Grampas DO forget things.)

I got a little curious about the possibility of finding the original series in the original Japanese. I didn't dig that deeply, though when researching things for the Pluto review. I found the first part of the old B&W two-parter (untranslated) that Pluto was based on (on UTube), but that episode, BESIDES probably being unlicensed, fell well beyond the first 52 episodes I'm reviewing here- as did the episodes involving Atlas, and Astro's "brother" Jetto. I mentioned all this in the review of the 1980 color remake, which DOES include at least part of the Atlas storyline, AND if I recall correctly Tezuka's version of the Pluto story as well. The 1980 remake IS also available on Crunchyroll Store, by the way; besides having much more polished artwork than the 1963 original, it obviously features a somewhat different lineup of Tezuka's stories, possible because there's really not much of an overarching storyline in the series; the episodes are mostly stand-alones. That's kind of a problem story-wise; I'll get back to you on that.

As for Astro himself, like the Patchwork Girl in the quote, he might only credit himself with "kind instincts" rather than actual emotions, but it's more than that: he also has a sense of outrage against cruelty and injustice, and can (albeit" VERY reluctantly) disobey his superiors when they're clearly being obtuse in the face of immediate danger. Still, he'd like to feel things like a "real boy". (I'm pretty sure Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney's Pinocchio (1940); at one point Astro even gets relegated to a circus.) Dr. Elefun finally does give in and give him an emotion program, but even in the real world of "the year 2000" (when the story is set), processor speeds weren't all that great- and in 1963? Forget about it!

Dr. Elefun (Ochanomizu) is a kindly, brilliant roboticist who seems to be able to repair anything. (Both Atom: The Beginning and Pluto do an excellent job of capturing his character.) He has a tendency to wind up in the thick of things- often he gets kidnapped by some villain who wants to press him into their service- and of course Astro usually has to rescue him. My favorite bit with him occurs in one of the final episodes in this set, when he befriends a rabbit robot that becomes a sort of sidekick to him. This perfectly captured his kindness, and his own love of robots. (It's also one of the show's better attempts at humor.)

On the other hand, "Dr. Boynton" (Tenma) is a very different sort. While the 1980 remake whitewashed some of his complicity in Astro's fate, here it's laid out in all its wickedness. His defining features include a tendency to reject his creations when they disappoint him. (Atom: The Beginning carefully noted this, while Pluto added yet another negative trait: a tendency to take ill-advised shortcuts.) I never liked this guy much at all.

The principal agent of the law here is represented by Inspector Tawashi, who's called "Inspector Gumshoe" in this English version. He usually suspects Astro must be involved when a robot commits a crime. (It took him longer to get over this attitude in the 1980 remake.) I have to admit, though, that I DID love the fact that the police cars look like hound dogs.

Another regular character in the show is Shunsaku Ban (in Tezuka's original), AKA Percival Pompous (in THIS one), AKA "Daddy Walrus" (in the 1980 version, because of his whiskers.) In this 1963 version, he's usually supposed to be a detective- though a very inept one. He's also got wandering eyes, and I mean that literally- they seem to occupy no fixed position, either in relation to each other, OR to placement on his head.

Which brings us to the art...

I don't blame Tezuka for this. His more theatrical projects (Phoenix, Metropolis) have art that is great-to-lavish (especially in Metropolis, which was way ahead of its time), though they're imbued with his idiosyncratic signature style; but this 1963 series seems to have involved a LOT of corner-cutting. (One example: some character designs (especially for the villains) get re-used/re-purposed for different characters.)

The limited repertoire of sound effects also becomes awfully familiar with incessant repetition. One is a "clattering" noise invoked whenever a group (or sometimes just an individual) is running. Another is the "squishing" sound of Astro's boots. (Though occasionally there's something truly off the wall; in the memorably strange episode "Planet X", aliens are pursuing Astro and his human charges, and the "pursuit" music is a tinkly thing that doesn't seem remotely connected to the mood of the scene- or to any OTHER mood I' could recognize.) I would guess that we're seeing here the results of a combination of tight TV deadlines and shoestring budgets (remember, it was all hand-drawn in those days), combined with maybe an attitude of, well it's for small kids, they won't care. (I always thought that was the most likely explanation for Japan's Godzilla films and their ilk, too; same time period.)

Further evidence that the show was mostly geared to small children is the incessant use of visual slapstick, and its usually simplistic morality, though it's a little schizoid about that at times. While there's the ironic twist for a greedy passenger in "Strange Voyage"; the redemption-by-sacrifice of "Expedition to Mars" (a sacrifice less pointless in the 1963 version than in the 1980 one); and the tragedy of the robotic Cleopatra (a story that also appears in the 1980 remake), by and large there's an attitude here that if you're truly remorseful, you get a Mulligan. (In "The Phantom Spaceship", this even applies to starting a war. By the way, that one seems to be the only one with an actual female villain in these 52 episodes; I don't think Cleo (who was just being used) counts.)

Tezuka here seemed more interested in his moral messages than in world-building per se, so as noted earlier there's little continuity between the episodes. You kind of notice it when inventions are introduced that you'd normally expect to have far-reaching, permanent effects on the show's world, but don't, because they're just props for the action in the individual episodes. Examples include immortality ("The Elixir of Life"), time travel ("Westward, Ha!"); robotic replacements for people who've left ("Memorial Day"); and teleporation ("3D Tee Vee").

There's also a tendency to start a story with ONE focus, but then shift it to something else. Sometimes it's from a general issue to a specific personal one- one episode begins concerned with space pirates, but eventually focuses on a unique father-son relationship- and that one worked just fine. I also had a great time with "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms", which just copied the title of a well-known Sci-Fi/Horror flick; the "beasts" (there was a horde of them) were certainly not from 20,000 fathoms, but were just some large talking lizards (!), that sprayed humans with mind-control venom, and spent the latter part of the episode jeering Astro, and cheering on the robot they'd had built to defeat him. (Astro quite often ended up fighting a robot of some sort.) On the other hand, I was frankly puzzled by an episode which begins with a human cheating a genie, and the genie says they'll take revenge. Later in the episode, a powerful robot comes to Earth, and Astro must defeat it; but the only evidence we have connecting the genie and the robot is the narrator's assertion that the genie sent it to take revenge.

To go back to the fact that inventions in this show often seem to be featured only once and then forgotten, perhaps sometimes that's just as well, since the Mad Scientists (actually they're Mad Engineers) who conceive them tend to be very careless about them. We find that Dr. Elefun himself created an "Artificial Sun" which could (and DID) easily cause widespread destruction, but what did he do with it? He didn't need it anymore, so he just sold it to a producer of low-budget Sci-Fi movies. Look, I'm not sure I would have trusted even Roger Corman with something like that, must less Ed Wood Jr. (And if it were sold to a producer of low-budget horror movies, well, imagine if you can the carnage Rob Zombie could have perpetrated with something like that.)

Am I the only person who thinks that the infectious Astro Boy theme song sounds a lot like some school's athletic team's fight song?

Like a lot of Sci Fi we'll say this one was excessively optimistic about what the near future (2000 was only 37 years after the show appeared) would bring. What DID happen to those flying cars? (Much less inexpensive space travel!)

OK, bottom line time here, kids. How do I rate it? I'm not even sure what CRITERIA to use. Its importance as the FIRST anime series available in the U.S. must go into the rating; but its limitations as a kid's show- and its obvious budgetary limitations-weighed pretty heavily with me. In general, despite the priority of the 1963 version, the 1980 color version is better made, and seems to have less filler (I guess they chose the more interesting stories for it), so I'm only going 3 stars here instead of the 4 I went on the 1980.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Mild violence. MPAA rating is All.

Version(s) Viewed: DVD
Review Status: Full (52/52)
Astro Boy (1963) © Tezuka Production Company, Ltd./Mushi Production Company, Ltd.
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