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The Real Astro Boy Story: Depressing as Hell

With the new Hollywood CGI Astro Boy now out in theaters, the usual question comes to mind: how close will it be to the original comic? And the answer for most US comic fans is…”who the heck actually read Astro Boy?” Well, we did. And we’re betting the movie’s changed a lot of this sad story of one robot’s struggle against anti-robot racism.

If you’re not familiar with it, “Astro Boy” (or “Mighty Atom” as it’s called in Japan) started off as a manga series in 1952, written and drawn by the incredibly prolific Osamu Tezuka, the “god of manga.” It takes place in a world where sentient robots are commonplace, but still often treated as objects. (Think A.I. without creepy Haley Joel Osment.) There have been several anime and manga adaptations of Astro’s origin, but they all share one thing – they’re depressing as hell.

The story begins with robotics expert Dr. Tenma’s son Tobio smashing his hover-car into a hover-truck and hover-dying. Oh, and this is no off-panel death – the original manga features a several pages of Tobio driving and a splash panel of his car exploding and his legs flying out of the car. After all, there’s nothing like a kid getting killed to set the stage for wacky, sci-fi fun.Consumed by grief, Tenma creates a robot duplicate of his lost son: Astro Boy. That’s a happy ending, right? Nope! Once Tenma realizes that Astro will never age, he rejects him. And by rejects him, we mean he sells him to a robot circus owner named Ham Eggs. (In the original manga, he beats with a broom first.) Yep, his dad not only kicks him out of his life, but sentences him to a life of slavery. It’s good thing he gave Astro emotions, right?

If this seems a little harsh, Tezuka apparently thought so too – when they revamped his origin story a couple decades later, Tezuka explained away Tenma’s harsh treatment of Astro by saying he was drunk – which of course makes everything better.

And here’s where we get even more robot hatred as Astro’s job in the circus seems to mainly involve destroying other robots. Oh and in his off-hours, he gets to relax by watching other robots die in horrible ways. In fact, we get to watch Astro’s friend, Tornado, ends up being burned to a crisp while jumping through high-voltage beams. It seems Ham Eggs won’t spring for a safety upgrade, so everyone gets to see a robot burn to death. Heck, Eggs won’t even let Astro wear clothes since he’s just robot – which is why he always just wears those weird short shorts.

Eventually, Astro gets out of that circus with the help of a good scientist, Dr. Ochanomizu, and ends up spending a lot of his time fighting either people wanting to destroy robots or robots wanting to destroy people. But while Astro managed to keep his spirits up for the rest of the series, he never really escaped his tragic origin, and while the movie featured him ultimately being embraced by his creator, in the original series, Tenma felt too ashamed by his actions to ever reconcile with his robo-boy.

So, the original origin of Astro Boy involves being beaten, enslaved, and forced to fight his own kind for a blood-thirsty circus crowd — scenes that somehow didn’t make to the big screen. And ehile they’ve clearly kept some of the original characters (Tenma and Ham Egg are in it), they’ve changed a bunch of things — particularly adding the cliché “tomboy who loves fixing things” character as a love interest for Astro, and a robot dog sidekick that seems tailor made for the stuffed animal crowd. All in all, your typical happy American CGI film.

Which means that saddest thing about “Astro Boy” the film may be that they’ve cut out the soul-crushing sadness of the original.

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