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Manga / Astro Boy

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Soaring high in the skies...

Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy, called Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty Atom" or literally "Iron Arm Atom") in Japan, began life as a manga that was serialized in the magazine Shonen from 1952 to 1968. It has been brought to television as an anime three times, in 1963, 1980, and 2003. It's a historically significant series, as Tezuka's style defined the look of iconic anime and manga, and the English dub of the 60s show became one of the first popular anime in America.

In the unimaginably distant future year of 2001, Dr. Tenma, of the Ministry of Science, loses his son in an accident. Half-mad with grief, the roboticist creates "Tetsuwan Atom," a rocket-powered android in his late son's image, and programs him to be a "good little boy." After a series of tragedies and misadventures, including abandonment by his "father," Atom is rescued and adopted by Dr. Ochanomizu, and decides to take up crime fighting. This decision soon leads him into all manner of danger and excitement, as he battles mad scientists, evil aliens and giant robots.

Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy is something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan; the character is virtually a folk hero. For example, on April 7, 2003 - the date of Astro Boy's "birth" within the show - the third TV series debuted and celebrations were held all over the world. The largest, of course, were in Japan, but even across America and Europe Japanese neighborhoods threw parties to commemorate the event. A commemorative plaque stands in the Tokyo district that the manga identifies as Atom's birthplace.

The third TV series inspired two video games, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, released first, then later a second game was released for the PlayStation 2. A CGI movie produced by Imagi Animation Studios was released in October 2009, also bringing to the table a movie-based game that spanned several consoles. In early 2011, an iPhone/iPod game called Astro Boy: Tap Tap Rush was released, first in Japan and then later in the US. For a video game series that was directly inspired by this franchise, see Mega Man (Classic).

The series also had a couple of popular unofficial spinoffs— Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, which was a reimagining and Perspective Flip of the "The Greatest Robot on Earth" arc, and Tetsuro Kasahara's Atom: The Beginning, which serves as a Prequel and shows how Dr. Tenma came to the point of creating Astro.

The Astro Boy manga provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Dr. Tenma is an early manga example. After he lost his son in a traffic accident, he built Astro Boy as a Replacement Goldfish. Shortly afterwards, he realized a Replacement Goldfish is not a substitute for the original thing, and he began to berate and scorn Astro constantly, yelling him for such a nefarious crimes like being unable to grow up. Finally he got fed up with him and sold him in slavery. Thank God that he was programmed to be a "good boy" and was taken in by Dr. Ochanomizu, who was an altruistic, kind man instilled and nurtured those traits in Astro Boy, or maybe he could have become a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
  • All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles: A Discussed Trope. In the introduction to Count Bat, Tezuka discusses the different attitudes toward sex and violence in Japanese and American cartoons and how it's helped to shape these cultures' perceptions of each other.
  • Ass Kicks You: He has dual machine guns in his butt. Which, coupled by the fact that he looks like he's half naked all the time is the main reason western audiences find Astro Boy strange. Or hilarious. Or strangely hilarious. (This has been debated constantly, though. Some think the machine guns are in his hips, and with Tezuka's simplistic drawing style at the time, you could probably see why. The 2009 film does establish they're in his butt though, much to Astro's shock.)
  • Author Avatar: The collected editions have introductions in comic-strip form, showing Tezuka in his studio talking "to camera" about the stories (and sometimes being visited by the characters, who suggest things for him to explain to the audience).
  • Badass Adorable: Whatever else he may be, Astro is always this. May be the earliest example, and certainly the earliest in anime. (Of course, Astro is the earliest for a lot of things in anime.)
  • Bell-Bottom-Limbed Bots: Many of the male robots have thick legs and forearms. Astro himself is an example if you count his boots. Epsilon who is a female robot also has them, and still looks feminine in them since hers resemble arm warmers/leg warmers.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: One story had Astro encounter an alien who had assisted in humanity's evolution. Said alien, having seen what has become of the human race, decides to destroy it in order to put Earth out of its misery. When Astro counters that there are good humans, the alien simply retorts that "Good" and "Evil" are strictly human concepts; as far as the rest of the universe is concerned, "All humans are worthless!"
  • Combining Mecha:
    • Gadem, a group of 47 androids who combined to form a giant centipede.
    • One story had Astro himself becoming part of a combiner made up of other humanoid robots in order to fight a giant snow leopard who was actually a combination of billions of electricity eating space amoebas.
  • Compulsory School Age: Astro Boy is sent to grade school with human children of his apparent age despite being a robot with a super-advanced AI. Sometimes this is explicitly said to be for the purpose of socialization, sometimes not. Subverted with Astro's robot "parents", who are also sent to school in a lower grade because they're actually younger than him.
  • Continuity Snarl: Dear lord, so very many of them. Try to put the stories into a continuous timeline and the only thing you'll end up with is a headache.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Averted. In one story, a terrorist organization steals dogs and grafts their brains in mechanical, humanoid bodies in order to create loyal and utterly obedient soldiers. However, in the prologue of the story, Osamu Tezuka argued as far as he was concerned, the soul or spirit of the being always endures, even it if is mechanized.
  • Deal with the Devil: Subverted in the retelling of Astro's origin in the Scara time travel arc. A suspicious-looking Japanese-American businessman offers to fund Dr. Tenma's project to create a robot boy, if Tenma will let the man borrow the robot for one day. The man turns out to be a civil rights activist who only shows Astro how badly robots need rights themselves.
  • Detect Evil: Astro's incorruptible heart is advanced enough to tell if someone is evil or a complete jerk.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Volume 5 of the collected editions has an intro comic in which Osamu Tezuka talks about where he gets his characters from. Lamp and Kin san Kaku go out and get plastered at the end after they learn they were both designed after Tezuka's dorky elementary school classmates.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: A major adversary, with a frightening horned appearance, is given the name Pluto.
  • Fantastic Drug: In one issue, there was a drug called Yellow Horse which made the people who took it dance crazily.
  • Fantastic Racism: A major recurring theme. Humans in this future choose robots as scapegoats to society's problems.
  • Four-Fingered Hands: Since Tezuka's art style is influenced by Western Animation, Astro has four-fingered hands — except when he doesn't. One of the volumes of the collected editions has a foreword in which Tezuka acknowledges and discusses the fact that he's been inconsistent on this point.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: One story involves Astro spotting a man apparently disposing of a body in a furnace. It turns out to be less sinister than it first appears, as the body is actually the remains of an experimental humanoid robot.
  • The Hero Dies: In the Scara arc, we see Astro's demise - which is directly linked to his birth.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: The closest thing Uran ever got to a love interest was Pluto, who's at least two stories tall.
  • Humongous Mecha: While not a piloted mecha, Pluto comes close to being one.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: The first adaptation was a toku that aired from 1959-1960.
  • McNinja: A gag panel from the "World's Strongest Robot" arc. Ochanomizu asks why the Middle-Eastern villain's Hyper-Competent Sidekick dresses in black all-concealing robes, and he responds by producing a shuriken as if to prove that he really is a ninja! Then the Author Avatar steps in to announce that it's just a joke, and the story continues as if nothing had happened.
    • Amusingly enough, in both the 2003 anime and Pluto the character does turn out to be Japanese, specifically a robot made by Dr. Tenma.
  • Mini-Mecha: Commander Ketchup uses one during his Heroic Sacrifice holding back the invading Starfish Aliens at the conclusion of the Mars Base storyline. Being that it was written in the 1950s, it looks rather underwhelmingly like a boxy Tin-Can Robot.
  • Motherly Scientist: Dr. Ochanomizu is a Fatherly Scientist, who treats Astro as a human being and not just as an impressive bit of machinery.
  • Multiple Endings: Overlapping with No Ending - Tezuka famously admitted he could never quite give Astro Boy a satisfying ending. Though he drew several of them, none of them were ever endorsed to be the proper ending to the franchise. Nearly all of them end with Astro dying in some way:
    • The most well-known ending: Astro is elected President of Earth but sacrifices himself to stop a sunspot from destroying Earth - this was the ending to the first anime.
    • A manga epilogue to the above ending suggested: Astro's melted body is discovered by a race of aliens who repair him but require his help and The Adventures Continue.
    • A lengthly ending in the manga: Astro sent back in time to the 1960s where he begins to die without advanced energy to power his battery. He spends the rest of his short life accelerating development of robots and artificial intelligence, creating a Stable Time Loop.
    • The one Tezuka himself later regretted/disavowed was: Astro is awoken in the dystopian future by humans, having been a museum piece for centuries. He finds that the tables are turned and that robots now rule the world and raise humans as pets for bloodsports and to torture for their own amusement. The humans hope that he can become their savior but the technology has advanced so far that he's Killed Offscreen. Tezuka himself said that it was an O.K. scifi story but that such a bleak ending was a bad move. It not only undid most of the themes of the series but readers could also interpret it as Astro being fundamentally wrong and that robots did deserve to remain slaves.
  • My Future Self and Me: A non-time travel example: "Astro's Been Stolen" has a grown-up Astro and Uran visiting Astro's residence.
  • Never Say "Die": variation: Tezuka and co. had faith that kids could handle such heavy concepts as death, but Executive Meddling on both sides of the Pacific forced them to tone it down. He does kill humans a few times in the manga, though, including an eco-terrorist about to throw a bomb into a room full of hostages & scads of American soldiers about to bomb a village full of innocent civilians during a time travel incident that put him smack-dab in the middle of The Vietnam War.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: The series is set in the early 2000s, but clothing hasn't changed much since the 50s (or, later on, the 80s).
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Dr. Ochanomizu, whose main background is in robotics, also comes up with inventions like a bomb that flash-freezes everything for miles around and even a device that can read minds (although considering he's the head of the Ministry of Science he may have had some help with these).
  • Only One Me Allowed Right Now: In the Scara time travel arc, Astro's lifeless body still exists by the time Dr. Tenma originally constructs him, and the newborn Astro can't be activated until the older Astro is destroyed.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: The "Blue Knight" saga ended with Astro losing his head and half his upper torso in a Heroic Sacrifice to protect the evil Count Burg from being killed by the Blue Knight's final desperation attack in his own death-throes. The subsequent "Astro Reborn" arc had several failed attempts to revive him before Dr. Tenma finally resurfaced and pulled it off, but with Astro losing all his memories and briefly doing a Faceā€“Heel Turn.
  • Parental Abandonment: Seeing that Astro was not physically growing, Tenma cruelly tells him he's not his son and sells him to the Robot Circus. But of course, Tenma was mentally unstable to begin with.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Next to Pluto, Astro's quite possibly the most powerful robot on Earth.
  • Power Levels: Astro's power is measured in horsepower, possessing in essence a 100,000 limit.
  • The Professor: Astro's mentor, Ochanomizu, is an Omnidisciplinary Scientist and the head of the national Ministry of Science. He acts as a source of useful knowledge and inventions throughout the series.
  • Rage Against the Author: In the collected reprints, Tezuka added several introduction comics featuring him discussing various things related to the story and sometimes interacting with the characters. As a result he gets chewed out by Uran for not giving her a proper origin story, Lamp for giving him a deformed skull, and Mr. Mustachio for making the supposedly futuristic world of Astro Boy so darned mundane.
  • Replacement Goldfish:
    • Astro Boy himself is a replacement for the son Doctor Tenma lost, who died in a car accident playing with a robotic car that Doctor Tenma gave him to make up for the fact that he was so obsessed with developing a super-robot that he forgot to pay attention to his son.
    • The story "Memory Day" features a national holiday in which people are visited by robot duplicates of lost family members.
    • Deconstructed with this trope's unbuilding: much to Dr. Tenma's frustration, robots don't physically mature. Jumping Off the Slippery Slope follows.
  • Reused Character Design: As usual for Tezuka, many of the supporting characters are drawn from his "Star System" of recurring character designs. Played with in one story where Astro is approached by a sinister-seeming businessman who turns out to have altruistic motives; for Tezuka fans, the initial distrust is enhanced by the businessman's character design, which Tezuka had previously only used for villains.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Astro and Uran fit this to a T. Other machine characters look less human, even other androids like Astro and his sister aren't that perfect.
  • Robo Family: One of the first examples (if not the first), Astro has his sister Uran, a couple of brothers (who don't appear in most adaptations for reasons of Adaptation Distillation), and his robot parents, all created after him to remedy his lack of a real family; as well as his other sibling Atlas (in 80's anime only).
  • Robot Kid:
    • Astro himself, created in imitation of Dr. Tenma's son.
    • Uran and Cobalt, created to be siblings for Astro.
    • Titan, the little baby boy robot who is the third sibling for Astro. He made appearances only in some exclusive short stories ran in MIGHTY ATOM CLUB official magazines.
  • Seeking Ultimate Strength: The iconic "The Strongest Robot in the World" arc focuses on a robot named Pluto that wishes to prove himself as the strongest by killing the other 7 robots in the world. He temporarily succeeds in doing so, only to get struggle against a revived Astro before suffering a Mutual Kill against a secret super robot named Bora. Unlike most examples of this trope, Pluto has no genuine desire to be the strongest robot on Earth or to kill other sentient machines, with his selfish master forcing him to prove his strength.
  • Skipping School: In the chapter "Robot Land", Mr. Mustachio learns from Dr. Ochanomizu that Astro's been trapped in the said land, he leaves his class to go there with him, prompting all the male classmates (including Kenichi) to skip school and save Astro themselves.
  • The Slow Path: After he's sent to the past in the Scara arc, Astro has to live through the time until his present.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Astro Boy was built to replace a grieving scientist's young son, and is equipped with a 100,000-horsepower engine, rocket feet, and a machine gun that comes out of his butt, among other things. Hand-waved by having Dr. Tenma simply retool an existing "ultimate robot" model to look like his son, or claim that he will not only make his son a robot, but the "best robot ever".
  • Time Travel: The Scara arc has the explosion of an alien spaceship send Astro back to 1969. Several other stories contain time travel as well.
  • Transforming Mecha:
    • Pook, a robot kid who could turn into a variety of animals before his transformation system was destroyed by trying to change into too many things too fast.
    • Odette, a robot ballet dancer who turns into a swan who was created for a fairytale theme park attraction based on Swan Lake.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The original manga was written in the 50s and set in the early 2000s.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As explained in the description of the trope page, this manga utterly deconstructed the Replacement Goldfish trope through the horrible way that Dr. Tenma treated his replacement "son."
  • Underwear of Power: Astro frequently fights wearing only his briefs and his boots, which are actually part of his body.
  • Utopia: Astro's world is a more hopeful vision of the future, with all the cliches seen today: high-rise buildings stretching into the sky, robots everywhere, flying cars, and world peace. In the manga, the only country that wages war is Pekoku (Peacock). Tezuka lived in a time where nuclear war seemed a great possibility and as such the manga was a positive look on the use of atomic power.
    • On a side note, the original story proposal for the manga was entitled CONTINENT ATOM, and it would deal with the country which can use atomic power for the good of humanity. After several revision, the name 'Atom' was finally given to the robot protagonist instead of a background place.
  • Warring Natures: In one story, there was a cyborg (half human, half robot) that was detested by both the robots and the humans, back when they weren't on so good terms. He resented that, and plotted revenge.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Much like Star Trek: The Original Series, many episodes are essentially adaptations of classic science fiction stories. The Transparent Giant was inspired by the original novella of The Fly and Ivan the Fool shares its premise with the Fritz Leiber story A Pail of Air.
  • Zeerust: For one thing, robots in the future still run on vacuum tubes. And atomic power is still considered a viable energy source for a portable generator. Later incarnations rectify this, though.

Alternative Title(s): Tetsuwan Atom