I’ll start this review with a disclaimer about my Astro Boy knowledge level – for those Astro Boy fans reading this, I’m not an Astro Boy die-hard, and while I have some hazy recollections from my youth, until a few days ago, that’s about where my AB knowledge ended.
Astro Boy Backgrounder
The box set reviewed here contains 50 new episodes, released on television in their entirety overseas in, and in part in North America, in 2003. This is in fact the third incarnation of Astro Boy:
Ok – that sums up the production story. As for Astro Boy’s actual plot, it’s fairly comprehensible for an anime production: in each of the incarnations, Astro is a powerful robot boy, created to replace a scientist’s dead child, and abandoned by that same scientist when he proves unable to completely replace the lost son. Astro is then found and nurtured by a kindly scientist, with a pronounced nose. Fortunately for humanity, Astro’s deadbeat father equipped him with rockets, lasers, all manner of sensors, and so on, because under his newfound father/mentor’s tutelage, he spends the bulk of his time saving humanity.
I can’t comment on how political any of the earlier incarnations were, but this Astro plays it relatively safe. In the later episodes there’s a very Matrix-esque People vs. Machines plot which plays similar in some ways to the shorts of the Animatrix, but without much in the way of real violence. Watch the feature “The Remaking of Astro Boy” and you’ll see why; American consultants were brought in on the project to advise the Japanese story-writers and animators as to what would be acceptable for American regulators and the public. The special feature is pretty weak over all, but listening to translations of the Japanese staffers complaining about the American’s advice makes it worth seeing. To judge from this dialog, the series is much brighter and cheerier than the artists and writers involved would have preferred, so that the sensibilities of delicate North American minds aren’t offended.
The new series maintains many cues in common with the original; characters, their features, and so forth. Layered on top of it, however, are many modern visual allusions to everything from more recent animated series (Gundam, etc.), to the Matrix (check out Tenma’s dogs in Episode 49).
From what I remember, the voices and mannerisms are similar to the original as well. What is definitely new, however, is the soundtrack. Action sequences and the opening credits are accompanied by a Matrix-y techno soundtrack which complements the action well.
This series is a typically modern blend of cel-based animation, and CGI work. To make it work, the bulk of production would have been done digitally, and it shows. The episodes are completely free of physical interference (no dust, scratches, etc.). The world of Astro Boy is a colourful one, and that comes across very well in this set’s video; saturation is consistent and excellent, with no grain or fuzziness in night scenes. One strange thing is that the credits appear to be very blurry, in contrast to each episode’s generally high level of sharpness and visual detail.
The audio is standard 2.0 fare, with good separation, clear dialog, well utilized bass, and so forth. This is about as good an audio experience as anyone has the right to expect from an animated TV series. One interesting feature is that there are three audio track languages – 2.0 is available in English, Spanish, or Portuguese, with subtitles offered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese as well. Interesting choices. Better would have been if the audio was available in Japanese (the dubbing at times is pretty out-of-sync) with English subtitles, but no dice here.
There’s actually only one real special feature, which is the aforementioned Remaking of Astro Boy featurette. Its only about 10 minutes long, and pretty fluffy. Worth a very quick watch, but fundamentally uninteresting.
Of more interest was actually the collection of trailers on Disc 5, labeled as Previews. These include some great releases, like Metropolis and Steamboy – fun trailers to flip through. These aren’t mentioned on the packaging, but they’re there.
One thing I learned while reading up on this series is how huge Astro Boy is on a global basis. He doesn’t penetrate the North American consciousness very deeply (at least not that I’m aware of), but in some parts of Japan, he’s actually on currency. The bottom line is that if you are an anime fan, or an Astro fan, this new series is a worthy successor, and this box set has all the right basic ingredients to make for enjoyable viewing.
Special Features List
- Remaking of Astro Boy