HAPPY BIRTHDAY ASTRO BOY!
Celebrating the Birth of the "Robot with a Heart" (April 21, 2003)
Many Japanese adults grew up with the cartoon character
Astro Boy (known in Japanese as Tetsuwan Atomu, meaning
Mighty Atom). Astro Boy first appeared in Shonen magazine in 1952. Later, starting
in 1963, he starred in an animated TV series, of which 193 episodes were made.
This cartoon was extremely popular, maintaining an average viewership rating of
30%. In the fall of 1963, the Tetsuwan Atomu series
crossed the Pacific to the United States, where 104 episodes were aired on NBC
under the name Astro Boy. Like their Japanese counterparts,
many American adults no doubt feel nostalgic for their childhoods when they see the
Astro Boy character.
|Makoto Tezuka, son of Astro Boy's creator Osamu Tezuka, shakes Astro Boy's hand at Robodex 2003. (Jiji)
Real Time Catches Up with Astro Boy's Birthdate
Astro Boy's creator, the late manga (cartoon) artist Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989),
set the Tetsuwan Atomu series in Japan 50 years in
the future. On April 7, 2003, real time caught up with the fictional birthdate
Tezuka chose for his character. When Astro Boy first appeared, Japan was just
beginning to pick itself up from the rubble of World War II. Tezuka gave his creativity
free rein, and his futuristic portrayal of the transportation networks and cityscapes
of twenty-first century society anticipated today's computerized world with what
was, in some respects, a startling degree of accuracy.
So has the modern age caught up with Astro Boy's world? Certainly, the high-rise
buildings that dominate the Tokyo skyline and the superhighways that crisscross
the country could have been lifted straight from the near-future world depicted
by Tezuka. But what about the main character Atomu himself? Does he have an equivalent
in today's real world?
A Robot with a Heart
With the aid of jet-propelled footwear, Astro Boy flew through the skies at supersonic
speed. He had strength equivalent to 100,000 horsepower and could speak 60 languages.
But his most important feature was that he had a heart and experienced emotions.
For better or worse, modern civilization has yet to create a robot with a heart.
Though research into artificial intelligence is moving forward, nothing has yet
been created that comes close to replicating human emotions. On this point, Tezuka's
vision was too far ahead of its time.
In commemoration of Astro Boy's birthday, the character is returning to TV screens
in his first new series for 22 years, Astro Boy Tetsuwan
Atomu - to be aired by the stations of the Fuji Television Network. This
comeback series, produced by artists who were heavily influenced by Tezuka, consists
of 50 episodes that will air over the coming 12 months. The theme of this series
is "the robot with a heart," and the focus is on Astro Boy's preoccupation
with his own consciousness. According to the director of the series, Kazuya Konaka
of Tezuka Productions, "The theme is the relationship between humans and
robots. As Atomu wrestles with his status as a robot, humans have trouble deciding
how to treat a robot with a heart."
Astro Boy on the Silver Screen?
The new Astro Boy series will be broadcast in the United States, too. And word
has it that in 2004 a major Hollywood studio, Columbia Pictures Industries Inc.,
will invest $100 million in making a film based on the series. Meanwhile, Astro
Boy's Birthday Party, a festival of animated-film screenings and exhibitions,
began on April 6 in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles and will run for two
Naturally, a variety of birthday events are scheduled in
Japan. Robodex 2003, one of the world's largest robot shows, took place in Yokohama from April 4 to 6.
Robodex 2002 made headlines for the Asimo,
an upright-walking robot created by Honda that can walk up and down stairs, and
the SDR-4X, a Sony robot that can dance and sing. This year's event witnessed
the introduction of a silver-colored Asimo that can walk twice as fast as the
previous model and many other robots designed to do real work in human society,
such as nursing care and security. At the center of the venue there was a display
called Atom Dream Factory, which featured real industrial robots gathered around
Astro Boy acting out the moment of his birth.
For anyone visiting Japan during this time, one spot that is well worth a visit
is the Tezuka Osamu Memorial Hall in the city of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture,
where Tezuka spent his youth. Visitors to the country are also likely to encounter
whimsical tributes to Astro Boy's birthday in some unexpected places. For example,
in Tezuka's original manga, Atomu was born in the
Tokyo district of Takadanobaba. Now, each time a train leaves JR Takadanobaba
station, its departure is announced by the playing of a few bars from the Tetsuwan
Atomu theme song over the station's public address system. So anyone standing
on the platform is able to hear the famous melody that once captured children's
The number and variety of tributes to Astro Boy reflect the great affection felt
by so many people in Japan and elsewhere toward this lovable robot.
Related Web Sites
Astro Boy (Japanese only)
"Asimo" in Kids Web Japan
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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