After a horrific car crash, Dr Tenma lost his beloved son Tobio. Out of grief, he built a robotic son named Astro as a replacement; but soon after, Dr Tenma had the boy deactivated and put into a deep sleep. In the present, the scientist Dr O'Shea finds Astro and risks everything to reactivate him, train him to be a hero of justice, and raise him to be a functioning member of society. Amidst the prejudice of humanity, the pacifistic Astro will promote peace, battle the forces of injustice, and attempt to bridge the gap between humans and machines.
Story: One of the most remarkable aspects of Tezuka's creations, Astro Boy being one of the more prominent, is the way he injects such themes as identity, discriminations, the consequences of war, and our sense of morality into to a presentation that never loses its target audience (shounen - young boys). These themes are subtle enough not to interfere with the overall tone of the works which is typical 'boys adventure' laced with slapstick humour. That is why Astro has been such an enduring character (one shouldn’t forget nostalgias role also). However I am mainly talking about the manga (which I have already reviewed) - unfortunately his anime adaption’s, not to mention the 2009 film (which can burn in hell) have never really matched the pathos of the original work. The 1963 series came closest, but much of the social commentary made way for slapstick humour and the like. So now we come to the 2003 series... It's 2043 and robots are a common part of human life in 'Metro City.' An abandoned Astro, one of the most advanced AIs ever made by the former Minister of Science Dr Tenma, is discovered and subsequently brought to life by his replacement Dr O'shay (better known as Dr Ochanomizu or Dr Elephant from previous reincarnations). One of the underlining plotlines of the series is Astro's relationship to his 'father' - why he was created then abandoned, and Tenmas plan for him in the future. This is one of the best parts of the overall story, coming closest to achieving parity with Tezukas original ideas and concepts. However this development serves as the bookends to what may be described as 30-40 episodes of 'filler' - and not very good filler at that. Maybe that’s a bit harsh...the filler found here is no worse than any other shonen anime, but at 50 episodes and with source material brimming with important, better subjects it is disappointing to have to sit through so much unsubstantial material. Towards the end there are allusions towards discrimination and slavery when the robots revolt (think of it as a more light and fluffy version of Animatrix) and Astro has to mediate between them and the humans. This was a recurring theme in the original manga, and it plays an important part in the major arc mentioned before, however the delivery of its themes and messages are lost in translation so to speak. It is unfair to blame a shounen show for being shounen - and you have to remember Astro Boy was one of the originators of the genre in the 60s - but there is a sense of potential going to waste here. Perhaps when Pluto inevitably gets an adaption (film, series or other) we will finally get to see this potential fulfilled. Animation: Animation is neither good nor bad. The backgrounds are nice and it does have some good action sequences, however nothing in particular stands out above other show in this genre. Special mention to the character designs which retain that distinctive 'Tezuka' look. These have always been charming and resemble the earlier Disney/Fleischer look (which inspired them) setting them apart from modern anime designs. This might not be for everyone though as the departure is fairly radical and may seem 'old-fashioned' to some. Sound: Sound...is hard to judge. As far as I am aware no original audio with subtitles exists for this series and I'm guessing it probably never will in the future. What we are left with is the heavily edited English adaption. Not only are the voices dubbed (obviously) but the soundtrack and opening and ending themes were altered dramatically. Gone is the orchestrated background music, replaced with generic electro...something or other. The original OP (which was 1:30 and conforms to what one expects from any anime nowadays - and is excellent I might add) is replaced with a generic 30 second rock track intro with a strangely angry looking Astro to boot. The voice acting from the English cast isn't bad, but I'm a subs person so I can't really compare it. Characters: The central figures pretty much conform to their original personalities found in the earlier shows and the manga: Astro is brave and righteous, Dr O'shay is kind and wise, Zoran (Astro sister, better known as Uran in earlier adaptations) is tomboyish etc. Some of the supporting cast will be recognisable (Tawashi, Skunk, Atlas etc). A lot of the additional characters that first appear in this series seem to play their part but don't add much to the show as a whole. Dr Tenma's role is greatly expanded and probably has the most depth out of all the characters present. Overall a fan of the series won't be disappointed by how the familiar members of the cast are treated as it mainly conforms to ones expectations without exceeding them (Tenma being the exception). Those new to the series will recognise the various different character tropes found in most any shounen show. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, don't come in expecting much more. Overall: Astro Boy 2003 was decidedly average in every regard. For fans of the character there are some good parts which will remind you of why you liked Astro in the first place, but these are few and far between. What could have been an opportunity to reintroduce Astro Boy and Tezuka's vision to the world at large ends up becoming another generic action adventure show. Considering the two previous series filled this void, Astro Boy 2003 could have been so much more. Side note: A Gameboy Advanced game was made to coincide with the release of Astro Boy 2003, which turned out to be...quiet awesome. Worth checking out.
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