In solemn times we all need something that will keep us in the light. My previous two articles have been of a sadder nature and this week I aim to change that. To do so I need a character that will display great happiness. One that can instill not only joy into others but inspiration, a character that is known throughout the world. This character will be from the oldest series I have yet to write about. A series that has paved the way for many after it and brought happiness to a lot of children. I give you Astro Boy.
For clarification the version of Astro Boy that I will being talking about is from the 2003 anime and the English dub no less. This will also mark the first series that I will be drawing a character from that is within my own collection. This is a series I’ve been wanting to tackle since beginning this run of articles and this felt like the right time to showcase it. I want to also clarify that the names I will be using are from the English source and not the original Japanese, so I won’t be referring to Astro as Atom.
-Warning: There are things past this point that are spoilers. You’ve been warned, so don’t come complaining if something gets spoiled for you.-
To start let’s put off talking about Astro for a second and talk about this series in general. Now I don’t usually do this but I feel this particular series warrants the attention. During my watch through I began to feel that not only were there individual characters such as Astro and Dr. Tenma and what have you, but the series itself felt a lot like a character. Every little bit of detail had so much personality put into it from the background characters to the scenery itself, everything felt alive. The previous series I’ve looked into definitely have their own worlds around them but this series’ world felt so vibrant, creative and alive that it stood out so much more to me than those others. It definitely feels like a legitimate world was built around Astro, and that right there is what made me fall in love with this series.
In a world inhabited by humans and robots Astro is a little bit different. Built to resemble the dead child of his creator and programmed with the innovated Kokoro, Astro is capable of displaying human emotions and free will. Due to this Astro is regarded as the future of robots, showing just what robot kind can truly become and just how human they can be as well. Now I refer to Astro’s ability to feel, Kokoro, as a program, though really it isn’t quite that simple. Kokoro isn’t something that is very easily explained and is generally summed up as meaning emotion or soul. Since this is kind of a complicated idea I will continue to refer to Kokoro as a program for the sake of ease.
Astro’s personality is quite simple. He’s a child that wants to play around and just have fun, which makes sense Astro was created to resemble a young boy, personality and all. Astro is certainly of the “boy-scout” type of character, the goody-good, always willing to help out and never really saying anything wrong type. He is very kind and considerate and is very much the all around hallmark Superman-esque depiction of a superhero.
Despite resembling a child and being of a childlike nature Astro displays a lot of mature qualities such as selflessness, sheer bravery, and even shows abilities to mediate within debates and remain a neutral party. In fact neutrality really sums up Astro well during a lot of the main disputes throughout the series. When it comes to situation throughout the series that become robot versus human or anything of the like Astro never really picks a side, rather he’d prefer to simply make everyone happy. He never really sees others as being inherently good or evil but instead being either mislead or misunderstood in some way, resulting in Astro, more often than not, attempting to help his enemies resolve their own issues.
While Astro’s tendency to view people as neither good nor evil could be contributed to him not knowing the difference between right and wrong yet, it is predominately due to his overly trusting nature. It’s because of this trusting nature, as well as his childlike demeanor, that Astro can become quite naïve. Since he is so trusting he never really questions other people’s motives right away and often gets himself into trouble because of this. This idea is again very childlike and shows just how much growing up Astro still has left. Thanks to Astro’s Kokoro and him being a child he is capable of growing and learning as any human would. This very much sets Astro apart from his robot brethren establishing his human nature further.
Despite neutrality and thanks to his all around good, trusting nature Astro never really struggles when making difficult decisions. When he was told to pick between helping humans or helping robots he instantly chose both without much worry or struggle over his decision. While caring for both sides could be attributed to his human way of feeling, his decisiveness and near perfectly balanced character can really be attributed a lot to his robot self. Regardless of feelings Astro is still a machine that is capable of accomplishing feats far greater than that of a normal human and his decisiveness and ability to remain neutral can easily be an effect of his quick and calculating robot half.
Astro is very much a pacifist, never really wanting to fight and in most cases being forced to. It really stems from Astro’s overall love for life and all things robot or human. His want to help everyone makes him fear hurting others and as such there are no real points were Astro chooses to fight out of any manner outside of protecting others. As I said previously his pacifism even extends to attempting to help his enemies despite fighting them. Throughout the course of the series Astro never actually harms a human nor does he destroy any of the robots he battles. His hands have never been stained by the death of another being and that puts him in a rather unique category among the characters I have analyzed.
“Maybe they don’t hate us because we’re different, maybe they hate us because we’re really the same.”
Throughout the course of the series Astro is faced with many difficulties such as hatred and discrimination from humans as well as feelings of betrayal from his fellow robots. He witnesses horrors such as robot slavery, manhunts, outright murder, and even a full on robot revolution as the series progresses. Astro’s tolerance for these events is incredible, rarely doubting himself or growing angry Astro is easily the most grounded character within the series. That isn’t to say that these things don’t have their toll on Astro. Over time, while it is very subdued, Astro does develop a sense of anger and negativity toward those who harm others out of discrimination, hatred or fear. While there are points where it seems like Astro might strike back against them he always manages to keep a cool head about him.
“I can honestly say that I never wanted to be human. I only ever wanted to be me.”
The impact Astro has on other characters is predominately the same on every character throughout the series. Astro is very inspirational and is capable of bringing out the good in just about anyone he meets. Astro often inspires others to be the best person, or robot, that they can be and more often than not succeeds at doing so. The most important relationship Astro has throughout the series is actually with Dr. Tenma, his father. Interestingly enough this relationship isn’t how Astro affects Tenma but how Tenma is attempting to change Astro. Tenma’s overall plan for Astro is to drive him to the point where he will finally utilize his full powers and rule over all of robot kind. This plan actually becomes a testament to Astro’s strong will as Tenma never even comes close to succeeded, despite essentially creating an all out world war of robots and humans. Astro’s good nature and kind soul is never corrupted by his father and like all others, Tenma eventually renounces his ways.
Similar to how Godai Yuusuke reflected the very qualities that the world around him needed, so too does Astro. While Astro’s world isn’t exactly dark and gritty it is filled with a wide assortment of problems thanks to the strained relationships between humans and robots. With both sides growing a sense of mistrust the one light that stands to hold them together is Astro. Not only his personality but his very state of being is the one thing that helps bring a broken world back together and pushed into a new age. Astro is the perfect offset to the world around him, but without standing out too much so.
There are several comparisons to other characters that can easily be made, the most notable to me is the previously mentioned Superman. Similar to Superman, Astro is a non-human being capable of unbelievable feats with an absurd assortment of powers at his disposal. Aside from that however the main comparison is with personality, as I stated previously Astro and Superman are both of a definably good nature. They are the ‘boy scout’ model of character, that which is good no matter what and can be nearly perfect through their kindness. These two characters are both major icons as well, not just to their respective worlds but even outside of their stories to their industries. It’s not farfetched to say that Astro did for manga and anime in Japan what Superman did for comics in America.
The other comparison I’d like to make is probably the first that came to mind for anyone that had read my previous article, Jiro. Both Astro and Kikaider have very similar origins and are even drawn from the same source, that being Pinocchio. The two face very similar problems of discrimination by humans, but unlike Jiro Astro does not grow to resent humans but rather values the lives of everything. If anything these two characters are excellent examples of how varied humanity can be, with Jiro falling prey to the more hate filled side of humanity and Astro rising above it all as the pinnacle of what humanity could be.
Unlike the disheartening story behind Kikaider, Astro’s story reflects the goodness within humanity and the potential behind it. Astro demonstrates a love for life and all things and shows that be they human or otherwise the life of another is something to be respected and enjoyed. While the fear of things that are different from humans is there it’s the fear of that which is most like us that is the most troubling. Helping people to grow and accept the humanity and likeness between other is the main point behind Astro Boy it is a noble one at that. While we may not have robots with the ability to feel we certainly have those around us that carry their own sense of humanity and it simply comes down to a matter of our own humanity and our will to accept both the changes in our world as well as the similarities.
In the end Astro is far away one of the happiest characters to watch, bringing joy and peace to all those around him be they character or viewer. Astro’s character stands as an icon in the anime industry and it’s easy to see why. He’s fun to watch, very heroic and is inspiring to be around. His story is timeless and one of the most delightful series I’ve sat down to view. His character has remained a hallmark in the lives of children for decades and will undoubtedly remain for generations to come.