Astro Boy. I dare you to go outside and ask a few strangers, “Who is Astro Boy?” If they were born in the 60’s, they might recall a black and white, animated little boy, whose “futuristic” attire was well suited to the time period. If they were born in the 70’s, you’re pushing it. Any later than that and you might as well enquire about Hysechius and his Lexicon. Astro Boy may have undergone various recreations since the 60’s, but these days his tale is like a fine wine, something for discussion amongst anime and manga connoisseurs. Let’s face it; this isn’t Japan. Astro Boy still qualifies as prime material for one of those hilarious, intertextual jokes on The Family Guy that plays upon pop culture and esotericism.
But all that is about to change. Astro Boy has not only met Imagi Animation Studios, but also the gaming team of High Voltage Software and D3Publisher. However, before you dive into any cultural recycling pit, an ounce of context is required.
So, who is Astro Boy? He is the mental offspring of Osamu Tezuka, the reputed “god of manga.” Originally appearing in manga form in 1952, Astro Boy hit airwaves in Japan from 1963-1966. More importantly, it was the first Japanese animated series to be adapted for English ears, and found syndication in the US from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s. And while other manga and animated versions have emerged since then, none have had quite the same impact. Admiral Perry may have forcibly opened Japan in 1853, but Astro Boy peacefully and pleasurably opened the West to a new form of animation. Enter birth of anime.
That’s right kids. Look above again! Fans, so-called experts, so-called scholars might even argue, but Tezuka is given credit for developing the fundamental anime aesthetic. But I wouldn’t stop there. If Astro Boy truly helped create ainme as we know it, then we can’t overlook the weight of Tezuka’s tale.
Astro Boy is the story of a futuristic android created by Dr. Tenma to replace his dead son Tobio. Though created in Tobio’s image, Tenma soon realizes his useless effort and abandons his creation to the world. Astro may not grow old, but he must figure out his place in the world as he assumes the task of battling rogue, man-hating robots.
Whether you start thinking Pinocchio or, more specifically, Spielberg’s A.I., issues of detachment, isolation, rites of passage, belonging, and community abound in this anime tale. Yes, there is a good balance of robot fighting action, but there is a dramatic story here that makes Astro Boy transcend the simple connotation of “cartoon.” Astro, like so much anime since, has a very serious side.
Now, with the exception of the trailers and clips already released, I have not prescreened the film. Imagi’s CGI creation obviously gives Astro Boy a new look. And undoubtedly the story and script have been adapted to appeal to a modern audience. So, I expect mixed reactions. Hardcore Astro fans may not be happy with the new look. And to what extent the weight of Astro’s tale has been preserved remains to be seen. Just take a quick look around the internet. The common fear is that it may be too cartoonish, or transformed into a Disney flick. But Macoto Tezuka, Osamu’s son, was brought aboard to ensure that his father’s legacy was handled appropriately. So, this should be good.
Regardless of possible complaints, this film will introduce Astro Boy to a new generation of fans. That is a good thing! And if they ultimately seek out and connect with Tezuka’s original creation, i.e. the original manga and anime, even better.
But wait, your enjoyment of Astro Boy does not have to stop with the new movie. There is a new video game too!
Now it’s the norm these days that video games accompany major theatrical releases. But, honestly, the majority is crap. And while I haven’t tested this game myself, my gut tells me that we should expect good things. After all, check out the brief Q & A I was fortunate enough to obtain with Camerion Rains at High Voltage Software.
1.) Had you heard of Astro Boy before getting involved in the project? If not, how did you get to know this iconic robot of anime history?
CR: Absolutely! At High Voltage Software we were all huge fans of Astro Boy from the manga, anime, and video game franchises. When we were approached with the project, we jumped at the opportunity. Getting to work with a character and within a universe as rich as Astro Boy’s was one that was too good to pass up.
2.) Astro boy looks to a future whose aesthetic was born from a 1950's imagination. How do you deal with maintaining Astro Boy's look while simultaneously not making him look outdated?
CR: We were able to work really close with Imagi Studios and sync up with their art style, and in doing so we came to understand the scientific aesthetic they had created. In metaphorical terms, it is as if their world was the body of a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado that had been wired with the guts of the U.S.S. Enterprise. So with that in mind, it was really easy to keep Astro relevant. We gave him the classic iconic look, familiar to fans, and we were able to give him some amazing abilities which showcase the truly cutting edge tech that powers him.
3.) Any upgrades to his arsenal of unique weapons and abilities? Seriously, I think he's the only hero with butt machine guns!
CR: You never know when butt machine guns are going to come in handy, but I say better to be prepared! In Astro Boy: The Video Game, we were able to expand on Astro’s already established set of moves and abilities. We have given him new movement characteristics such as ducking, sliding, and wall grinding as well as a new super-move, Absorb. When Astro unleashes his Absorb super-move he will turn all enemy projectiles into good energy and replenish his health. We were able to use this new ability to really balance the gameplay and ensure a challenging, yet accessible, experience for all players.
4.) In terms of design and final product, is there any one ability or weapon that you're particularly proud of?
CR: I am proud of the entire experience that we have crafted in this game, front to back. But if I was to choose one I would have to pick Astro’s ground slide. It is a new evasive maneuver unique to this game. We had looked at past Astro games, particularly Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the GBA, and really felt that Astro needed a new evasive maneuver, especially with all of the enemies that we were throwing at the player, they were going to need some help.
5.) Now what about the direction of the game? Are gamers following the movie's story arc exactly? Are there elements that go beyond the movie? Is there tournament style fighting?
CR: The game breaks down into a few modes. First off there is Story Mode, which will cover the entire breadth of the film’s narrative arch, and then some. We are introducing new locations, enemies, and fiction that can only be seen in the video game. It was definitely a thrill to be able to add to the Astro Boy cannon of fiction! Next up is our Arena Mode, a round based “tournament style” survival mode. Players can compete round by round and shoot for the high scores table. Both Story and Arena modes can be played utilizing our drop-in-drop-out co-op gameplay. It works just like an arcade cabinet, pick up and play.
6.) Lastly, what did you enjoy most about designing this game?
CR: At the end of the day, this is a game for Astro Boy fans, plain and simple. Being huge Astro Boy fans ourselves, we really just loved being able to create a game that we would love just as much as the rest of the fans out there.
Any game truly designed with fans in mind is a win. And the team at High Voltage has clearly gone above and beyond in their quest to create a successful update in Astro Boy gaming. Available on the DS, PS2, PSP, and Wii, this game is definitely worth a look.
And so, October is a good month for Astro Boy.