‘Astro Boy:’ The Turning Point of Manga and Anime

UCI Libraries hosted a Zoom webinar in light of the growing collection of manga and anime in their 30 year anniversary of the founding of their virtual exhibit, the East Asian Collection, on Jan. 14. The webinar lasted for an hour, with the second half of the event being dedicated to questions that the audience submitted after listening to the presentation.

UCI Libraries paid tribute to the series “Astro Boy,” a popular manga that influenced Japanese culture and became a worldwide phenomenon. The event focused on the history of “Astro Boy” as well as the large amount of influence Japan has through its unique art styles and popular culture. This included the production of humanoid robots as well as the creation of certain American films, such as “The Lion King.

Biological Sciences Research Librarian John Sisson and Asian Studies Research Librarian Dr. Ying Zhang teamed up to talk about the significance of including manga and anime into the East Asian Collection virtual exhibit, specifically about the work of “Astro Boy.”

Audience members of the Zoom webinar learned about the history of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of “Astro Boy,” and how a single licensed physician shaped the manga community as a whole.

“Behind the ‘Mighty Atom’ — or ‘Astro Boy’ — was Osamu Tezuka … Without him, Japan’s manga and anime industries would not have been the same,” Sisson said.

Sisson then began to list off several works of Tezuka, including “The Adventure of Rock, Crime and Punishment” and “The Devil of the Earth.” These stories were created on the side while Tezuka was developing his true masterpiece, “Astro Boy.”

The creation of “Astro Boy” was intended to help children in the 1950s envision a better future.

“Amid the skyscrapers, robots and flying cars of future-Tokyo, there were also old, rundown houses in the streets … it helped children see themselves in this future world by recognizing the streets and buildings,” Sisson explained.

During his rising success, Tezuka opened his own animation studio named Mushi Production, where several animators later went on to establish large, major anime studios. Mushi Production was also the studio responsible for the animation of “Astro Boy” in Japan.

“The show really became a surprise hit and marked the beginnings of a new kind of anime industry,” Sisson said.

Because of the company’s low franchise cost, they needed to find a way to drastically cut production costs. This included cutting the number of drawings or opting for scenes of stillness; this meant no movement was shown on screen. This limited animation style was later dubbed as the new “anime style.”

Later on, Tezuka flew over to America to try to get his series, “Astro Boy,” to be shown on American television by allowing English text to translate what was being said in the show. However, when his series was greenlit and allowed to be shown in the United States, Tezuka met a challenge from the American restrictions on airing TV shows.

“They had to remove references to religion, excessive violence, nuclear war, overtedly adult imagery and depictions of most American minorities. [Tezuka] felt very frustrated that all this had to be removed; even death was transformed into unconsciousness,” Sisson said.

Even with the restrictions in place, the animation of “Astro Boy” became widely popular; even spawning multiple animated series dedicated to everyone’s favorite robot boy. This includedAstro Boy: Mighty Atom in Japan andGo Astro Boy Go! in France.

When Tezuka passed away on Feb. 9, 1989, Japan paid tribute to him and his beloved “Astro Boy” by making a postal stamp on Jan. 28, 1997. The stamp included a drawing of Tezuka standing side-by-side with “Astro Boy,” becoming the first ever stamp to feature a manga artist and a piece of manga work. 

“Foreign visitors to Japan often find it difficult to understand why Japanese people like comics so much … One explanation for the popularity of comics in Japan, however, is that Japan had Osamu Tezuka, whereas other nations did not. Without Dr. Tezuka, the postwar explosion in comics in Japan would have been inconceivable,” Sisson said.

A year after Tezuka’s passing, Japan opened an exhibition of his work in the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. Four years after the exhibition was released to the public, Tezuka’s hometown, Takarazuka, also opened a museum to honor his memory. 

“Scholars now study Osamu Tezuka’s role in laying the foundations of Japan’s ‘soft power’ — Japan’s influence on other countries through its contemporary arts and popular culture,” Sisson said.

Even long after his death, “Astro Boy” remains to be one of the highest-grossing anime/manga series of all time. His character is still plastered onto products and services today; so much so that they use the opening theme of the anime as background music for when Japanese students perform in sports events. 

Some companies have even used “Astro Boy” inspired humanized technology as inspiration for making humanoid robots in today’s world. An example is ASIMO, which is a robot with human-ish features capable of working side-by-side with humans in the near future. 

With the presentation coming to a close, Sisson concluded with a clip of “Astro Boy,” thanking the audience for taking a trip down memory lane with one of his most memorable childhood TV shows of all time.

“Thank you for accompanying my adventures,” Sisson said at the end of the webinar.

Kealani Quijano is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at [email protected]