Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids – artificial men and women – have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for “the other.” When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thus, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at Astro Boy.
Astro is the mechanical boy from the Astro Boy franchise. Doctor Tenma, the head of the Science Ministry lost his son, Tobio, in a car accident, and in his grief used his unmatched understanding of robotics to build himself a robotic copy.
In his emotional state, he crafted the most advanced robot ever seen. In the future, he would never be able to replicate the work he did on this particular machine. He implanted the robot with his son’s memories, and took it into his home.
He treated the robot lovingly and tried to accept him as his son, but he began to notice that there were strong differences.
Interestingly, it was not emotional. The robot could empathize and learn and otherwise behave like a person, but he was unable to understand human aesthetics.
He thought computers and cubes were prettier than girls and flowers. This combined with his inability to age caused Doctor Tenma to regret having created the robot after only a short time with him.
He sold the robot to a circus, where they gave him the name Astro Boy (in the original Japanese the name was closer to Iron Boy). He performed for the circus until Doctor Tenma’s successor at the Science Ministry, Professor Ochanomizu, saw him performing and recognized him.
Ochanomizu took Astro from the circus, and ultimately brought him into his own home. He treated Astro like his own son and cared for him. When he saw the super things that Astro could do, he encouraged Astro to use his powers to fight crime and evil. Of course, as soon as Astro starts fighting evil, lots of evil aliens and robots and mad scientists and stuff crawl out of the woodwork for him to fight.
The interesting thing here is that Astro is not a Pinocchio figure. When the story starts with a father-figure building a little boy, it seems very thematically similar to Pinocchio. It quickly turns into more of a Frankenstein story.
In the serialized versions of the story, there is little focus on Doctor Tenma, and he never reenters the story in a major way. The later adaptations however (like the 2009 film) look most closely at the relationship between Astro and Tenma, making it a story of a father’s regret and reconciliation.
This is the final feature in the Android’s Dream series. You can see all of them here. If there is an aspect of genre fiction which you would like to see featured in a series like this, let us know in the comments.