1963 saw the arrival of the first anime series, Astro Boy (the literal translation is The Mighty Atom). It was based on the Osamu Tezuka manga first published in 1952. The show was a huge hit, with reportedly 40% of television owners in Japan counted among its viewers. The show ended its run in 1966 after 193 episodes. This was not the end of the character, seeing reinventions in both the 1980s and within the past decade. Astro Boy has now made the jump from traditional cell animation to full-on computer animation in a feature film that has been a long time in production.
My experience with the character is minimal at best. That may even be an overstatement — I have seen the character but know little else. So, as I went in to see this film I was unsure of what to expect. I can say that the trailer looked pretty good, save for Nicolas Cage's voice work, and the story seemed to feel fresh yet familiar.
Now, after having seen the movie I can saw that my expectations were affirmed. Astro Boy is a delightful movie with strong animation, good writing, good voice work (save for Cage), and a story that has heart and is simultaneously new and familiar. It is certainly not without its faults, but it is an enjoyable time at the theater, although, I have to wonder what could have been had they gone the extra step.
Astro Boy is set in Metro City. This city has been lifted off the ground by rockets and is suspended high above the surface of the Earth. In its isolated state technology has boomed. People live with robots who take care of all their needs. The man behind the fantastic robot technology is Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage). He also happens to be the minister of science for the advanced city.
Unfortunately, during a test of a new "Peacekeeper" robot something goes tragically wrong. Tenma's brilliant son, Toby (Freddie Highmore), is killed. Wracked with guilt, Tenma creates a robot with the most advanced defense systems ever created in the image of his son. Tenma is even able to load Toby's memories into his new creation. He takes him home and treats him like his own son.