Your Saturday Morning Cartoon

by Dish Staff

Jonathan Crow heaps praise on Astro Boy, the early ’60s cartoon developed by Japan’s “god of manga,” Osamu Tezuka, who counted Stanley Kubrick among his fans. Crow describes the first episode, “Birth of Astro Boy,” seen above:

After his son dies in a freak car accident, scientist Dr. Astor Boynton is driven mad by grief. He develops an insane laugh and, with it, an equally insane plan to build a robot who looks just like his dead son. After a Frankenstein-esque montage, Astro Boy is born. All seems well for the adorable, sweet-natured robot, until Boynton freaks out over Astro Boy’s lack of growth. “I’ve been a good father to you, haven’t I?” he whines. “Well then, why can’t you be a good son to me and grow up to be a normal human adult?” How’s that for a parental guilt trip?

So Dr. Boynton casts Astro Boy out, selling him into slavery to The Great Cacciatore, an evil circus ringleader who forces him to be the world’s cutest robot gladiator. Fortunately, Dr. Elefun, a colleague of Dr. Boynton, takes pity on Astro Boy and works to free him from his bondage.

The whole story plays out as if Mary Shelley and Fritz Lang collaborated to make Dumbo. Tezuka throws in a lot of wacky slapstick comedy, which just barely takes the edge off the story’s Dickensian melodrama, which relentlessly mines all those primal fears you thought you got over. In short, it’s brilliant.