Astroboy

Posted on April 5, 2010

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Will this tiny robot pass the test of time?

Several years ago an ex boyfriend did one of the most romantic things anybody’s ever done for me. He tore an A2 sized glossy poster of Astroboy off the wall it had been bill-posted on, and surprised me with it, to celebrate nothing more than my being a connect-the-dots child of the 80s (I lead a remarkably un-Hallmarkable life). It was the greatest present ever.

I’ve no idea what it was advertising as there were no words on it, just a picture of Astro striking his characteristic ‘flying punch’ pose (not to be confused with the flying punches so favoured by Asia’s other superheros). The DVDs weren’t released at the time, so maybe it was the VHS tapes. I digress. The point, ever so clumsily made, is that Astroboy has a grip on my heart the likes of which only a tiny robot “stronger than all the rest” could have.

Actually, make that had. After watching the first five episodes I’ve begun to think that Mighty Atom might not have been the ideal boyfriend eight-year-old Melanie thought he was. Oh, he’s still as “brave and gentle and wise” (sing it) as any Pinocchio must be, driven by the desire to be a real boy, but holy popsicles his voice begins to hurt after several minutes. After five episodes I started to think Mickey Mouse had been dubbed by Barry White.

And the writers! Was Astroboy scripted by Dadaists? Or just child-hating sadists? In the first episode Dr Boynton’s son Toby is mangled to death in a head-on collision. The doctor then obsessively constructs a robot boy in the likeness of his dead son – then reverse flays it with a skinsuit presumably stripped off the body before it was buried/cremated/whatever  – and before the episode is even done the paedophobic Sad(ada)ists have dispatched Dad with little explanation, leaving the kidnapped roboy fatherless! No wonder he was such an icon of his times.

Like all good surrealists, the writers refuse to acknowledge the laws of physics, the linear passage of time or the literary device of spelling it out for you, and in episode 4 introduce a golden man-god of a robot, Atlas, then proceed to tell us that we’ve met him before. There’s an entire back-story involving Astro and Atlas and some kind of feud that may or may not have something to do with Astro’s occasional catatonic red eye, which they insist we know, but I swear we don’t. It’s an intractable divide.

It’s certainly possible that this is a similar variety of confusion as that set loose by the instruction manual for my Taiwanese electronic goods, and it does give Astroboy a charm hitherto unimagined; it’s also the sort of detail most children are willing to let slide. Nostalgia, meanwhile, hurdles the somewhat dodgy animation (by today’s standards) without much drama. But does Astroboy live up to my childhood recollections? The jury is having heated arguments right now, but I’m not prepared to give up on Astro yet. After all, a robot who’ll “defend us and befriend us” wouldn’t give up on me.

And to all those poo-poohers who dismissed my decades-long claim that Astro has arse guns, I’d like to submit this DVD into evidence and conclude with that timeless and unbeatable argument: ner nerny ner ner.

Astroboy is released on DVD by Madman Australia.

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Posted in: DVD / TV