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“Mickey Mouse of Japan” Goes Stateside

Japanese imports like Pokémon and DragonballZ have been entertaining American children for over a decade, but Japan’s most iconic manga character — a child robot known as Astro Boy — has only recently been rediscovered by American audiences.

Often called “The Mickey Mouse of Japan,” Astro Boy was created in 1952 by Tezuka Osamu, Japan’s most influential cartoonist. Tezuka’s characters, with their large eyes and expressive faces, established the drawing style used in all anime today.

But it was Tezuka’s storytelling that made Astro Boy resonate with audiences around the world. Astro Boy reimagines the story of Pinocchio in a futuristic setting.

Illustration.  Image from Google
Illustration.  Image from Google


Although Astro Boy is a powerful robot with components that help him protect the Earth — including twin machine guns in his butt -; he is, at heart, a little boy with an innocent worldview. Running themes include respect for life and a clear anti-bigotry message. But the morals go down with a spoonful of sugar, or, in this case, whimsy and some seriously fun butt-kicking.

Children today can experience Astro Boy outside of manga and anime. For example, D3Publisher of America, Inc. has created a video game that allows children to become Astro Boy.
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Available on Wii, DS, PS2 and PSP, Astro Boy: The Video Game combines entertaining gameplay with immersive storytelling. Players of all ages can use Astro Boy’s iconic weapons to battle enemies and unlock different versions of the eponymous character. Based on the 2009 full-length CG film, the video game features the voices of Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell and allows players to explore environments from the movie.

Astro Boy emerged from post-war Japan, when instability and the fear of technology played a major role in popular culture. But while other contemporary Japanese movies involved giant monsters decimating Toyko, Tezuka created a more reassuring vision. As Tezuka once said, “‘Love all the creatures! Love everything that has life!’ I have been trying to express this message in every one of my works.”

As America finds itself fighting overseas and experiencing an economic downturn, Astro Boy’s inspiring story of redemption and triumph will certainly resonate with new generations. 

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