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How Tezuka's Astro Boy changed the world

Monday 31st December 2012

Helen McCarthy on how Astro Boy changed the world

Astro BoyNew Year's Day 1963: Japanese families observed ancient holiday traditions before settling down together to a new one – watching TV.

In the Tokyo suburb of Nerima, the Tezuka family watched the first episode of Father's first animated TV series. Father was "god of manga" Osamu Tezuka; the series was Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy,) made in his purpose-built studio next door. Everyone on the crew was hoping for success, but not even Tezuka could have foreseen what was to come.

Astro Boy wasn't the first domestic animation, or animated series, on Japanese TV. But it was the game-changer, kick-starting the TV anime boom and setting up the paradigms and problems that would dominate the industry for half a century.

Throughout the 1950s, Japan struggled with the after-effects of defeat and occupation. High-value items like TV sets were out of most people's reach. In 1959, though, every Japanese family that could scrape the money together bought a TV to watch the Royal wedding of Crown Prince (now Emperor) Akihito. Rising audience figures meant more demand for programming. Tezuka, who had always wanted to make animation, saw his opportunity.

Most cartoons on Japanese TV were bought from American networks. Analysing the limited animation of shows like The Flintstones, Tezuka knew he could make cartoons locally, based on his own comics. He also knew there was an emerging foreign market for Japanese animation. Toei Studios set out to sell animated features overseas, starting with Hakujaden. Their film of his manga Saiyuki appeared in the US as Alakazam The Great in 1961.

American shows were offered to Japanese TV at low prices because they had already earned back their production costs at home. Tezuka decided to undercut them. Successful character merchandising based on his comics, plus the prospect of foreign sales, convinced him that he could make enough profit on spinoffs to cover his losses on production costs. He adapted the standardised systems he used to boost output on his comics to animation, cutting costs back to the bone.

The success of Astro Boy sent established and new studios scrambling to follow Tezuka's example. It was a massive gamble, and it didn't really work. Tezuka spent most of his income from manga subsidising anime, but his first company still went bust. The anime industry has never broken the pattern he set. Networks expect to pay low prices and studios have to hustle to bridge the gap with sponsorship and merchandising. Quality and originality come behind riding the current trend to profit, or at least financial viability.

But watching Astro Boy, none of that matters. What Japanese audiences saw on New Year's Day 1963 is still magical. Halfway round the world and half a century on, the sheer power of Tezuka's story of discrimination, cruelty, love, innocence and courage makes his child robot a hero fit for the scientific age to come, as well as the one we're living through.

So maybe Tezuka's gamble did work, after all.

Happy anniversary, Atom. Happy New Year, anime.


Naruto Shippuden Box 26 (episodes 323-335)

was £24.99
The Fourth Great Ninja War intensifies as the Allied Forces face the might of the Reanimated Jinchuriki, who have been equipped with both the Rinnegan and Sharingan. Naruto tries to convince the Four Tails that he’ll free him and the other Tailed Beasts from Madara’s control. While listening to Naruto, the Nine Tails goes through a surprising change. Meanwhile, Sasuke has obtained new information found at one of Orochimaru’s old hideouts that may turn the tide of the entire war! Will the unity of the Allied Forces hold under combined fury of the Reanimated Jinchuriki and their mysterious commander?



Naruto: Now & Then

Matt Kamen weighs the difference between the original series and the newer Shippuden episodes of Naruto.
With hundreds of episodes under Naruto’s belt, it can be easy to forget just how far the world’s favourite orange ninja cadet and friends have come since their first days at school. The release of the complete first season of Naruto Shippuden seems the perfect time to look back at some of the key players in the saga, and see where the new series finds them – and haven’t they grown…?

Naruto music: NICO Touches the Walls

Tom Smith dives in to the band behind Naruto Shippuden Box 15
Who’s NICO, and what’s their obsession with walls? It’s a question you may ask yourself upon discovering the artist name behind Naruto Shippuden’s eighth opening theme. They call themselves NICO Touches the Walls and, despite the ridiculous name, they are a pretty big deal in Japan right now.

Out Now: Naruto Shippuden 16

Ninja action sneaking to a store near you
Naruto Shippuden box 16 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

Time Travel in Anime

Paul Browne rewinds from Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower into the past
In the latest Naruto film The Lost Tower, the title character and his comrades embark on a mission to capture Mukade – a missing ninja who has the ability to travel through time. Mukade’s plan is to travel into the past and take control of the Five Great Shinobi Countries. During the battle with Mukade, Naruto and Yamato find themselves hurled back twenty years in time. Will Naruto and his friends be able to return to his own time? And will their actions in the past save the future?

Naruto Music: Asian Kung Fu Generation

Tom Smith on the Britmaniacs behind the Naruto theme.
They’re so loud and proud that they insist on writing it all in caps: ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – possibly one of Japan’s most important alternative rock acts. The group’s tenth single ‘After Dark’ makes for the energetic, guitar-heavy opening theme to the latest volume of Bleach, released in the UK this month, and the group’s sound might at first seem reminiscent of America’s indie scene dashed with elements of punk, it actually has a lot more in common with The Who, their generation, and the sea of British-based guitar heroes that have appeared since.

Naruto Music: Okamoto's

Tom Smith on Naruto Shippuden’s 18th ending theme
As Naruto ups the ante and swears to take on Sasuke alone in box set 18 of Naruto Shippuden, the team responsible for the encompassing episodes’ ending theme have also took it upon themselves to up the pace.


Manga Entertainment is excited to announce that they will be screening the cult anime classic Akira across the UK to celebrate their twenty-fifth birthday this year!


Jack Neighbour prepares you for life in Japan
With the UK economy in the horrendous state it’s in, there’s no surprise that increasing numbers of young people are fleeing the baron jobless wasteland that our Great Britain has become in search of greener pastures, where they can drink and sleep in peace without being labelled as wasters. Japan is becoming a popular haven for the fallen to run to after they realise that a degree in the Arts will get you about as far as you can throw it.
With Halloween right on our doorstep, we’ve decided to put together a list of our top five anime to watch on Halloween. There are so many shows to choose from and this is only our opinion, so make sure you let us know which shows would make your top five!
Last Wednesday we shared the news that Blue Exorcist will be receiving a second season, and now the website's countdown has ended we've been treated to a short teaser for the upcoming series.

The World of Ghost in the Shell

Masamune Shirow’s imagined future
The Net is vast, Major Motoko Kusanagi reflects more than once across the multiple versions of Ghost in the Shell. So, indeed, are franchises. Ghost in the Shell has been going twenty-five years, and seems capable of renewing itself for at least as long again.

Cosplay: Dragon Ball Z

Paul Jacques goes on the prowl at the London Super Comic Con
Cosplayer Kasey Wolfe goes for a beardy version of Gohan from Dragon Ball Z, caught by our roving photographer Paul Jacques at the London Super Comic Con. Dragon Ball Z is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

Penguindrum Versus Madoka Magica

If you liked that, you might like this...
Both Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Mawaru Penguindrum are strange, subversive creatures. They’re anime that borrow the ideas and imagery of cartoons for young children, but they’re aimed at much older viewers.
Another MCM London Comic Con has come to an end and we would like to say a huge thank you to all the fans that visited the Manga UK booth over the weekend!

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall

There's little to be proud of in this perfunctory light-novel spin off
If anyone needed further proof that Attack on Titan is a cultural juggernaut, they'd only have to take a glance at the bookshelves. While Hajime Isayama's original manga most notably spawned the breakthrough anime series, there are also numerous spin-off and prequel manga, artbooks, and light novels by a host of other creators, all drafted in to craft as much material set in and around the world as possible.
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