Evil Geek Book Report – The Mighty Atom: Best Selections
In the Tokyo airport on my way home I popped into a bookstore trying to find some English manga to take back home with me. The selection of books was small and being a relative new comer to the genre I grabbed the first volume of the Dragon Ball epic since I was vaguely familiar with it. The other book was The Mighty Atom or as I knew him, Astro Boy. He had looked familiar to me and the blurb on the back reminded enough of Mega Man that I thought I’d give it a try.
The character was created by Osamu Tezuka in 1952 and would go on to become the first anime series a few years later. The Mighty Atom is set in the future where crude robots and humans share the planet together. Doctor (and Lyle Lovett lookalike) Tenma loses his teenage son in a car accident. He then builds a realistic robot in the exact image of his deceased son. At first, Tenma has great fondness for his creation and helps the robot learn human customs and to think and feel. As years go by and Atom no longer ages and matures Tenma grows disgusted and sells him to the circus.
At the circus the robot now called The Mighty Atom is exploited and is used to show off his super strength and other abilities. The kind Doctor Ochanomizu of the Ministry Of Science sees him one night and arranges to give the boy a home and take him under his wing. This doctor proves to be a kind and benevolent guardian who nurtures and raises Atom as his own child. We find out that Atom has been equipped with all kinds of advances such as super strength (that of 100,000 horsepower), the ability to fly, supersonic hearing, searchlight eyes and misc. weapons and lasers hidden in his back.
The whole thing reeks of the 1950’s, which along with the art makes it strangely alluring. The Mighty Atom becomes a super hero in his own right helping to protect humans and better bridge the gap in society between them and robots.
This particular edition was reading was a bit confusing stringing together the “Best Of” stories over the manga’s 16 year run. Characters are tossed in and details mentioned as if you know who and what happened in a previous installment which can be a bit jarring. But as I understand it, the series wasn’t big on continuity to begin with.
The stories themselves tended to be a mixed bag, some were 3 or 4 page vignettes that focused on social satire (what if robots were built exactly like Humans? Answer: they’d be lazy and greedy) to fighting other robots…tell me this guy doesn’t look straight out of Mega Man:
The most interesting and probably most bizarre is the long form story, Darling Uran. Uran was created as a little sister for Astro, likely in the issue that preceded this one because she was still new to being a robot. A lot of the story revolves around Atom teaching her how adapt to life in a Human world. By accident she finds out she is stellar at robot boxing matches that are held regularly. Angry with the fact that she has to be in school when some of the matches take place she argees to undergo some shady black market operation that will allow her to split her body into two halves which will eventually fill in and become whole. The problem is both her intelligence and strength also are split in half. This poses a problem as her half appears at the boxing arena.
I’m not sure I could recommend this collection for everyone. It’s quirky stories and cute drawing style doesn’t have universal appeal. The stories were a mixed bag but it has a certain draw to it that makes it both interesting and a curiosity. Dark Horse published English versions of the 112 stories over 23 volumes in the early 2000’s under the name Astro Boy. I might give a few of those a spin before I close the door on the Mighty Atom. Its combined elements have me intrigued enough that there has to be some absolute gold spread throughout those stories.
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