Astro Boy

Astro Boy

«Set against a colourful manga backdrop, the small robot Astro Boy emerged from the ashes of nuclear destruction to become a hero in early 50’s Japan. The theme was in keeping with the spirit of the times, with anti-nuclear ecology and the rising powers on the hunt for the fatal weapon—a serious subject with a dash of fantasy and the pure magic of the illustrations.»

While Japan may reign today as the land of manga, the history of the art form traces far into the past. The popularity of the term in the West references the works of Hokusai, whose sketchbooks bore the word. A famous master with magnificent prints like The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai was an early 19th century artist whose works are counted among the most popular of Japonism.
Astro Boy was born in 1952, a small robot by the name of Tetsuwan Atomu with a backstory reminiscent of Pinocchio. Created by Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy was raised by humans but never aged due to his robot nature. The hero shoots lasers from the tips of his fingers and soars like a rocket with propulsion from his jet boots. Astro Boy’s life is recounted through different episodes; raised as a child, the little robot is rejected by his father because he is not “human”.

Astro Boy has maintained his significance and popularity in Japan, with effigies of the robot erected and an animated series (numbering around 200 episodes) recounting his adventures bearing witness to the vast impact of the character. More recently, an animated feature film brought Astro Boy back into everyone’s orbit in 2009.

The phenomenon captures Japan in all its ambiguity, a violent and legitimate rejection of nuclear power after Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined with the magic of a superhero. As Japanese specialist Jean-Marie Bouissou describes: “Astro Boy had an atomic heart, after all, yet he went to school with children his own age and fought for the greater good, democracy and racial equality across the four corners of the globe.” As a homegrown Japanese hero, Astro Boy inspired a number of notable scientific careers in the archipelago. The character also helped Japan embark on the path towards nuclear power with their first reactor in 1963. 55 reactors would follow before the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Astro Boy remains popular today, with an original comic book page recently sold for 323,000 euros.
This pop culture icon is a superhero that transcends comic books, showing the bright side of nuclear power through the inimitable little impish robot in short pants.

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