Astro Boy - Greatest Astro Adventures Review

The Episodes
Astro Boy was a pioneering animation series which aired in Japan in the early 1960's. Picked up later in the west and dubbed in the usual half-assed fashion, Astro Boy developed a cult audience and caused moral outrage amongst those who rather enjoy that sensation. The series was remade in colour in the early eighties and eight of the episodes from the remade series are collected on this disc.

When a workaholic scientist finds himself up against political pressure for his robotics programme he neglects his young son. When his son is killed in a car crash, he realises the error of his ways but decides to rescue his memories of his son by creating a robot using his son's remains. At first, Astro Boy doesn't fit in but he soon learns that he has marvellous powers - he can fly, he can shoot energy from all manner of body parts, and he is incredibly strong. these powers make him awkward but he soon carves out a role amongst humans and robots alike fighting evil and bringing peace.

Seen today, Astro Boy remains remarkably odd. This awkwardness came before the success of later Asian animation which has met the western audience halfway. Astro Boy's charming lack of sophistication and eccentric violence give the whole affair its peculiar ugly duckling quality. In the odd episodes collected here, you will see one about a robot Romeo and Juliet which ends with the two loving mechanoids squashed together in a car crash, and another episode has Astro Boy falling in love with a female robot only to face the heartrending choice of dismantling her or being blown up by her internal bomb! Now I know many of you can identify with that dilemma.

The quaintness of the series doesn't end with strange storylines but certainly the dubbed dialogue of the stories gives the slightly touched action a wonderfully childish sense to it. This immaturity is also rampant in the logic of some of these quasi moral fables, my favourite example being the episode where Astro Boy brings two warring families together by killing nearly all of them. After thoughtfully reducing the christmas card list for both parties, he thoughtfully still lectures the survivors on the importance of being nice!

Occasionally there is a little more substance to take in. In The Robots That No One Wanted, we get to seen the misery of robots as they are discarded on whims by humans taken with more modern technology, and then unable to find work to prove they are useful again. In the end, Astro Boy helps them to save a space station and the human race is taught a lesson about it's fickleness.

Basically though this is really a series where big evil Robots are brought down a peg or two by the nimble clever boy robot. Astro Boy is a role model - he looks after his sister, avoids fighting, and stops others from being hateful or callous. The high moral tone is somewhat in spite of some glorious violence - one robot spears his brother on his rotating sharpened nose - and some pretty dark moments that probably will give more sensitive children nightmares. The eight episodes that are collected here are a curious selection, two are the first part of incomplete two part stories, and the opening one seems to have been edited to the edge of incomprehensibility. Some are far more memorable than others with the stand-outs being Robeo and Rubiette, Astro's First Love, and The Robots that No One Wanted. These episodes will be a good starter for those new to Astro Boy but the others on this disc could have been chosen with more care.

The Disc
This is not very good at all. The episodes are accessed through an ugly looking menu and this succeeds in playing the opening titles of each episode before returning to the menu. The only way I found to play the episodes was to choose the Play All option and pause the disc like a VHS! The video quality is fair to poor with regular examples of combing, artefacting, a strobing vertical line throughout, and some analogue tape information visible in the top left hand corner. The sound is far from crisp and background noise is apparent through the episodes. The audio is quite echoey and lacking definition, it again sounds like a worn video tape. The disc only uses the English dub which is sweet and kitsch but regularly does not match the lip movements of the characters. There are no extras.

This is a very cheap disc and that might allay your fears about the quality of it if you want something that you and your undemanding kids want to watch together. If you get into the charm of this then you are better advised to look at the 8 disc set available on R1 of this eighties remake, or the more rudimentary sixties series which is also available in box sets in the US. This is fair to poor quality and you may want to give it a miss.

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