Watch the First Episode of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, Of Which Stanley Kubrick Became a Big Fan

Osamu Tezu­ka is one of the great cre­ative forces of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Known in his native Japan as the “god of man­ga,” Tezu­ka was mind-bog­gling­ly pro­duc­tive, crank­ing out around 170,000 pages of comics in his 60 years of life. He almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly made man­ga respectable to read for adults, cre­at­ing tales that were both uni­ver­sal and emo­tion­al­ly com­plex. And he worked in pret­ty much every genre you can imag­ine from hor­ror, to girly fan­ta­sy, to an epic series about the life of the Bud­dha. Yet of all of Tezuka’s many vol­umes of comics, his best beloved work was Tet­suwan Ato­mu, oth­er­wise known as Astro Boy.

In 1962, Tezu­ka ful­filled a child­hood dream by open­ing an ani­ma­tion stu­dio. One of his first projects was to adapt was Astro Boy. The tele­vi­sion series pre­miered in 1963 and proved to be huge­ly pop­u­lar in Japan. It wasn’t long before Amer­i­can TV start­ed air­ing dubbed ver­sions of the show. You can see the very first episode, “Birth of Astro Boy,” above.

After his son dies in a freak car acci­dent, sci­en­tist Dr. Astor Boyn­ton is dri­ven mad by grief. He devel­ops an insane laugh and, with it, an equal­ly insane plan to build a robot who looks just like his dead son. After a Franken­stein-esque mon­tage, Astro Boy is born. All seems well for the adorable, sweet-natured robot, until Boyn­ton freaks out over Astro Boy’s lack of  growth. “I’ve been a good father to you, haven’t I?” he whines. “Well then, why can’t you be a good son to me and grow up to be a nor­mal human adult?” How’s that for a parental guilt trip?


So Dr. Boyn­ton casts Astro Boy out, sell­ing him into slav­ery to The Great Cac­cia­tore, an evil cir­cus ring­leader who forces him to be the world’s cutest robot glad­i­a­tor. For­tu­nate­ly, Dr. Ele­fun, a col­league of Dr. Boyn­ton, takes pity on Astro Boy and works to free him from his bondage.

The whole sto­ry plays out as if Mary Shel­ley and Fritz Lang col­lab­o­rat­ed to make Dum­bo. Tezu­ka throws in a lot of wacky slap­stick com­e­dy, which just bare­ly takes the edge off the story’s Dick­en­sian melo­dra­ma, which relent­less­ly mines all those pri­mal fears you thought you got over. In short, it’s bril­liant.

The series ran for two years in the States and then con­tin­ued on re-runs though­out the decade. One of the shows fans was appar­ent­ly Stan­ley Kubrick. Dur­ing the mid-60s, Kubrick sent Tezu­ka a let­ter ask­ing if he would be inter­est­ed in help­ing with the art direc­tion and design of his new movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The offer would have required that Tezu­ka spend a year or more in Lon­don. Though great­ly flat­tered, Tezu­ka turned the offer down. The worka­holic artist sim­ply couldn’t spend that much time away from his stu­dio. One has to won­der what Kubrick’s mas­ter­piece would have looked like seen through the prism of Tezu­ka.

In 2001, Steven Spiel­berg pre­miered a movie that was a long ges­tat­ing project of Kubrick’s – the wild­ly under­rat­ed A.I. Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence. The par­al­lels between that movie, about a robot child cast out by his par­ents into a cru­el world, and Astro Boy are strik­ing. Kubrick, as it turns out, might have been even a big­ger fan of the God of Man­ga than pre­vi­ous­ly thought.

Here’s the trail­er for A.I. Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Kafka’s Night­mare Tale, ‘A Coun­try Doc­tor,’ Told in Award-Win­ning Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

Japan­ese Car­toons from the 1920s and 30s Reveal the Styl­is­tic Roots of Ani­me

How to Make Instant Ramen Com­pli­ments of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion Direc­tor Hayao Miyza­ki

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

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  • EmmeTiX says:

    WTF? Youtube states that the video is not avail­able. What does it mean? I was a strong fan of astroboy but I’ve nev­er seen this episode. Could you help me? Thanks!nPS I’m in Italy.

  • Vojtu011bch Vojtu00edu0161ek says:

    “This video is not avail­able” for me, too. The whole playlist by Man­ga Enter­tain­ment does­n’t work. What a pity.

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