Astro Boy jets around an untextured Metro City to generically find himself and fight a political agenda. Adapting a Japanese manga for western audiences by an American studio without the assistance of the original proprietor, in this case Tezuka Productions, will always be an anomaly to me. Western culture continuously fail to imitate the magic of Eastern artistry, and this CGI animation is proof of that. The original Astro Boy manga, written and illustrated by the legendary Osamu Tezuka, was one of the most influential works of its genre. It singlehandedly developed the anime and manga industry. So why oh why oh why, let America get their grubby greedy hands on the intellectual property? It’s clearly not going to emit the same kinetic energy. A young boy is accidentally disintegrated by the city’s Peacekeeper, which leads his scientist father to create a robotic replica in order to fill his void of loss, only to act as a sorrowful reminder of his son’s death.
Essentially a futurist’s perspective on Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, just less gothic and more kawaii. Despite the generic execution of Astro’s origin story, which is slightly altered from the source material, admittedly there was some genuine heart soldered into the narrative’s circuitry. Tenma’s fulfilment in bringing his son back to “life” never reaches maximum capacity, and the dynamic between Astro and his father was palpable on multiple occasions. Particularly when embracing Astro for the first time. Sure, the ninety minute runtime prevents any substantial development, with Tenma randomly discarding Astro like a toy due to time constraints, yet delivers just enough warmth to connect with them.
Unfortunately, that’s only the first act. The story shifts focus with Astro now abandoned and residing with orphaned children (‘Oliver’), forced into a fighting tournament whilst touching upon the Laws of Robotics (‘I, Robot’), finding one’s purpose in life (‘A.I.: Artificial Intelligence’) and then attempting to defeat the antagonist in a giant brawl within a settlement (‘The Iron Giant’). An “original” plot that seemingly borrowed elements from other genre pieces without actually adapting its source material. That’s not the problem though. The issue is generated from the lack of narrative focus. It zips around quicker than Astro jet boosting through the clouds, preventing any story levelling from taking place. Characters are constantly introduced and rarely referred back to, such as the Robot Revolutionary Front members who were simply used for comedic purposes (it didn’t work...). Several themes tackled were too advanced for the target demographic, and Astro’s lessened kawaii aesthetics made him more, dare I say, Caucasian? Atleast several of his abilities were transferred across.
Imagi’s animation style was bright, colourful and surprisingly detailed when discussing character models. Environmental features on the other hand were minimalistic and often untextured, juxtaposing the work put into the models. Voice acting however was the most surreal aspect to Astro Boy. Cage, Nighy and Sutherland never once suited the characters they voiced. Never. As soon as they spoke, I instead visualised their own self being transported into the CGI world, which is not a sign of confidence. No one wants to see Cage hug a robot boy (actually, on second thought, make it happen!). Incredibly bizarre. Highmore did however suit the title role, and Theron’s introductory narration was noteworthy.
This was Imagi’s final feature before being shut down, and unfortunately, Astro Boy just was not meant to be. Components were installed incorrectly and not enough Mighty Atom was translated. If only a Japanese production team were in control...