Astroboy was created by manga legend Osamu Tezuka in 1951 - when World War II was still fresh in memory - as Tetsuwan Atomu or Mighty Atom. Twelve years, and thousands of manga later, Astro became the star of the Japan's first commercial animated television show. Yes, Astroboy is the birth of anime.
The little metal blighter has been around fifty-eight years. Of course, you couldn't tell by looking at him. With a fresh coat of paint he still looks like a mechanical boy of twelve. And in that time he's been in print or on TV somewhere in his, at least, three animated incarnations and even a live TV show made in 1959 a couple of years before the first anime. The live action has the obvious limitations but it still captures enough of that Astro charm.
Adventuring across several generations Astroboy has remained popular. More than popular. He's a multicultural, multigenerational icon of ephemera. Quite regularly I see people wearing an Astroboy t-shirt of some funky design. Who knows how many of these wearers have ever seen the show. It doesn't matter. He's Astroboy. He is because he is.
So what is it now that Astro represents that makes so many use him as an identifier? I think it's because he's the happy zooming rocket boy of a glorious happy future that was a past dream. He is the embodiment of the dream of the flying car and technological luxury for all. He the promise of a fun filled future that would be exciting and entrancing.
But he also, by being a naive little boy who is more than capable of defending himself, represents that attitude that we know better about the realities of the world today but we still have the willing ability to dream. We didn't get our future of flying cars, but we were no more robbed than those who dreamt of wondrous future things in the first place.
Astro is a sympathetic bridge between past, present and future. Today we are the reality biting truth of those long ago dreams that bore little fruit. All the same, we must be grateful that they did try to dream. Astroboy is the good will ambassador to our millennial disappointment. And in this time of war and technological horror - and the religious callousness that controls it, on both sides - the need for sweet and well-meaning symbols like Astroboy is more important than ever.
Of course, a smiling, waving Astro can also just look très cute on a t-shirt.
Viva la Astroboy!
Viva la Astroboy t-shirts!