Astro Boy 1 by Osamu Tezuka: B

From the back cover:
Created by the late Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy was the first manga series to be adapted to animation and became a worldwide phenomenon, making Astro Boy the Mickey Mouse of anime—a jet-powered, super-strong, evil-robot-bashing, alien-invasion-smashing Mickey Mouse, that is! Exciting, whimsical, and touching, Astro Boy hearkens back to the classic era of comics and animation, featuring stories that readers young and old will enjoy.

I confess that I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in Astro Boy until Viz’s acquisition of Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto—based on a story in the third Astro Boy volume—was announced. In fact, I’m reading it now so I can fully appreciate Pluto, but I must say that it’s better than I’d expected.

There are three stories in this volume, two from 1961 and one (“The Birth of Astro Boy”) written in 1975 that explains Astro’s origins. This last, as well as some introductory bits to the other stories, features Tezuka talking about his stories and even admitting that there are some that he doesn’t care for much. It actually works pretty well.

The longer of the two stories from 1961, “The Hot Dog Corps,” is about a group of cyborg soldiers who used to be dogs. Their canine instincts keep returning, like the desire to chew on shoes or squirm around scratching their backs in doggy ectasy, and one cyborg in particular, who used to belong to Astro Boy’s teacher, feels the inexplicable urge to fly to Japan and see his former master. The concept is quite interesting, but I felt the story went on a bit too long. If it were shorter, it could’ve been more poignant. That said, I like how it ended.

The second story, “Plant People,” is far shorter and basically tells the tale of some robot invaders from a dying planet who were programmed to steal Earth’s water. There’s not much more to say about that one.

Astro Boy is a really quick read and generally enjoyable, though there are a few things that had me snerking. One is the villain who describes at length, while nobody is around, what throwing a certain switch will do. Giving one of the good guys time to come and foil his evil plans, of course. Another is Astro’s tendency to use the phrase “This must be _____.” Here’s a quiz:

Which of these sentences is not used in this volume?

This must be _________.
a. some sort of door.
b. the way it defends against intruders.
c. the power source for that giant robot we met earlier.
d. love.

Okay, perhaps that was too easy.

Also, Astro’s propensity for walking into unfamiliar situations and rapidly deducing all sorts of things reminds me of Conan from Case Closed. And, in fact, the kindly scientist who takes Conan in after he is forcibly de-aged looks a lot like the kindly scientist who takes Astro in after his creator kicks him out for failing to be his son. I can only assume this is intentional.

I’ll at least be reading through volume three, and will probably give it a chance beyond that to see if Astro Boy is something I really want to continue with.

Dororo 3 by Osamu Tezuka: B

Book description:
Hyakkimaru and Dororo search for the treasure hidden by Dororo’s parents, but are thwarted in their search by a traitorous bandit, man-eating sharks, and greedy samurai. Afterwards, they continue to encounter demons and tales of the misdeeds of Hyakkimaru’s powerful father.

This final volume of Dororo was a disappointment on a few fronts.

At the end of the second volume, it seemed that Hyakkimaru had a new goal: find the money buried by Dororo’s parents and use it to fund a revolution against the samurai. They started off this volume looking for it, but after the location marked on the map turned out to be a bust, they never spoke of it again. Instead there were stories about angsty horse demons and voracious ghouls and a random revelation about Dororo that was probably groundbreaking for its time but has been done better since.

There were a couple of spots of snerkworthy dialogue, like this gem of deep characterization: “Wait. If I kill you, I’ll get another body part back… That’d make me glad.” And let’s not forget Hyakkimaru’s stirring farewell to the lady who’s just fallen in love with him and died in the space of five pages: “See ya.”

The biggest disappointment, however, was the lack of any meaningful controntation between Hyakkimaru and his father. Oh sure, the villagers Daigo had been exploiting rose up in revolt and won the ensuing battle, but it was all very anticlimactic. The end was pretty abrupt, as well, though I did rather like the melancholy aspect of it, and at least a few loose threads were tied up.

All in all, I did enjoy reading Dororo and I think it was an excellent place to start my Tezuka education.

Dororo 2 by Osamu Tezuka: A-

Book description:
Hyakkimaru and Dororo continue to travel the land, protecting ungrateful villagers from demons and collecting missing body parts along the way. An encounter with a former mentor causes Hyakkimaru to reexamine his goals, however, and start considering what he wants to do with his life after the last of the demons has been defeated.

I really liked this volume of Dororo! The stories were continuous rather than purely episodic and Dororo really grew on me as a character. Hyakkimaru gained some angst when he learned about his family and also a cause, when the existence of a cache of money destined to fund a revolution was made known to him.

Although I liked pretty much everything (pesky anachronisms aside), my favorite bit was a story about a spirit dedicated to collecting new faces for a demon possessing a statue. She’s supposed to collect Dororo’s face, and takes on his mother’s visage to beguile him, but he ends up charming her by calling her “mama” and stuff, and in the end, she can’t sacrifice him.

I liked the first volume fine, so wasn’t expecting such an improvement for the second one. I’m not really sure how the story can wrap up with just one more volume—Hyakkimaru still has 27 or 28 demons left to vanquish—but hopefully it’ll deliver on the promise exhibited here.

Dororo 1 by Osamu Tezuka: B

Book description:
Dororo is Tezuka’s classic thriller manga featuring a youth who has been robbed of 48 body parts by devils, and his epic struggle against a host of demons to get them back.

Daigo Kagemitsu, who works for a samurai general in Japan’s Warring States period, promises to offer body parts of his unborn baby to 48 devils in exchange for complete domination of the country. Knowing the child to be deficient, Kagemitsu orders the newborn thrown into the river.

The baby survives. Callling himself Hyakkimaru, he searches the world for the 48 demons. Each time he eliminates one, he retrieves one of his missing parts. Hyakkimaru meets a boy thief named Dororo, and together they travel the countryside, confronting mosters and ghosts again and again.

This was my first time reading Tezuka. Although I have a couple of other things by him, the shounen adventure qualities of Dororo made it seem a more accessible starting point.

While I enjoyed the volume overall, I ended up liking the beginning more than the middle or the end. The setting for Daigo’s bargain was immediately atmospheric and interesting. The second chapter recounted how baby Hyakkimaru (who looked kind of like Jack Skellington) was found by a doctor who raised him and fitted him with snazzy prosthetics.

From that point on, things were a bit more episodic, with varying degrees of success. It was interesting to see how Dororo probably influenced shounen tales to come. For example, a skilled swordsman and his companion(s) must wander around, collecting bits of something from a whole bunch of demons. These demons enjoy terrorizing innocent villagers. Hmm, what does that remind me of? One difference I appreciated was that the villagers in this series actually take part in fighting off the monsters, and they’re also not particularly welcoming of the freakish Hyakkimaru and the thieving Dororo after the battle’s been won.

Much suspension of disbelief is required for this series, and it was kind of weird which things I just accepted and which bugged me. For instance—a baby born missing 48 body parts not only survives but somehow possesses special sensory abilities enabling him to see, hear, and speak telepathically. Okay, fine. His foster dad is able to perform surgery on him and fit weaponry inside his prosthetic limbs (swords in his arms and poison spritzer thingies in his legs). Sure, why not? But then when Hyakkimaru is somehow able to bend the arms with swords inside, my illogic detector went, “Hang on just a minute!”

I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series; there are only 2 more volumes, anyway. Now that flashbacks and such are out of the way, I hope that we’ll see more of the collection of Hyakkimaru’s missing bits, though I still have no idea what to expect when he’s succeeded in getting them all. He doesn’t seem to have a goal beyond that at this point.