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Excellent Stories, Weak Presentation
on April 12, 2012
Volume 2 immediately reminds me that Dark Horse's Astro Boy collection is far from complete by very briefly bringing Uran and Cobalt (an Astro Boy look alike) into the story despite never introducing them in any way. In the first story Astro Boy becomes embroiled in a plot to ruin the first robot president; president Rag (as in Rag Doll). Rag's primary desire as president is to see humans and robots in a more cooperative position which doesn't sit well with many humans who prefer their robots working as servants. The main threat against Rag's presidency is Deadcross, a costumed villain intent on destroying him. The robots are clearly surrogates for any oppressed group although oppressed groups don't generally manage to secure highest position in the land. This is a classic example of Osamu Tezuka using robots and science fiction to tell a tale of morality that's relevant in any era.
Dealing with the topic of sentient robots is one of Tezuka's common stories. In the second story a robotic (but very human looking) magician named Kino is framed for the theft of priceless paintings. In response the police want to change the robot rules and force all robots to have their intellects dumbed down to prevent robots like Kino from committing crimes. This would include Astro Boy. The general population of robots are not surprisingly unhappy with the proposed change and begin marching in the streets. Lowering the intellect of free robots is perhaps not such a bad idea since they are flat out superior physically to humans and have repeatedly shown themselves to be dangerous. On the other hand the dangerous robots are generally created by villains who simply don't adhere to the robot rules while creating lethal robots. In this case Kino's duplicate was created by a magician named Noh Unoh who gave the robot limited intelligence to make him easily controlled.
As in volume 1 Osamu Tezuka breaks in to complain about his stories being censored in the United States for excessive violence and brings up the very good point that this is the same country that was involved in multiple wars in southeast Asia where real people were being killed. At the same time Tezuka can be very playful as when he does some fourth wall breaking. In the Kino story the police attempt to hide the valuable paintings from Kino's double by folding back the comic panel and hiding them behind it. Tezuka is frequently a mix of serious and silly.
In my review of volume one I compared this collection to the recent Fantagraphics release of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse. The Fantagraphics books are gorgeous hardcover editions fit for display. They are complete and given their page count and dimensions add up to 26254 sq inches of high quality pages for $21.89. Dark Horse gives around 6702 sq inches of cheap quality paper in this paperback collection that includes huge gaps in the stories. Currently the volumes are selling for between 8 and 10 dollars per. This is pretty much a done on the cheap collection although I won't deny that the translating seems to be well done. At this point Dark Horse is the only show in town so if you don't want to pay the asking price for this collection you don't get to read Tezuka's stories. Maybe some day a publisher will decide to give Tezuka and Astro Boy the star treatment they deserve but until then people will have to settle for this overpriced collection.