Six years after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, a manga cartoonist invented a robot hero who would embody the hopes, ambitions and fears of a nation struggling to rebuild itself. Today he still captures Japan’s experience as it faces daunting new challenges.
Astro Boy is set in the early 21st century and envisions a world in which humans and robots co-exist. Instead of being scary, the robots are mostly friendly, and can ‘talk, get mad and laugh just like humans’, even as they toil to plug labour shortages. The hero is a humanoid robot, Atom, who looks exactly like a sweet little boy.
The robot attends school, lives with doting parents, obediently serves tea to the elderly – and in his free time sets off on adventures to save Japan. Rather ambiguously for a society devastated by atomic bombs, Atom is powered by nuclear energy – underscoring Japan’s eternal dialectic of faith and fear regarding advanced technology.