December 06, 2005


Hong Kong Region 3 DVD release

As usual, nothing is straightforward. If you're looking for the perfect way to enjoy this spectacular anime series, and you don't speak Japanese, you're in trouble.

This 50 episode series retells the classic Japanese story of the little robot boy, created in the image of a scientist's dead son. Macabre stuff given an upbeat spin for children's TV. Facing many of the same philosophical questions about self-aware androids as Spielberg's movie "A.I.", this is a lot more fun, yet surprisingly gritty in places. Society's only remaining conflict seems to revolve around whether A.I. robots are a good thing or not - that the omnipresent robot help should just remain as workhorses.

The characters remain faithful to the original designs, yet the animation leaps into the new millennium with great flourishes. There must be some CGI stuff going on, but it all looks like traditional animation, no small feat (hidden inside Astro Boy's huge red boots, no doubt).The future cityscapes are spectacular, and retain original artist Osamu Tezuka's colourful utopian style. Like the feature anime METROPOLIS, the future is optimistically bright.

The stories show us many imaginative possibilities of future society, while exploring a long story arc of Astro Boy discovering his origin and true identity of his father. Astro's not aware that Dad is making him some extremely dangerous adversaries...

Not having seen any previous ASTRO BOY series - I don't think the old series ever aired in the UK - I'm not nostalgic about the 1963 or 1980's series, like they are in the U.S. or Australia, for instance. I don't know whether I'd enjoy the older ones, but I certainly like this new series, but how to see it properly?

I've been watching the first set of Hong Kong DVDs (pictured above) - this box has 3 DVDs which cover the first 26 episodes. It has the original Japanese audio, with optional Chinese or English subtitles. Unfortunately the english translation is very poor, I'd say that it only makes sense half of the time. The plots are easy to follow, but I'd still like to know what's being said! Also, the series was made in 16:9 widescreen format, but these HK dvds are only 4:3 fullscreen. The last problem is that there is a digital clock top left onscreen throughout the entire episodes - I'm not sure why. Two further boxsets make up the complete series.

The US DVD set of the 2003 series is called THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (in a black box). It has no Japanese audio on it, and contains the re-edited versions that were dubbed for US transmission. Again, these are cropped to 4:3 fullscreen. According to the review on the DVD TIMES website, they are also in the wrong running order.

The best set seems to be the Korean DVD release, which supposedly has the Japanese audio in 5.1 surround, widescreen pictures and optional english subtitles. Of course there's no guarantee that the translations will be better than the Hong Kong release. I can only find the first 24 episodes on sale (in 6 volumes or 2 boxsets), so I'm not even sure if the whole series is on release yet.

Finally, don't forget that original ASTRO BOY manga are currently on release in natty little paperback collections, translated into english. Volume 1 of which is pictured here.


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