Astro Boy, a beloved character spanning generations since his premier in 1952, is the flagship and most iconic of all of Osamu Tezuka’s creations. In high school, I had the luck of having fellow writer Franklin Raines as a friend (eh, more of someone I could leech off of). With that, I gained access to his huge library of manga; and by extension, titles by the late Tezuka. I absorbed the giant Astroboy volumes with vigor, as I was deeply enamored by the stories. The most memorable was about how Astro had to stop the villain Hitlini (a combined character of Hitler and Mussolini), who was trying to take over the world by living forever through an infinite number of clones. There was also the time where Astro was on a rocket ship full of people headed towards the moon, but ended up crashing on an asteroid full of growing trees, diamonds, and a robot named Kris Kringle. So when Franklin Raines told me about a Osamu Tezuka Kickstarter presented by Platinum Manga, I was ecstatic to learn about Tezuka’s obscure parody manga of Astroboy, ATOMCAT. A re-imagining that brings with it all the fun and humor of the original series.
Many other magaka have made parodies of their own work , but most of them seem to be ero doujin, like with Antique Bakery dj by Yoshinaga Fumio or Gravitation dj by Murakami Maki. Think of ATOMCAT as the more professional version of these two examples. ATOMCAT debuted in Smile Comics during July of 1986.
Tsugio is an average bespectacled school boy who gets constantly bullied by a group of older kids and their leader Gadaffi (who looks like a freshman in high school beating up on a 4th grader). After having his glasses thrown into a garbage pile, Tsugio finds an abandoned kitten on the verge of death. He names the new kitten Atom, based on the fact he looks like to read the manga Tetsuwan Atom (the Japanese name for Astro Boy). After bringing Atom home, the cat becomes a nuisance that poops everywhere, destroys the table Tsugio’s dad was working on, and brings in worms and frogs thus dirtying up the house. Tsugio’s parents get fed up with the cat and ask that Tsugio abandon it far from their house.
While riding his bike, Tsugio and Atom get hit by a speeding car both are thrown from the bike. Even though only Tsugio has minor cuts and bruises, Atom is again an inch from death. The car’s two passengers, Charles and Diana, are actually aliens from another world. Having to scramble so their cover is not blown, Tsugio and Atom are brought to a hidden ship. The two aliens operate on the small kitten to restore him to 100%. But while scanning Tsugio’s memory to gather information on how to properly repair Atom, memories of Astro Boy and Atom get mixed up. Thus, Charles and Diane unexpectedly give Atom all the powers of the real Tetsuwan Atom.
ATOMCAT pays homage to Tezuka’s old work by pulling out and implementing old Astro Boy tropes. Astro always had an appetite for destruction, with him making his own doors more than the Kool-Aid Man and solving every problem with an overkill of force. Same goes for Atom, who decides to incase a whole island in fencing in order to trap a dangerous gang of birds from escaping. When a forest is on fire, Atom has to prevent not only the trees, but some trapped animals, from being destroyed. The solution? Atom dives into a nearby lake and puts out the fire by burrowing from the bottom to where the trapped animals are stuck (while also flooding the whole damn forest).
ATOMCAT also sparks flickers of nostalgia with the readers of the original Astro Boy. By Tsugio’s inventor dad is a perfect stand-in for the kids who read Astro Boy in the 50’s, now adults in the mid 80’s, with children of their own. An unfortunate note to touch on is that Tsugio’s dad never sees Atom do all the incredible things he is capable of performing. Being an inventor and a HUGE Astro Boy fan it would have made his life to see his two loves become one.
Pros: ATOMCAT has the same great art (and flavor?) that comes with all works by Tezuka. Along with its’ humor (wacky stuff like when Tsugio’s mother gets knocked out by one of Tsugio’s inventions), it has that certain charm and hook of nostalgia that fans of the original Astro Boy will appreciate. The book is broken up into several stories much like other titles (Black Jack, Phoenix, and Rainbow Parakeet) which has that classic Tezuka episodic feel.
Cons: Readers who don’t know about the original Astro Boy might feel the flashes to the manga out of place. It seems that ATOMCAT’s big selling point seems to only be for those adults who once read Astro Boy; where in ATOMCAT often only fondly pokes the reader’s cheek, and repeatedly saying “Hey remember Astro Boy?”
ATOMCAT works as a love letter to its’ older predecessor Astro Boy; drawing in the older crowd with a familiar substance. It gives the older generation a gateway to their kids or grandkids with a talking point like “Hey, let me tell you what I read when I was your age.” ATOMCAT’s humor and light heartedness connects with readers of all ages just as much as Astro Boy once did. I recommend this for fans of the original Astro Boy, but for others, go back and read the source material before venturing into this quest.