Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Volume 3 of the translated Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka features only two stories, the epic ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’ (1964) and ‘Mad Machine’ (1958). One of the key stories of the Astro Boy series, and a favourite of Tezuka, ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’ is an affecting blend of action, moral questions and philosophical dilemmas. The villainous sultan Chochi Chochi Ababa hires a mad scientist to create a shiny black ultimate robot destroyer named Pluto. Pluto’s only mission is to destroy the seven strongest robots in the world and become King of the Robots. Naturally, Astro is on his list. Astro Boy survives his first encounter with Pluto but he’s massively outmatched so he decides he must increase his power – from one hundred thousand horsepower to one million. Professor Ochanomizu refuses to do it. But there’s someone who will.
Tezuka’s superbly imaginative storytelling features great characterisations in the world’s greatest robots, each of whom is so distinctive, with such well-thought-out backstories (and in the case of Australian robot Epsilon, quite a supporting cast) they could have easily starred in a new anime or comics series themselves. This story also introduces Astro’s sister Uran, who doesn’t have his abilities but plays a pivotal role in the fight against Pluto despite that.
Pluto himself is a conflicted antihero, going about his task efficiently but taking no pleasure in annihilating the other robots. He does decent things to make up for his deadly actions but he must keep destroying. He has no say in the matter, his programming demands it. But who is the shadowy figure who has the skills to make a robot like this and why would they use such abilities for evil?
In 2003, manga superstar creator Naoki Urasawa took the ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’ as the basis for an updated re-imagining called Pluto, expanding the basic structure of Tezuka’s story and characters into a long, complex and somewhat dystopian cyberpunk saga. It reads somewhat like Astro Boy crossed with The Silence of The Lambs, and has won lots of awards.
‘Mad Machine’ is an invention that causes all mechanical devices to run amok. Can Astro Boy destroy it before he too goes off the rails? Tezuka gets plenty of mileage out of this simple tale, packing more strange robots, several types of villains plus some jeopardy into a short eighteen-pager that has another of his nutty endings. This is a superb volume of work from one of the all-time greats, accessible enough for children and idea-filled enough for adults to enjoy too.