ASTROBOY VOLUME 22

1. ASTRO RETURNS

First serialized from April to September 1972 in Shogaku Yonensei magazine.

A spaceship piloted by strange aliens discover the melted body of Astro floating in space and take him into their robotic laboratory. By examining his electro brain they see images of the planet Earth and over Astro riding the steel block he’s now stuck to into the sun using the rockets in his legs. They decide to repair him and use their advanced technology to improve his power and metal structure. They even give him a third eye in his forehead because they all have three eyes and he looks silly to them with only two.

When they revive Astro he can’t remember anything about his past but he does have vague recollections about his family and he longs to go home. The aliens tell him they have built a time travel device into his third eye. So he can try to locate the era in which his family live. A pretty young female robot on the alien ship called Spica has developed strong feelings for Astro and has been granted permission to go with him. However the Captain has made one serious condition. Spica must report to them regularly about everything she observes on Earth and make sure Astro is unaware of this. He tells her that if Earth turns out to be a hopeless good for nothing planet it must be destroyed. After three years Spica must tunnel to the center of Earth and blow herself up unless he commands otherwise. Spica finds this disturbing but she agrees for she loves Astro so very much.

When they are sent to Earth they appear to be back in the stone age encountering saber-toothed leopards, flying pteradactyls and even some prehistoric cave dwellers. The appearance of the cave people is part human and part ape characteristics as if they are halfway through the evolutionary development. They even have tails. Astro and Spica observe one of the small male children carry a huge piece of a tree branch to a volcano where he dips it in the lava to collect some fire. But his life is in danger when the volcano begins to erupt.

Astro manages to save him but as he flies away with the boy and Spica he is pinned to a large rock emitting a strong magnetic force. The metals in Spica’s body are unaffected and Astro urges her to take the boy to safety. She promises to come back and help Astro and she returns the boy to his home where everybody is happy to see the fire. The burning branch is thrust into a woodpile and the boy’s siblings urge their mother to warm herself by the flames. Spica realizes that she was sick and shivering with a cold and her son went to get fire to make her feel better. she telepathically reports back to the Captain about the love she has witnessed between a mother and child and that Earth appears to be a very good planet indeed. Then she realizes she almost forgot about Astro.

In the meantime Astro has been saved from the spreading lava by some weird creatures who look like wolves in human clothing. They take Astro still stuck to the rock to their worship temple to ask God what he is exactly. He whom they call God is some giant robot. Somehow he makes the magnetism disappear freeing Astro from the rock. He explains that many millenniums ago he was built by scientists to keep in his data banks the record of all human history as they were about to all perish through war, famine and pollution. All this long time he has been watching and waiting for a new race of humans to evolve. Astro realizes that he thought this was Earth’s past but it’s really the far off future. He must go back in time to find his home and family but the robot “God” has deactivated his time travel forbidding him to leave. When Astro defies him and tries to leave they fight. Eventually Astro gets the upper hand smashing the robot’s nose and crippling him in his stomach mechanism. However he refuses to finish him off because then all records of human history will be wiped out forever.

Realizing that Astro is a very noble and upright robot “God” admits to him that the reason he tried to prevent him leaving was because he feared he would cause huge disruptions in human history. He restores Astro’s time travel ability, commands the wolfmen to polish him up for his departure and bids Astro farewell. After Astro leaves the huge robot sits still in place until he turns to stone in ten thousand years time. He becomes known as “The Sphinx”.

Trivia

This story is very unique. It is set after Astro’s sacrifice of himself to save the world from the sun turning supernova at the end of the 1960’s animated series in Japan but it appears to contradict the account of his return in the Once Upon A Time Astroboy Tales told in books 6, 7 and 8. Furthermore it ends so abruptly without a proper resolved climax. Astro is never shown to find his own time era where his family live and Spica is left behind. It is also never revealed if the alien captain agreed with her that the Earth should not be destroyed. Tezuka does say in the introduction however that originally he did want to stretch out the story with Astro wandering through many time zones but he was forced to end it like it is.

EXTREMELY SHORT STORIES

2. THE BOMB TRAIN

First appeared in the January 1st 1968 edition of the Sankei newspaper.

Three of the worlds greatest robot heroes, Roys III from America, Robonov from Russia and of course, Astro from Japan, are given the assignment of disposing of a powerful atomic bomb capable of destroying the entire planet. If it is touched in a certain place it is set to explode. A mad scientist called Dr. Tendy Krayz built it and then mysteriously vanished. Astro and his friends search all the way to Pluto and beyond for a safe place to get rid of the bomb encountering various alien races who chase them away when they realize what they have with them and even one gang of space pirates who try to capture the bomb to take over Earth. At one point in their journeying though they accidentally set the bomb off. They are terrified thinking it’s about to blow up but instead a hatch opens revealing a small room inside the so called big bomb. There’s a bed with a man asleep who is annoyed at being woken up. It is Dr. Krayz himself who explains that he built this thing to sleep in because he had noisy visitors over New Year’s holiday. He told everybody it was a bomb thinking that they would leave him alone to sleep in peace.

3. SHOWDOWN IN THE STANDARD DEVIATION KINGDOM

First appeared in the February 27th 1976 issue of Asahi magazine.

Astro has been sentenced to be scrapped along with certain other unlucky robots after a compulsory examination called the Standard Deviation Test. They are all trick questions designed to make robots more subservient to humans. They are true or false statements which say in effect that robots must always obey humans even in cases were corruption and bribery are being practiced. All robots like Astro who answer false to all the questions are deemed “useless”. Professor Ochanomizu saves Astro at the last minute telling him on the phone that he had to grease their palms with a bribe so they’d let him go. He tells Astro robots wouldn’t understand but for humans money talks. Astro doesn’t know the meaning of this jargon but his electro brain detects something evil behind the crazy exam and fights his way through the scrapyard till he discovers a weird computer in an inner chamber. The computer tells him that it designed the test to weed out worthless robots such as him. Astro can’t attack the computer without being struck down with an electric shock. So he challenges it to a test to prove its own worth. He asks it how does money talk and what greasing a person’s palm mean? It cannot answer and Astro declares triumphantly that it is at the bottom of a standard test for only humans know the answers to those questions. It becomes so depressed that it commits suicide breaking itself into bits and pieces.

4. ASTRO'S FIRST LOVE

First appeared in the March 1969 issue of Big Comic magazine.

This is basically just a one page comedy farce. It depicts Astro and an attractive female robot sitting on a bench together in love. As they cuddle and kiss they begin to break apart and finally make a huge explosion together. In the final picture Professor Ochanomizu sits among the wreckage all dirty and tattered and mutters “Guess they didn’t go about it the right way. I should have shown them this book.” The title on the cover can be clearly read. “SECRETS FOR A HAPPY MARRIAGE FOR ROBOTS”

5. SLIPPERY CATFISH IN IMMINENT DANGER

First appeared in the January 3rd 1965 issue of Sunday Mainichi magazine.

Astro helps Mr. Mustachio and Professor Ochanomizu save the life of Dr. Hyouno. Hyouno is an inventor who has been working on a top secret invention so he has not had any assistants employed by him. But it’s more than he could manage on his own so using advanced cyborg surgery he created a double of himself cutting off his head and stitching it to a robot body and stitching his own body to a robot head. Together they were able to complete the invention but Hyouno was engaged to be married and his two selves fought over his intended bride and ever since then they’ve been unknowingly trying to kill each other mentally. The robot head and the humam head emitting waves of control and psychic impulses to manipulate the other’s body to try to destroy themselves. Astro and Mustachio bring both of them face to face at Ochanomizu’s lab where they are persuaded to make peace and allow the professor to put them back together normal. In the meantime some wicked foreign spies kidnap Uran and threaten to destroy her if they don’t get Hyouno’s invention. Astro defeats them and saves his sister and Hyouno’s invention.

6. ASTRO II

First appeared in the September 1975 issue of Bungei Shunju Deluxe magazine.

Sometime after Astro piloted that rocket into the sun to prevent it turning super nova and destroying Earth Professor Ochanomizu and Mr. Mustachio receive a radio signal from Astro to their joy. Astro tells them that some strange alien race found him floating in space and repaired him however they brought him to a small planet where they told him to live for awhile. He doesn’t know where that planet is and the Ministry of Science cannot trace its source. The Prime Minister commands the Ministry to make a new Astro but make him even more like a human. Ochanomizu adapts the original blueprints to make a real human-like Astro. Astro II is awakened but he doesn’t feel the same way about justice and compassion as the original. He seems to mostly be interested in going out with human ladies and when the Japanese government assigns him to guard atomic weapons being exported to another country he demands wages and holiday time off. Even when he finally does go on the assignment he double crosses the government destroying the weapons and building a company to mass produce other copies of himself. He plans to sell Champions of Justice to all the countries for his own profit. The police track him down and arrest him discovering he was living for his own pleasure surrounded by a harem of one hundred women. Professor Ochanomizu concludes with a mournful sigh that there is only one true Astroboy and wishes that he would return home.

7. I AM KNOWALL

First appeared in the September 1964 issue of Manga Dokuhon magazine.

This isn’t really an Astroboy story at all but it is included in this volume because Astro makes a sort of cameo appearance at the end of it. The plot involves a robot office worker named Knowall assigned to a product company for test purposes. Knowall is very attractive to all the female employees even though he turns out to be a robot and he also negotiates for better working conditions for all his fellow workers in general. The bosses get very annoyed with him since he is impossible to disagree with and they set him up with a female robot designed to explode when he kisses her. Their plot succeeds although their get their comeuppance because Knowall takes her into the company warehouse where all the other robots intended to eventually replace human employees when they are perfected are stored. The warehouse and all the robots are destroyed along with poor Knowall. The funny twist at the end however is that he made all the ladies pregnant in spite of the fact he was a robot. When the babies are being born they look exactly like Astro. A male worker goes to the delivery ward wondering what a robot’s baby looks like and then says he ought to have been able to guess.

8. YOU'RE GUILTY

First appeared in the March 10th 1975 issue of Shukan Shonen Champion magazine.

A mugger robs a young man as he leaves the bank one evening stabbing him and running away with his briefcase full of money. He is in critical condition and allegedly dies. His brother, a very young kid is heartbroken and goes to visit a surgeon called Dr. Black Jack. He tells Black Jack that his brother’s body is apparently awaiting an autopsy and he found Black Jack’s name written in a notebook in his brother’s pocket. The kid tells Black Jack he wants revenge and he will track the mugger down even if he gets stabbed himself. Black Jack says he’s crazy but the kid says if he is stabbed the doctor can save his life so he can be a witness to the man’s face in court. For three months the kid leaves the same bank with a briefcase until finally the mugger approaches him. The kid is stabbed and patched up by Black Jack who tells him he can tell he stabbed himself with his own knife since the wound isn’t very deep and aimed at a place that wouldn’t be potentially fatal. The kid admits it but begs Black Jack to testify that it was the mugger who stabbed him in court. He has planned it this way so the mugger will be convicted as revenge for his brother. The mugger is arrested and swears at his trial that he just met the kid and he went crazy stabbing himself. The kid swears it was the man who did it. They call Black Jack in as a witness and he corroborates the mugger’s side of the story knowing full well if he lies he could be charged with perjury. The kid is furious but the mugger is set free. However as he is leaving he comes face to face with the kid’s brother who accuses him of stabbing him and stealing his money. The kid is joyfully surprised to see his brother alive and finds out that his life was secretly saved just in time by the remarkable surgical skills of Black Jack and he has been convalescing in hospital all this time. The mugger is scheduled for a new trial and Black Jack quietly leaves the courthouse. Like the story immediately above this has nothing at all to do with Astroboy but it appears in this volume because the human kid who features in it bears a stunning resemblance to Astro. Even the kid’s hair is styled in the same shape as the horned points on Astro’s head.

9. BAD-GUY ROBOTS

First appeared in the August 1964 inaugural issue of Tetsuwan Atom Club magazine.

A gang of villains led by a mad scientist seek to exact revenge upon Astroboy. So by trickery they lure him onto a rocket heading for the moon all by himself with no other passengers except all of them and a giant robot built like an adult version of Astro with the exact same seven powers and twice as much horsepower. Halfway to the moon they spring their trap stopping the rocket and issuing their challenge. Unafraid Astro flies outside to fight but when the big robot follows he struggles and flounders in space unable to move. Astro shakes the rocket ship and all the villains quickly surrender. When the mad scientist asks Astro what his mistake was he is told that jets are no good in the vacuum of space and the big robot only has jets whereas Astro has built in rockets that he changes to when he wants to fly in space.

10. THE TIME MACHINE

First appeared in the November 1964 issue of Tetsuwan Atom Club magazine.

Astro takes a time machine on a test run for Professor Ochanomizu. He reports by radio to the professor that he sees young Tobio, Dr. Tenma’s son about to be killed in the accident involving his little car and the truck. Astro intervenes and saves Tobio stopping the truck from smashing his car in spite of Ochanomizu’s desperate orders not to. The professor tells Astro despairingly that since Tobio didn’t die he will now never exist and he will disappear. However Astro doesn’t disappear. Instead from inside the time machine he observes Dr. Tenma taking Tobio to the robotics laboratory to be modified and reactivated in the image of the strange robot who came out of nowhere to save him. Astro is astonished to realize that Tobio was a robot and Ochanomizu realizes that Astro saved himself before Tenma modified his appearance to the way he is in the present age.

11. THE BRAIN SWAP

First appeared in the October 1964 issue of Tetsuwan Atom Club magazine.

A boy named Iji in Astro’s class at school is furious that he has been beaten at top grades achiever level by a robot. Namely Astro himself. When Iji’s mother complains to the school principle he tells her that they cannot remove Astro from school over this because robots have equal rights as humans nowadays. So she gets an idea and secretly hires two workers from the robot factory to sneak into Astro’s bedroom while he sleeps and swap his brain with a brand new brain thereby wiping clear all the knowledge Astro has gained through hard studying. When Professor Ochanomizu and Mr. Mustachio realize what has happened Astro promises to start again from scratch and study hard. Meanwhile the factory workers give the brain to the woman but when she refuses to give them a big tip to keep quiet about the deal they retaliate by kidnapping her son for ten million yen ransom. She calls the police and confesses. The police call Astro and he tracks the kidnappers to the factory, overpowers them and rescues Iji. The woman apologizes to Astro and offers back his brain but he tells her it’s all right because he’s already adapted to the new one. Iji is still unhappy about having to compete with Astro but he knows there’s nothing he can do especially since he owes Astro his thanks for saving him.

Short Story Trivia

A few noteworthy appearances of some of Tezuka’s star cast.

Duke Red plays the dual role of Dr. Hyouno and his cyborg double in Slippery Catfish In Imminent Danger and in the same story Sapphire (Princess Knight) has a brief cameo as Hyouno’s fiancée.

Black Jack appears in one panel at the beginning of Astro II and at the end Sapphire shows up along with Dr. Tenma as part of the crowd observing all the astro copies flying through the sky.

In the Black Jack story You’re Guilty not only does Astro star in the role of a flesh and blood human boy, there is a scene of him with some of his classmates at school. Some of them are dead ringers for Astro’s own classmates. Kenichi, Tamao and Shibugaki.

In Bad-Guy Robots among the gang of villains in the rocket ship besides Hamegg and Lamp in one panel you can clearly see Skunk Kusai. This technically marks his fourth appearance in a story though these short story supplements may possibly be intended to stand more on their own individually and not tie in to the official canonical chronology.

12. THE END OF ASTROBOY

First appeared in the July 1970 issue of Bessatsu Shonen magazine.

This is a very strange and very dark story. Astro is immobile on display in a robot museum. Two young lovers, Takeo and Julie, break in and steal Astro fueling him up to wake him. They explain that they need him to protect them from some robots who are after them. Takeo tells their background story in flashback.

He and Julie first met when they were both around five years old. Takeo’s parents always bought him toys like laser guns and dynamite. Real weapons that can wound or kill. Julie has toys of the same sort too but she’d rather draw pictures. Takeo persuades her to use her rope to pretend to hang each other and suspends her from a tree. Her mother appears and quickly gets her down furious that he could have killed her.

Takeo’s parents are not too concerned and encourage him with his toys. Later Julie’s mother says she’s gone missing. Takeo wants to go help search, is told no, but secretly goes out by himself. Startled by a figures sudden appearance he shoots finding it is Julie’s mother and she’s a robot. Terrified he runs home to bed but next morning she shows up apparently repaired and tells Takeo’s mother that Julie has been safely found.

Takeo never sees her again until ten years later however. All grown up they both fall in love. She won’t believe him when he tells her the truth about her mother but she deeply loves him. But when he tells his parents they finally reveal to him that they are robots. Humans have drastically dropped in numbers through radiation and pollution and now human cells are mixed together by robots and born in test tubes. Humans no longer can marry and have real families. They are individually raised by robot couples. Furthermore they always gave Takeo weapons to play with because they have been training him to be a gladiator to fight other humans to the death for robots enjoyment in the coliseum. Takeo is horrified but his parents say he has no choice in the matter.

But later he rebels at the coliseum before he is due to enter the arena. He shoots his way to freedom blasting robots and stealing a car. He picks up Julie at her home blasting her mother proving she was a robot. Julie affirms her love for Takeo and they drive off getting the idea of stealing Astroboy to help them when they hear the robot police have cut off the road to the airport. So the flashback ends as Takeo finishes his explanations to Astro. Astro is so confused. Back when he was created robots were the servants of humans and were sworn to do all they could to protect them. He says he can tell Takeo and Julie love each other and he will help them as much as he can.

Taking them in his arms he flies away with them just as the police arrive at the museum. They land at an island and Astro remarks that he can tell their love is sincere even though he, Takeo is a human and Julie is a robot. Takeo is horrified and begs Julie to tell him she’s human. Astro says he thought Takeo knew. Just then he hears fighter planes arriving and flies off to fight them. While the battle ensues Takeo goes crazy with rage and shoots Julie even though she pleads that that she really loves him even though she is a robot. Then he runs to the top of the island’s hills and yells for the robots to come and get him.

A voice is broadcast telling him that Julie was a human to begin with. The Julie he met as a child was indeed a human girl but she died when he played that game “pretending” to hang her from the tree. When Julie’s mother claimed she had run off she had really gone to bury the little corpse in the woods and then she secretly had a robot replica built and raised it as her daughter. Takeo realizes that he has killed Julie twice in effect and has nothing else to lose. He shoots his laser gun madly into the air but to the robots in the planes this is no more than the equivalent of an annoying fly and they swat him so to speak, frying his body with all their weapons combined. His corpse is left on the island, a burning, smoking heap as they all fly away.

Trivia

Astro’s appearance in this dark story is very brief and it’s strongly implied that he was destroyed while fighting the robots in their planes. But Tezuka never considered it to be the final chapter of his Astroboy manga canonically.

The human child version of Julie appears to be played by Pinoko, whose most well known regular starring role is as Dr. Black Jack’s nurse in some of Tezuka’s Black Jack stories.