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Astro Boy

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Flying robotic sprite Astro Boy is as much an icon of kids’ entertainment in Asia as Mickey Mouse is in the U.S. In fact, Astro’s creator, Osamu Tezuka, is often called the Walt Disney of Japan. Unfortunately, the 1963-65 TV series Astro Boy, with its elementary animation and relentless cuteness, doesn’t measure up to Tezuka’s stunning 1980 feature film Phoenix 2772 (reedited and shown in the U.S. as Space Firebird) and his delightful experimental shorts Jumping and Broken-Down Film. Still, the Astro Boy episodes, which boutique video label The Right Stuf has been releasing two-to-a-cassette since 1989, are not without a certain charm. As goofy as their characterizations are, a lot of the cartoons’ story lines approach serious sci-fi and add some wrinkles to human-robot relations that even Isaac Asimov might have enjoyed. And though the animation is rudimentary, the designs and storytelling angles are often a lot more imaginative than typical Saturday-morning fare. C+