I’m a die-hard Tezuka fan. I’ve read the entire Phoenix saga, all the Dororo that’s out there, a healthy number of Blackjacks, and the beautiful, timeless epic that is Apollo’s Song. I’ve been on a pilgrimage to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which has a gigantic sculpture of Tezuka’s Phoenix, and delighted in the the Tezuka mural at Takadanobaba station in Tokyo… you get the picture. He’s the godfather of manga, the mangaka to whom all others must be compared and invariably fall short. But somehow, I have managed to read exactly zero pages of his most widely-known work, Astro Boy.
Astro Boy, known as Mighty Atom in Japan, is Tezuka’s most popular character, appearing in manga across four different decades, anime, films, and video games. Astro Boy is a robot that was built to replace a scientist’s tragically deceased son; his father/creator raises him as though he’s a real boy, but his quirks and superpowers come to be revealed in hilarious and entertaining ways. It’s a reasonable and flexible setup for countless diverse story arcs and meditations on the ridiculous and sublime inherent in the human condition.
Atomcat is a delightfully meta, adorably derivative rehash of a few Astro Boy stories in which an irresistible robotic feline takes the place of Astro Boy. Atomcat is the robotic pet of a young, nerdy Astro Boy fan named Tobio, a replacement created by aliens after they hit Tobio’s cat with their car. Why aliens, you might ask? Because they’re vacationing on earth, of course—nothing but the most illogical premises are good enough for our old pal Tezuka. With the help of the superpowered Atomcat, Tobio is able to defend himself against bullies, fight crime, take on scary cat mummies—and Atomcat even finds a cute kitten girlfriend!
Atomcat’s escapades mirror various Astro Boy plots, but my unfamiliarity with the Astro Boy comics made little difference in the reading. The combination of speedy pacing, precise-yet-playful illustrations, broad and bawdy characters, and the unbearable cuteness of superhero kittens will engage the reader and keep them hooked. For those who seek to understand the original source material, brief glimpses of the Astro Boy stories offer a bit of context for Atomcat‘s riffs.
Atomcat was created as an all-ages title, but its self-referential nature, Tezuka’s familiar themes questioning the nature and the bounds of humanity, and winking humor make it a perfectly good read for adults, perhaps even more so than for kids. If you’re looking for a good time, a quick read, and you appreciate adorable cats, this is the perfect book for you.
by Osamu Tezuka
Digital Manga Publishing, 2013