| Tetsuwan Atomu is the best-known science-fiction comic story created after World War II, and is a masterpiece of Tezuka Osamu (1928 - 1989). It is a story of a robot in the shape of a boy in a cute costume. The humanity and tragic structure of the story are the two main characteristics of this work.|
A character named Atomu first appeared in "Atomu Taishi" [Ambassador Atomu] which was serialized in the magazine Shônen [Boys] from April 1951 to March 1952. This Atomu however did not have any human-like qualities, and received little popularity. After an editor's advice, Tezuka made Atomu into a humanized character with a family, and began the "Tetsuwan Atomu" series in Shônen from April 1952. This new series gradually gained popularity.
Atomu is a robot made by Dr. Temma, director of the Science Department. Dr. Temma's son was killed in a traffic accident, and Atomu was created as his substitute. Atomu was thrown away because he did not grow up, and was taken back to Science Department by Dr. Ochanomizu. Later, Atomu became a champion for justice and fights against many bad men and robots.
At first sight, Atom looks cute, but he always faces up to his enemies. The future world he lives in seems to be a paradise. These elements make this story appear to be a simple good-against-evil story with a futuristic background; however, a close reading reveals that this is a story of racial discrimination in which robots are always considered slaves by human beings and are never able to sympathize with humans.
Just after World War II, Tezuka was assaulted by the Occupation Army for no reason. He realized that many tragedies occur only because one person is of different race or speaks a different language from another. Tezuka said that this "tragedy of communication or understanding" is the basis for Tetsuwan Atomu. This story shows how robots are enslaved by their human creators again and again, and are destroyed in the end. Atomu is torn between these robots and human beings.
The serialization of Tetsuwan Atomu was suspended together with the demise of Shônen in 1968. From 1967 to 1969, it appeared in Sankei Shinbun [Sankei Daily News]. It was published repeatedly in form of books; the first ones were by Kôbunsha (1956-57) in three volumes, and the ones closest to the magazine version are the Asahi Sonorama edition (1975) in 21 volumes, and Tezuka Osamu Manga Zenshû [All Comics by Tezuka Osamu] by Kôdansha (1977). Mushi Production made it into television animation in 1963. Now movie version is in production in Hollywood.