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Birthday 'bot: Japan's most famous superhero is back in a big way. (Upfront).

TETSUWAN ATOM - BOY ROBOT. Super powered and super shiny, Atom (Astro Boy in the West) zoomed across Japanese television screens in briefs and boots back in the black-and-white 1960s, battling aliens and monsters. A kindhearted little guy just as ready to negotiate for peace as blaze away with hip guns or finger lasers, Atom was created by Osamu Tezuka in 1951 and made the leap from print to TV screens in 1963. The late manga master gave his creation a birthday in the distant future of April 7, 2003, but the future Tezuka envisioned of flying cars, AJ robots and stellar transport has turned out sadly plebian - our wars and battles are firmly earthbound. Yet Atom has helped generations of Japanese dream, and that's why Japan is throwing its little 'hot a big, year-long birthday bash.

Atom happenings

The birthday celebrations kick off on April 6 with the launch of a new Tetsuwan Atom Japanese animated series on the Fuji TV network. From Sony Pictures and Tezuka Productions, the all-original series will soon debut in the US as well. Atom is scheduled for international movie stardom via a full computer-graphic release from Sony Pictures, with a US premier slated for 2004.

In Kyoto, Atom fans can visit Tezuka Osamu World right inside Kyoto Station on the 2nd floor hall. Funky, plastic and fantastic, the place showcases Tezuka's best-known manga and anime creations - far-out characters like rogue surgeon Blackjack, Jungle Taitei, Ribbon no Kishi, Unico and, of course, Atom. Continuous screenings of classic works, lifesize plastic models and special exhibits all make the place well worth the Y400 admission price Y200 for kids). On display right now: Atom's life-size countdown capsule surrounded by gee-whiz gadgetry. Super secret special events are planned for Atom's awakening on April 7, but the place is worth a visit anytime for manga fans or merchandising executives - the Studio Store by the entrance has a mind-boggling array of goods. Open daily, 10-7.

Odaiba and online

Bayside Odaiba will be hosting much of Tokyo's Atomthemed fun. (There's already a Tezuka Osamu World Art Square Odaiba shop at the Aqua City shopping complex, 4th floor.) At press time, Tezuka Productions was still finalizing a listing of "Atom Dream Project" events to take place all around the country over the coming months. See the box with this article for Web site addresses with updated information.

Atom has inspired a generation of Japanese robotics engineers and manga artists. Honda's Asimo and even Sony's little Aibo can trace their creative roots back to the good-natured boy 'hot and his creator, Tezuka, who tried to show us that humanity and mercy are active choices, not mere biological byproducts. @

Gail Nakada is a Tokyo-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to J@pan Inc.
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Author:Nakada, Gail
Publication:Japan Inc.
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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