Anyone into anime, history, or theater is in for a treat with Company One’s New England premiere of Astro Boy and the God of Comics, playing through August 16th at the Boston Center for the Arts. The play, written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power, is a unique mix of comedy, tragedy, video, animation, drawing, dance, and charming low-budget special effects performed with a high-energy cast and presenting an interesting look at the dynamic between creators and their creations.
The play’s set up in 12 chapters in reverse-chronological order. It opens with a reenactment of the final episode of the original Astro Boy series (in which the boy robot sacrifices his life to stop apocalyptic radiation from the sun), then goes backwards through the first episode and Astro’s origin story. After a short satirical sketch questioning why Americans think Japanese anime characters look white, the play transitions from anime recreation to historical overview of the life of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and “god of manga,” his innovations, his eccentricities, his pacifism, and his inspirations. The finale blurs the line between fantasy and history in magical realist manner, forming a statement on how artistic creation can be a form of heroism.
The most stunning aspect of the production is the live drawing on-stage. The background layers sheets of paper over a video projection, and the actors draw backgrounds interacting with the projections. In the opening, moving projections of planets and UFOs are traced to form the body of Astro Boy; later on, drawings of dead bodies overly a projection of the atomic bomb explosion. Each chapter provides different creative techniques of presentation, from a hilarious “flying” effect to musical recreation of comic pages through sound effects. Tickets are still easily available and fairly affordable, so bring the family and have fun.