Robot Design Considerations in 1957, Japan

This gem of a panel is from the story Ghost Manufacturing Machine in Astro Boy Omnibus 2 by Osamu Tezuka; pg 91, panel 2 (first published in a 1957 supplement edition of Shonen magazine).  This was one of only two English books in my hostel’s library.  The other was War and Peace.  It did not prove to be a very difficult decision (and I’m sure, for this, I will be judged).

[Astro Boy -
Astro Boy’s distinct recharging protocol offers insight into potential design considerations at the  time (from “Ghost Manufacturing Machine”, Osamu Tezuka, 1957)
The wondrous illustration you are now beholding occurred within the folowing dialogue:

“Okay Astro. . . go get him!”
“There’s no time to waste!”
“Really? What about the robot law?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of things, Astro.”
“Here you go with some more energy…”
“Gosh, thanks, Mom!”
“Just make sure you save Professor Ochanomizu, Astro!”
(pg 90 panel 6 – pg 91 panel 5)

To further put this interesting panel into context:

Astro Boy has just heard that is friend, Professor Ochanomizu, may have been kidnapped, and asks his parents for an energy refill so that he can go and rescue him. His parents deny him the energy, since the Ministry of Robots forbids the travel of robots outside the country without permission.

As Astro Boy’s father points out, “Article 9 of the Robot Law says robots aren’t allowed to leave the country without permission, and if they do, their energy will be shut off or they’ll be dismantled” (pg 90, panel 2). His parents later reason that they can always get a lawyer if he gets caught, and they certainly want to encourage his good-deedery. So they decide to give him the energy refill and their blessing.

That all seems normal enough, we can suppose, for a Japanese robot story set in 1957’s future. What isn’t clear is why Dr. Tenma designed a robot that needs to be recharged in such an awkward way. Perhaps it is an interesting statement on the differences between robots and humans in this fictional society: human energy intake occurs through the mouth, and discharge waste from their ass. So maybe it is appropriate for robots energy intake to be at their ass — but does this mean that they discharge something from their mouth? In what form is this energy? It looks like an icing dispenser.

It is especially considerate that the process appears to be pleasing to Astro Boy. It’s a sign of good design, to make your robots enjoy the process of recharging. You may notice the interesting choice of a necessity for assistance in the process. Maybe the requirement for help in recharging is one of the ways robots were kept in check. Although I’m sure it wasn’t long before a “charge-yourself” toilet like apparatus would be developed. It would be a wonderful touch if Astro Boy went and sat on a toilet whenever he needed to recharge, such that a robot ‘dining room’ looked like a human lavatory.

But upon further consideration, when you are quietly sitting and thinking on the toilet, are we not recharging our spirit, while we are dispensing of undigested victuals? Perhaps the android’s physical form is meant to represent the human spirit. This could prove to work on several levels with the Astro Boy stories, and if there is not a toilet-like charging station, there certainly should be.

And while we’re wondering about everything, what is the significance of Astro Boy’s father’s head detaching from his body when he seems upset? Is he a robot, or is this simply a way to portray his mood, and is not meant to be interpreted his head’s actual position relative to his body? I haven’t read a lot of manga, so I can’t be sure.

I’ll also note that the first story in this omnibus, “Ivan the Fool” takes place on the moon, and was written six months before the Soviet satellite (Luna 3) first photographed the far side of the moon, making this story a fun and refreshing speculation of what the moon might be like. A worthy addition to the body of little moon fantasies that Science Fiction has given us over the decades.

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