Comic book character was first Japanese TV import

HOLLYWOOD — Classic animated Japanese character “Astro Boy” will zoom back to the U.S. via Kids’ WB, which has ordered 26 episodes of a new version of the cartoon series.

The original “Astro Boy” launched in 1963 as one of Japanese TV’s first anime-style series. Sony Pictures Television, Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan and Tezuka Prods. are behind the updated version, which will air on Kids’ WB during the 2003-04 season.

“Astro Boy” revolves around an atomic-powered robot created in the image of a grieving scientist’s dead son. Boasting advanced intelligence and human emotions, Astro Boy fights for peace and justice in Metro City, a society comprising humans and robots.

The franchise was created as a comic book series in the early 1950s by Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese animation pioneer who’s considered the “father of manga.” “Astro Boy” was set 50 years into the future — which, coincidentally, places the birth of the character in year 2003.

“One of the most recognizable icons in animation history, ‘Astro Boy’ (is) a beloved hero for all ages,” said Kids’ WB programming senior VP John Hardman. “His strong moral center and selfless bravery are the perfect complement to the other heroes and champions on Kids’ WB.”

Sony also produces “Jackie Chan Adventures” for Kids’ WB.

Tara Sorensen, Sony Pictures Television creative affairs VP, said the studio’s partnership with its sister company in Japan was “unique.”

“It’s a thrill to introduce ‘Astro Boy’ to a new generation of kids,” she said.

“Astro Boy” was the first Japanese TV import in the U.S., debuting on New York’s WNEW in September 1963 and later entering nationwide syndication. “Astro Boy” remains a cult phenom to this day in the U.S.

Japan’s Fuji TV introduced the new version of “Astro Boy” earlier this month to strong numbers.

Kids’ WB, meanwhile, first shot to the top of the broadcast kids’ ratings in 1999 thanks to Japanese import “Pokemon”; the net remains No. 1 with a lineup that includes another import, “Yu-Gi-Oh,” as well as “Pokemon: Master Quest” and the revived “What’s New Scooby Doo?”

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