Originally published in Smile Comics from July 1986 to February 1987, Atom Cat (1986-87) is Tezuka’s return to Astro Boy (1952-68) – but with a twist.

What it’s about

Despite the title, Atom Cat (1986-87) is actually the story of a shy young manga fan named Tsugio.  A bit of a “bookworm”, Tsugio regularly alters his daily route to and from school in an effort to avoid a confrontation with a local bully nicknamed “Qaddafi”.  However, despite his best efforts, Qaddafi and his gang corner Tusgio, bully him and steal his glasses.  Nearly blind without them, Tsugio flails around picking though garbage in his futile search to find his glasses and eventually stumbles across a box containing a scruffy little kitten.  Returning home with the kitten, Tsugio decides to name him “Atom” after his favourite manga hero.

Yet, despite his best intentions, Atom’s total disdain for authority and willful property damage quickly becomes more than Tsugio or his family can handle. When Tsugio’s mother finally orders him to get rid of the cat, he has no choice but to hop on his bike and take Atom as far away from his new home as possible.  At that moment, fate intercedes and Tsugio’s bike is struck by a car being driven by, of all things, aliens in disguise!  Worried that the incident will blow their cover while they are on their honeymoon, the aliens take Tsugio and the gravely injured Atom back to their ship to be repaired.  Although relatively familiar with human physiology (given their disguises), the aliens are unsure what to make of the dying kitten. To solve the problem they decided to scan Tsugio’s brain for more information and discover that Atom (at least in Tsugio’s manga-addled brain) is a powerful robot.  And so, using their superior technology, the aliens transform Atom into a truly super-powered cat.

After the aliens depart, Tsugio awakens and is once again confronted by the bullies.  However this time things are a little different as Atom intercedes and turns the tables on the bullies – exacting a little revenge in the process.  Overjoyed at the prospects of having his very own super-powered bodyguard, Tsugio swears Atom to secrecy, and the two agree to hide Atom’s new-found powers.

Osamu Tezuka is famous for continually tinkering with his work, however when he decided to return to one of his most famous manga, Astro Boy (1952-68), he knew there was going to be criticism – but, unsurprisingly, he decided to go ahead and do it anyway. His solution, of course, was to present this new “Astro Boy” series as a parody of the original, even though the original Astro Boy does make several subtle appearances as part of the framing sequences.

Even the title itself, “Atom Cat“, is a good reflection of Tezuka’s sense of humour.  As Tezuka wrote in an essay later published in excerpt in the Osamu Tezuka Complete Manga Works edition (MT-309), while pitching the concept to his editor, he explained that it would Astro Boy, but with the body of a cat.  His editor burst out laughing and asked if he was planning on calling this new series “Atom”, after the original Japanese title for Astro Boy (1952-68).  When Tezuka suggested the title would be “Atom Cat“, the editor, not really understanding, laughed again and said it was quite an unusual title. Tezuka’s reply was “not at all, you can read it as ‘A Tom Cat’. You see? A TOM cat, as in a BOY cat…” (1986, p. 196).

As such, a bullet is often included between the “A” and the “T” and the correct title is arguably “A・Tom Cat“.

Where you can get it

In July, 2012, DMP successfully funded the publication of a set of Tezuka manga using the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter.  With a total of $49,411 pledged of $20,500 goal, DMP was able to publish not only their initial goal of a full-color edition of Unico (1976-79), but also the “stretch goals” of a single-volume edition of Atom Cat (1986-87) as well as a two-volume edition of Triton of the Sea (1969-71).  All three series were distributed to backers in March 2013 and available for general retail purchase in April 2013.

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