How did Astro Boy enter in mass culture?
After the creative collective MSCHF launched its controversial pair of Astro Boy-inspired boots, the “Big Red Boots,” we wondered why the mythical “Mighty Atom” became an object of Mass Culture, discovering that his image has deeper and more entrenched roots than we imagined, find out which ones.
A Brief History of Astro Boy.
When Osamy Tezuka created the cybernetic boy with human emotions in 1952, he could never have imagined that, 70 years later, that character would influence Street Culture in such an impactful way.
Yet, since the 1950s Astro Boy-in Japanese “Tetsuwan Atomu” or “Mighty Atom” – has quickly earned a place in the Olympus of favorite Manga characters: from the successful comic book series it became a cartoon, then a movie, a video game, and-eventually-material merchandising; all of which have reinforced his status as a global icon.
He arrived with his bulky red boots in the United States in 1968, when he was dubbed into English and broadcast on the major national networks; from there, his rise was unstoppable in Europe as well, moving beyond the fictional character in the comic books and into the major visual arts as well.
It was the art world that deprovincialized the figure the android from outer space, cleansing him from the patina of Japanese Manga and bringing him into artistic historicity, and, fortunately for us, we have a date when this began.
Astro Boy in Art.
The first work of art dedicated to Astro Boy, in fact, dates back to 1955 at the behest of Jean Prouvé with, “Marcoule Bench with Astro Boy Sculpture.”
The famous French architect and designer placed on one of his most iconic benches, a resin statue of Astro Boy with closed eyes and the infamous red boots, in the act of resting perhaps after a grueling battle in space.
The bench made of oak, blue lacquered folded sheet metal and steel tubing was originally made to equip the dining room of the Center for Atomic Studies in Marcoule, in France, when the brilliant architect decided to keep one for himself, making it a hybrid installation between design and comics.
Since then, Mighty Atom’s image has also – but not only – been used for artwork and collectibles, selling for hundreds of dollars, entering the luxury market.
Street Culture, with its fans of collectible Toys, could not help but tap into this winning and reassuring character: many brands have reinterpreted Astro Boy in their own way, such as KAWS, Invader, Ambush, and the Billionaire Boys Club.
In 2012, the world-famous Kaws Companion creator, Brian Donnelly, made his own version of Astro Boy to mark the 60th anniversary of his birth, mixing the typical Kaws character’s pose-with hands in his face and typical space boy features and clothes.
More recently, from 2021, the all-Swarovski-studded “Astro Boy” SECRET BASE figurine, which was highly limited and sold at auction for $65,000.
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Astro Boy enters the world of fashion.
From art to collecting to fashion, the step is short.
The first ever collection dedicated to Astro Boy was in 1993, when the great Yohji Yamamoto collaborated with Tezuka for SS93 with a collection of themed ties; then it was the turn of Hiroaki Ohya, who in 2000 presented a collection and a fashion show dedicated to him: models walked the runway in vanescent, light-hearted clothes and accessories, imprinted with the character in a discreet but visible, never disturbing way.
Let’s take a 10-year leap and get to the much-discussed release of MSCHF’s Big Red Boots. As we have seen, this is not Astro Boy‘s debut in the fashion world, yet it created a bit of a stir.
The reason? Astro Boy has also become an inspirational model for street style of the moment. The big red boots parade the streets of NY during Fashion Week, have been spotted on the feet of celebrities like Travis Scott, on the feet of influencers and ordinary people.
Going sold-out in the first drop, after very few minutes, they have already become a cult object.
Drawing from the decorative imagery of cosplay, the Big Red Boot ride the Gamecore trend, let’s talk about this new trend here: “Toys Prêt-à-Porter: the Gamecore.”
The Astro Boy Boots have round volumes and a balloon silhouette, formless and with a polished surface. Real giant ready-to-wear sculptures.
The figure of Astro Boy has spanned seven decades to merge with the virtual aesthetic.
His reassuring aesthetic, soft and gentle features, and iconic and simple clothing created a highly recognizable ideal type but, what is more important, easy to replicate and adapt to various contexts, products, and market demands.
It has become design, art, fashion, music, comics, lifestyle; while still remaining itself.
What the future of its image will be is yet unknown to us, but one thing is certain, it is legitimized forever and will never go away.