In a way, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Astro Boy are both fantastical films, presenting elements absent in real life: cuddly animals that pilot planes and drop missiles, a boy commander who was born from a peach, and lifelike robots that can feel human emotion. In these films, humans, animals, and technology are all intricately interconnected, playing off one another to paint hidden messages and unique worlds. Essentially, both films depict humans as superior beings that nonetheless rely heavily on animals and technology.
In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, humans, animals, and technology are all related through war. Momotaro is the only human on the battle ship; he is the high commander, directing his fighters, who are all animals, to attack Demon Island, and then calmly sending them off with a watchful eye. Obviously, he is of higher status, portrayed as regal and mature. Momotaro gives the commands, and the animals follow them cooperatively. Yet clearly, Momotaro needs his animals as fighters just as much as they need him as a leader. In turn, they all rely on technology. Without this technology, Momotaro and the animals would not have been able to battle at all. Technology not only represents power and strength, but also enjoyment—one monkey even gaily hops onto a torpedo and directs it straight into an enemy ship. Technology—Momotaro’s mighty naval ship, the many bomb-dropping planes, radio communication—dominates the action of the film, with the intention to show off Japan’s advanced and powerful air and naval technology during the World War II era and encourage boys to join the navy. The demons in the film are also depicted as human-like; however, they are shown as bumbling, unintelligent creatures, which reflects in their ineffectual use of technology. Clearly, humans, animals, and technology are all linked in a complex web of dependence.
In Astro Boy, a similar hierarchy is portrayed, with humans creating and using robots as servants, slaves, and entertainers. Robots are treated less as companions and friends and more as simply objects. They do not have any rights, but humans count on them to operate factories, clean the streets, and even destroy each other in public spectacles similar to Roman gladiator games. Additionally, in this futuristic world, humans possess the intelligence to create supersonic-speed aero-cars that steer themselves. However, the episode demonstrates that too much dependence on technology can be detrimental when Astro Boy’s original, Tobio, is killed in an accident while riding his aero-car on the “safest highway in the world.” At the end of the first episode, robots gain their freedom. Whereas previously the importance and authority of humans had outweighed that of robots, now there is equilibrium. Astro Boy is the epitome of human-robot equality since he was made and raised to be like any other human boy, capable of feeling human emotions. Thus, in this first episode of Astro Boy, we see a shift in the relationship between humans and technology from skewed to balanced. Like in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, humans are depicted as controllers of and reliant on technology. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, humans are also in command of animals; in Astro Boy, humans are no longer superior to robots in the end. Nevertheless, in both films, humans, animals, and robots are all interlinked in a network of need.