Wonder 3 is a manga series by Osamu Tezuka, the prolific manga and anime creator who is often referred to as “the god of manga”, in honour of how his impressive body of work served to push the medium forward. His more famous works include the likes of Astro Boy, Princess Knight, Pheonix and Black Jack. Originally published in the 1960’s, Wonder 3 received an anime adaptation which was localized in North America under the name The Amazing 3.
Back in 2017, Digital Manga Publishing launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in order to fund a print release of the original Wonder 3 manga in English, but there wound up being several production delays that caused the release date to be pushed back significantly. But, at long last, the Wonder 3 manga has hit retail shelves and I was curious enough that I decided to pick up a copy for myself. I haven’t read a ton of Tezuka’s works, but I did enjoy Princess Knight and Unico, and Wonder 3 seemed like it might be similarly whimsical and fun.
Disgusted by the violent nature of the inhabitants of Earth, the Milky Way League is considering blowing the planet up and putting humanity out of its misery. Wanting to be certain that there is no hope that humans could become peaceful before they pull the trigger on their annihilation, a special task force is sent to Earth: The Wonder 3! Captain Bokko and her subordinates, Pukko and Nokko, travel to Earth and disguise themselves as ordinary animals in order to observe humanity and see if there are any good people, or if humans are beyond redemption. Their mission is to live on the planet for one full year gathering data and, if it is determined that there is no hope left for humanity, they are also tasked with activating an antiproton bomb and destroying the entire planet!
There are three main plot threads in Wonder 3 which, initially, seemed relatively unconnected, but that all came together at the end.
- The Wonder 3 and the judgement of Earth:
The Wonder 3 arrive on Earth and transform themselves into a rabbit, a duck and a horse and are almost immediately attacked by humans who want to eat them. This is all the evidence that Pukko, the duck, needs and he sets the timer on the bomb right then and there. Luckily it’s on an extremely long timer, because he and his teammates are soon saved by Shinichi, a young boy who loves animals and has a strong sense of justice. Moved by his kindness, Bokko and Nokko decide that Pukko was too hasty in his move to try and blow up the planet and, when Pukko refuses to stop the count down, they launch their spaceship, along with the bomb, into outer space in order to prevent it from destroying the Earth. I was initially surprised that the threat of the bomb, and the tension over whether or not the Earth would be spared, was removed from the story so early on. For a while, the Wonder 3, just pal around with Shinichi while pretending to be normal animals and secretly trying to use their super powers to help him, usually with comically disastrous results. But Pukko actually deactivated the bomb remotely before it went off in space and so the bomb is eventually brought back into play when they device a way to retrieve it and get their original mission back on course.
2. Shinichi’s personal struggles:
Shinichi despises any kind of dishonesty or unfairness, but only knows how to deal with his resulting anger upon witnessing wrong-doing in one way: violence. He’s constantly picking fights and getting into trouble and has a bad reputation as a delinquent around town. As such, he frequently skips school and only has animals for friends. I initially had a hard time sympathizing with this kid, as he’s so distrustful that he seems to actively be looking for things to be mad about. He also doesn’t always wait for proof of his suspicions before resorting to punching. I honestly get why all the townsfolk seem to hate Shinichi – he’s frequently a jerk and is completely out of control. Eventually, one of his teachers, Mr. Baba, steps up and takes on a mentorship role with Shinichi, showing him the value of controlling his anger and teaching him Judo in order to both help him to learn discipline and to give him a more appropriate way of venting his frustrations. My favourite piece of advice that Mr. Baba gives Shinichi is: “We retreat when we must retreat and advance when we must advance. That’s how we humans can keep fighting without dropping dead.” I think this beautifully illustrates how counter-productive Shinichi’s reckless behaviour can be and how picking your battles can allow you to do more good in the long term. This portion of the manga actually got me excited about Shinichi’s potential to grow as a character, but the manga doesn’t really end up sticking the landing on that front and it’s debatable whether you could say that Shinichi has really learned anything at the end of the book.
3. Shinichi’s brother’s double life as a secret agent:
Shinichi’s older brother, Koichi, pretends to have an unsuccessful career as a manga artist, but he’s actually a super spy who works for a secret organization known as Phoenix. He’s dedicated to protecting the world from the nefarious schemes of the Country of A and the segments that focus on his adventures as a secret agent are, in my opinion, the best parts of the book. They’re pulpy action-adventure sequences full of gadgets, disguises and espionage, as Koichi and his team infiltrate an enemy strong hold and Koichi tries to alternately outwit or outfight his nemesis, the dastardly Captain Lamp. Koichi is kind of a badass and his adventures were exciting and fun. I also liked his sassy partner, Elize, who unfortunately wasn’t utilized as much or as well as she could have been, but who did get a couple of cool moments, which I enjoyed. While the spy storyline initially seemed completely disconnected from what was going on with Shinichi and the Wonder 3, everything comes together when the Country of A get their hands on the antiproton bomb – which Pukko had attempted to hide in a mountain range – and it becomes a race to retrieve the bomb before the Country of A can use it to threaten their way to world domination.
Wonder 3 is definitely a manga that’s aimed at kids; it’s silly, action-focused and has simple, archetypical, characters. That said, the manga does have some heavy themes and, while the violence is cartoonish and in no way graphic, I was surprised by how many people wound up dying. Something I’ve observed about Tezuka’s works that are aimed at children is that, while these stories don’t tend to be very complex, he does frequently give children more credit, in terms of what kinds of things he thinks that they can handle, than I would necessarily have expected. I generally feel that this is a good thing and I think kids will enjoy the cute animal characters and slapstick humor and I doubt that they will be put off by the manga’s darker moments.
Despite its entertaining elements, Wonder 3 does have some major flaws. While all the seemingly disparate storylines do come together at the end, the plot felt all over the place at points and the lack of complexity to the characters wound up working against the story. Shinichi’s feelings towards the Wonder 3 seemed to flip flop for little to no reason and I sometimes wasn’t clear on what his motivations were. Most importantly, while Wonder 3 has a pretty obvious anti-violence message, it also somehow manages to muddle that message due to the fact that Shinichi never really learns to stop using violence as a means of solving his problems. Towards the end of the book he decides to swear off fighting, but he doesn’t manage to stick to that resolution for very long, undermining the ultimate point that this manga seemed to be building too. I also thought it was weird that the Milky Way League objected to humanity’s violent ways, but were willing to resort to the ultimate form of violence, total genocide of all life on the planet, and no one pointed out the hypocrisy of their plan.
Wonder 3 feels like it would be a fun manga for kids, however, it might be too simplistic to hold the attention of adult readers. I personally enjoyed the portions featuring Koichi and Elize being spies, but found Shinichi to be an annoying main character and was disappointed that his character growth seemed to stall. I will give the manga credit for having a surprising twist at the end of the story that I thought was pretty clever, though. If you’re interested in reading some early manga or are curious about Tezuka’s works, then this might be worth checking out, as it does have some amusing moments.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
What did you think of this manga? What are some of your favourite Tezuka works? Let me know in the comments.