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Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1-8

Review

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1-8

written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa

 

Someone is killing the most powerful robots on Earth. With that premise, Pluto opens, blending an almost childlike innocence with the harsh realities of war and death, humanity and monstrosity. A mystery at its heart, Pluto is based on but not bound to Astro Boy, a creation of Osamu Tezuka, and while being familiar with that series might give a reader further insight into some of the visual references and nods put into the series, it is unnecessary to understand and enjoy what Pluto does, which is to tell a compelling story using elements and ideas most often associated with juvenile stories, but in an undeniably adult manner. Instead of being an Astro Boy story, this stands more on its own, as a detective story starring a German robot named Gesicht as he seeks to solve a series of murders.

The setting is of a near future or perhaps an alternate present where robots have been developed to the point that they are nearly human, enjoying certain rights while still used as soldiers and construction workers. And as Gesicht travels, the reader is brought up to speed gradually to where robots stand in the world, designed to be without emotion and yet to carry out the most emotionally devastating duties. And each of the major players in the series is tied in some way to a war fought in the not-so-distant past, a war that saw robots killing robots on a massive scale. Mont Blanc, the first robot murdered, was one of the most powerful to fight in the war, and had since dedicated himself to trying to help the world. The volume definitely toys with the idea of these robots confronting their actions as moral agents as well as soldiers, with dealing with, for lack of a better word, their own humanity in a world that does not see them as human.

And the art does a tremendous job in bridging the gap between the source material and the current form, taking the exaggerated characters of Tezuka and rendering them as something that fits into a real world. There are no efforts to pull the punches, either, and the series does contain violence and a lot of more disturbing and dark imagery. In many ways this works with the themes of the series, with the idea that what we assume is innocent or pure is hiding a darker, repressed side, that these robots who weren’t supposed to be damaged by war have been fundamentally altered by their experiences. Otherwise, the art is slick and clear, the characters and scenes simple most of the time and incredibly complex when it needs to be, when it needs to make the reader pause and take in the details.

The action moves quickly, from the mystery of Mont Blanc to the life of North No 2, another powerful robot from the war, who seeks in his retirement to put his skills to something different, to learn music. It is in these small nods, these contradictions, that a robot designed solely for battle would yearn to learn to play the piano, that we have the most humanizing moments of the volume. The tragedy is only enhanced as these same characters that seem to be trying to move on find themselves unable to escape their pasts, unable to escape the things they did in the war. It is a moving start to a story that promises to draw many more parallels to the nature of war and humanity than the source material did.

In the end, this is definitely a manga with depth and layers, and acts as the introduction into a story that foreshadows a lot of striking and poignant themes. The series benefits from being not incredibly long, complete at eight volumes, and short enough that you never lose track of the beginning by the end. The narrative balances action and more ponderous material well, giving us very human moments of the characters while keeping things moving briskly along. And this is a title that shows the unique benefits of the form, using words and text together to tell a story about what it means to be human. Which is to say that this series does what commercial art is supposed to by providing an entertaining story as well as a depth for critical interpretation.

Reviewed by Charles Payseur on January 16, 2014

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1-8
written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa

  • Publication Date: February 17, 2009
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC
  • ISBN-10: 1421519186
  • ISBN-13: 9781421519180