Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Review: PLUTO

 Of course, I can't talk about robot manga without talking about this one.  While it's only tangentially connected to one of mecha's founding works, it's one of the most critically acclaimed manga in the US and it's time for me to add my own praise to that pile.

PLUTO, by Naoki Urasawa.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2009.


Mont Blanc was considered one of the world's greatest robots, a beloved mountain guide and forester in his home land of Switzerland.  Then he was found smashed to smithereens in the remains of a forest fire.  That same day, a notable robot politician in Germany was also killed.  It's up to the android detective Gesicht to investigate these cases. As his investigation grows, he believes that these deaths are connected to a terrible conspiracy to destroy both the world's greatest robots and the humans who want to protect them, and that whomever is behind it may not be human themselves.


Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely heard the story behind Pluto by now.  It's based on a rather famous story arc from Osamu Tezuka's classic manga Astro Boy.  Urasawa created this particular work not only as a tribute to Tezuka's work, but to give it his own down-to-earth spin (albeit one that clearly owes a lot to his own Monster).  What he created was something very different from Tezuka's shiny retro-futurism, but it's certainly compelling in its own fashion.

Aside from laying down the premise, this first volume is all about establishing the mood of this manga.  Like Gesicht, we are plunked down into it with very little in the way of introduction.  It's up the reader to infer the state of the world, to pick up hints of a former robot-led war and a growing anti-robot movement from the hints and asides within others' conversations.  What we do learn a lot about is Gesicht himself.  As he meets up with various other notable robots, he reflects upon his own relationship with both robots and humanity.  It's very slow-moving and purposeful, as any good murder mystery should be.  Maybe it's not the most exciting first volume, but Urasawa is clearly willing to linger to emphasize a moment of tension or sadness or highlight the brief, terrifying moments of action.


As is typical for Urasawa, the art here is very accomplished.  The linework is fine and the characters are all drawn as realistically as possible, be they human or robot.  Nowhere is this more obvious than with Gesicht himself, sporting one of those big hawkish noses that Urasawa absolutely loves to draw.  The world of Pluto is one that's not that far removed from our own, one that manages to be fantastical yet very mundane.  That's a hell of a feat to pull off considering he had to adapt a number of characters that are robots without human faces and thus have no expressions to change.   


This was released as part of Viz's Signature line, so it's published in a slightly larger size to better show off the art.  They really lean on the Tezuka legacy here, as there's not only an interview between Naoki Urasawa and Macoto Tezuka but also a postscript from the president of Tezuka Productions.


Pluto works as both a tribute to a classic and as a stand-alone mystery.  You don't need to be familiar with Astro Boy to understand the story, but if you do you'll be able to appreciate just how Urasawa adapts it for modern tastes.  It's easily one of the best introductions to Naoki Urasawa you'll find in English.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available.  All 8 are available and are currently in print.

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