Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pluto, by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka: An Overview

This week I'm giving a sort of overview to a series that some friends have been bugging me to read for some time. As my readers may or may not be aware, I have a bit of a fondness for robots and I'm a sucker for robot stories. Pluto, as you probably guessed, is a manga story about robots contained in eight volumes. Which makes it fairly short by manga standards. I actually was able to read all the stories in about a day. I'm going to try to talk about the series as a whole rather than addressing each volume of the series individually.

Pluto begins with the murder of the Swiss Forestry Reserve robot Mont-Blanc. This is especially tragic as Mont-Blanc was well-loved by thousands of people everywhere and had saved numerous lives in his work in the Alps, which leaves people at a loss as to who could be the suspect. Europol calls in our main character, Gesicht, who is a highly advanced robot and crack detective. As Gesicht continues his initial investigation a second body turns up, in this case a human and prominent activist for robot rights. It appears these murders are linked and it soon comes to light that someone is targeting both human supporters of robots and the seven most powerful robots in the world. Unfortunately, Gesicht happens to be on that list of robots. What follows is almost a wheels within wheels conspiracy and some really poignant moments.

I will say that this story is an unabashed retelling or reimagination of the Greatest Robot in the World story arc from the well-known series Astro Boy. Now I personally have never watched or read anything relating to Astro Boy in my life which leaves me of two minds on this story. On the one hand, I kind of wish that I knew the original story that this was based upon because I feel like it might have given me slightly more insight into the story and what was going on. On the other hand, despite not being familiar with Astro Boy I was able to come to this series and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. There's a deliberate choice to make Gesicht, a rather minor character in the original source material, the main character so you definitely get a very different perspective. So I did enjoy reading this series, even if it's very emotionally draining.

Of course I also really liked Gesicht as a character but he's almost tailor-made for me to like him. I like lawful policemen types like Sam Vimes, and I'm fond of robots. So I'm instantly going to be best friends with a robot policeman. Just stands to reason. And there's a lot of character development that goes on through the series which makes you realize these robots are just as human as the rest of us. They feel happiness, sadness, anger, hatred, grief, an extremely wide range of emotions just like us humans. Of course, this has been done so many times that it's practically the robot story, but I still enjoy it as a story when it's done well. And Pluto does indeed do it well.

I will warn my readers that Pluto is a pretty dark series too. There are a lot of emotional gut-punches throughout the series. Whether it's the death of a main character in the series or something very simple, you get hit a lot of times. I remember very early on in the series seeing a deceased robot policeman's body just being tossed away in the garbage, which just felt very wrong to me. Although personally that might have just been my fondness for robots and belief that sophisticated AIs should have the same rights as us humans. I don't know if that early into the series if people would be as emotionally invested or not. But there are a ton of little things like that in the series as well.

Overall this is a pretty good series, but be prepared to be hurt with all the feelings that have ever existed. And if you like stories about robots with feelings, this is definitely one for you to read.

- Kalpar

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