Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, vol. 1
By Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka
Co-authored with Takashi Nagasaki
Supervised by Macoto Tezka
With the cooperation of Tezuka Productions
Translation by Jared Cook and Frederick L. Schodt
Original Japanese edition: Shogakukan, 2004
Pluto takes readers to the future, where a series of murders is putting an unwelcome spotlight on the imperfect coexistence of humans and robots. The first victim is the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc; the next, a politician involved in the debate on robot laws. No one would have thought the incidents were related, if the killer hadn’t left behind a provocative clue. Europol assigns their best, the robot detective Gesicht, to the case. But as Gesicht follows the trail of evidence, he discovers that the murderer is targeting the seven greatest robots in the world. And that list includes Gesicht himself.
As with my review of Ōoku, vol. 1, I am rather a latecomer to the conversation surrounding this series. In this case, I was just a little reluctant to start reading. Partly this is because I am unfamiliar with Tezuka’s Astro Boy, which Urasawa is remixing here with permission from the Tezuka estate, and partly this is because I am instinctively skeptical of hype. And I write this as someone who is a shameless fangirl of Urasawa’s work: 20th Century Boys is one of my favorite works of sequential art of all time.
Of course, as soon as I starting reading, I fell into the story immediately. Urasawa is just that good of a mangaka. When I reviewed 20th Century Boys, vol. 1 of for Manga Life, I talked a little about how much it impressed me as a work of craft: every part of the manga–script, character designs, paneling, and more–fits together to tell that story. That’s also the case here. This is a very polished piece of storytelling, with none of the shakiness that one tends to find in the first volumes of other manga series.
Here’s the bit where Pluto slid right past my natural skepticism and grabbed my heart. A robot patrolman has just been killed by a drug addict, and Gesicht goes to break the news to the dead robot’s widow. As Gesicht explains what has happened, Urasawa gives readers a close up of the widow’s face. It’s a classic reaction shot, shown over consecutive panels in the cinematic style that Tezuka made famous and that Urasawa does so well. The robot widow’s face doesn’t change; she’s not an advanced model, like Gesicht, with a full range of human expression. Yet her emotions come shining through. The art treats her as a full equal to all the other characters. Urasawa is so good with supporting characters, even those who are only very briefly on the page. This is not to imply he is not good with his leads, because he’s excellent at that too. But the portrayal of characters like North 2, Paul Duncan, and Robby’s widow stick with me long after they have come and gone. That’s not an easy trick to pull off.
In her review of vols. 1-3 of this series [some very oblique spoilers for later volumes at link], Oyceter critiques the parallels being drawn between robot discrimination and other forms of discrimination. I echo her concerns on this front: it’s a cheat to draw parallels to racism when there’s no diversity in your cast of characters. (Talk about dancing around real issues!) It will be interesting to see how this develops as the story goes on.
Pluto is being published as part of the Viz Signature line, and as usual, the product is fantastic: French flaps, color pages, and larger trim size. An interview with Naoki Urasawa and Macoto Tezka at the end is also a nice extra.
I’m very much looking forward to reading more of this as time and my book budget allows. Now onward to vol. 2!
(Many thanks to oyceter for the loan of the reading copy. I really will get all your books back to you one day…)