Pluto 8

March 7, 2010

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

I’m still rather thrilled that I live in a time when I can read the last volume of my favorite manga series in English less than a year after it ends in Japan.  That’s very exciting, and I’m happy that the popularity of manga has advanced so much over the years.  There’s still lots of room to grow, but still, it’s great.

You know, I finally figured out wh that bear was.  He’s pretty involved with the end here, but his identity isn’t really a secret.  In fact, it’s a little confusing as to why we’d been left in the dark for so long.  He takes an interesting view on the end of the world, though, and the last few pages are simply amaing because of him.  Even more so since I’m reading this in America.  It’s almost like it ended because my viewpoint ended.  Or something.

The political commentary offered in this series is interesting to the end.  Usually I have no interest in such things (with good reason, manga political commentary is most likely to be Japan-centric, and I know nothing about Japanese politics… conversely, there are probably few manga that deal in US political commentary), but I did like it here, and it was obvious enough that even I picked up on what was being said.

As is always the case in Astro Boy, the end of the world is imminent, and the climax is of course Atom fighting Pluto and trying to stop it from happening.  Almost all the characters come back in some form or other.  It is spectacular.  I can’t offer much more commentary than that.

Well… You know that it’s a manga because in the middle of the final climactic battle, both characters stop and have a good cry.  I swear, one of these days.

In the end, I feel all the themes came through quite well, something that a lot of manga series have problems with.  I also loved some of the subtler storytelling techniques, something that can be lost on both me as a reader and manga in general.  For instance, in this volume Tenma stands at the center of nearly everything.  He is neither good nor bad, he just is.  He also doesn’t offer his thoughts on any of the events, he simply keeps a poker face through everything.  Similarly, his son Atom develops the same sort of reation to many things here.  Not everything, but he does have quite the poker face.

Ultimately, I think I prefer 20th Century Boys for its ludicrous nature, but Pluto is still quite amazing and tells a very concise story.  There were a few points where I was afraid it would mire itself in politics or the messages it was trying to convey, but in the end it pulled through and was very successful.  I don’t really think it’s for everyone, and I think there are quite a few non-geeks this would be lost on, but all the same, it’s definitely worth reading.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

16 Responses to “Pluto 8”

  1. Sara K. Says:

    I know what you mean about politics in manga. Sometimes I run across something which makes me think ‘hmmmm’ but due to my ignorance of Japanese politics, I don’t know if I am actually picking up political commentary, or if I’m just misinterpreting.

    However, I did learn a little about Japanese politics during their elections last year, and it did help me appreciate 20th Century Boys a little better.

    Anyway, I’ve finally ordered Pluto, and I plan to read it all at once.

  2. Connie Says:

    Ooh, I didn’t realize 20th Century Boys contained political commentary. I probably should have, considering how heavily it focuses on politics and government upheaval. That’s interesting.

    I’m happy to hear you’ve picked up Pluto. Reading it all at once is definitely the way to go.

  3. Jura Says:

    Is this out? Wouldn’t mind a bit of info at the start before spoilers. I would storm my local bookstores if I knew it was out…90mph…hydraulics for hoping over cars…sitting half outside the car.

  4. […] Suitable for Treatment) Diana Dang on vol. 1 of Panic x Panic (Stop, Drop, and Read!) Connie on vol. 8 of Pluto (Slightly Biased Manga) Melinda Beasi on vol. 1 of Reading Club (Manga Bookshelf) Todd Douglass on […]

  5. Connie Says:

    If it’s not out right now, it’s probably going to be hitting stores within the next week or two. I think the official release isn’t until the beginning of next month, but usually when the books are finished, it seems like they wind up in the stores soon after the review copies go out.

  6. Jura Says:

    Still not out. = p

  7. Connie Says:

    Looks like it just arrived at the Right Stuf, since one is apparently being held for the preorder I forgot to cancel. Should only be a few more days, but that was a much longer wait than I thought.

  8. CMC Says:

    So who is the bear anyway?

  9. Connie Says:

    The mother computer that controls the United States, or I think that’s what’s implied. It’s the one giving orders to the President throughout the entire series, and it was the one that seemed to engineer the downfall of man and the rise of robots and was basically behind everything in the series.

    Without re-reading it, I can’t go into more detail, though. I almost forgot who the bear was when I read your question, unfortunately I don’t have my volumes with me at the moment.

  10. Sara K. Says:

    Well, I’ve finished … and I prefer 20th Century Boys like a lot. Though maybe I should wait a while … it took a while for the ending of 20th Century Boys to grow on me.

    Still, instead of using a sense of hatred, I think Dr. Tenma should have tried using a sense of humor. 20th Century Boys brilliantly fuses together the dramatic and the hilarious (for example, Kenji’s bunny suit). That’s one of the things which hooked me, and Pluto seems to lack that.

    As for the grand villain … the bear just wants world domination. How dull. Friend is a much more interesting grand villain.

  11. Connie Says:

    It made me laugh very hard to imagine Dr. Tenma using a sense of humor to bring the robots back. Dr. Tenma is always so serious, both here and the original Astro Boy, that it’s nearly impossible to imagine him with any sense of humor, let alone some to spare for his robots. Strange, since Tezuka was so fond of making puns whenever Tenma appeared.

    But it’s true that Pluto is completely straight-faced, and I like 20th Century Boys better because it’s so over-the-top and does use humor so well, even in its most serious moments. There’s a lot to be said about segments like the one where the characters have to figure out what kind of robot is attacking the city by going back through the evolution of robots in Japanese popular culture and figuring out what kind was popular when they were kids. And the bear completely mystified me. Why a bear? Was there a significance to using a bear that I missed out on?

  12. Sara K. Says:

    That is all the more reason for Dr. Tenma to use humor – it would grant him a greater insight into the phenomenon. And being such an excellent straight man, he could really use a comic robot to complete a comedy duo (and it would be an excellent subversion of the cliche of the comic human and straight robot).

    As for the ‘teddy’ bear, I had a thought – is the official name for the mother computer ‘Roosevelt’? I doubt Urasawa took that line of thought, but if so, that has some interesting potential interpretations.

  13. Connie Says:

    Does the mother computer have a name? I can’t remember at all now, but if it is “Roosevelt,” you’re right, the teddy bear connection is… interesting, to say the least.

  14. Sara K. Says:

    Well, it’s been over a week, and Pluto still isn’t growing on me. Even though I never finished Monster, I would currently rate that higher than Pluto (though Monster did have the benefit of my lower expectations).

    However, in addition to the lack of humor, it feels like a lot of the motivations were reduced to mere plot devices. Why did Goji do what Goji did? Because of hate. I didn’t sense there was much examination of how hate works. Okay, the hate came from Abdullah, and Abdullah felt hate because of the senseless destruction of his country … to me, that’s a pretty shallow analysis. Why does the president want the United States to be the most powerful nation? Why does the teddy bear want to take over the world? Because … they want to! That is not even shallow analysis – that is non-analysis. It seems their main purpose was to make the plot move in a certain direction. I was looking forward to seeing an analysis of hate from Gesicht’s direction, but he just came to the conclusion that nothing good comes from hate. I agree, but I would have liked to have seen more of the journey Gesicht made to get there.

    And I feel that 20th Century Boys does this way better. Knowing Friend’s point of view makes reading the manga seem surprisingly fresh even though I know the plot. I also still think about why Friend did what he did, whereas I feel little interest in pondering why anyone did what they did in Pluto.

  15. Connie Says:

    You know, the fact that the President of the United States didn’t have any particular reason for doing what he did really bothered me. That’s true of the teddy bear, too, and of the Darius. While I liked the take on politics, personal motivation to be on top isn’t enough of a reason to do anything when you are trying to do a more realistic conflict story like this one. The politics had less of an impact in Pluto than they might have, and ultimately it didn’t really matter why those particular characters did what they did, but all the same, they were still included as characters. The history elements, like the aftermath of the Bora group and the PTSD-like symptoms some of the robots had after the war, were interesting, and I almost wish it had been left at that and left the nations faceless with ambiguous motives rather than giving each country a face. That would also simplify the political elements, and satisfy the worry I had about that part of the story going too far out of control.

    And you’re right, Goji is ultimately a weak bad guy. Part of that may be the lingering influence of Astro Boy, where the villains were given basic motives, and the fact that they were given motives, or alternate perspectives on their “evil” was relatively novel at the time. But when the story is expanded like this, it does need to have more. Same with Gesicht. I think his death unsettled me most because he never really found the answers he was looking for, rather than because he actually died. And I was very sad that there wasn’t more time spent with Brau, whose role in the story I feel like I didn’t quite properly grasp.

    Funny enough, I like 20th Century Boys because it’s way more over-the-top, but that series also does a better job at humanizing the characters, when one of the main themes of Pluto was about humanizing the inhuman robots. I still love Pluto an awful lot, and I place it several rungs higher than Monster in the manga hierarchy, but I knew after one volumes that my heart lied with 20th Century Boys.

  16. Sara K. Says:

    Funny, I actually would have preferred the other direction – giving more context as to why this war happened and what motivated the bear/president/Darius.

    I think there is a political culture in the United States that the United States must maintain global supremacy. However, I think that culture is driven by the fear that if we do not dominate, others will dominate us (or that the culture drives the fear – it’s a bit chicken and egg). I think this is a very interesting motivation to explore. But the president just saying “I just wanted to make the United States of Thracia the most powerful nation in the world’ sounds false. Aside from the fact that the United States is already the most powerful nation in the world, if that was his true motivation, he’s unlikely to articulate it that way – someone from the United States (of America) would be more likely to say ‘I was afraid that so-and-so would threaten our position’ or even ‘I was afraid that Persia would take over the world’ (irrational, but consistent with United States irrationality).

    I’m tempted to say that the U.S.-Mexican war is a better analogy to the situation in Pluto than the U.S.-Iraq war. It was a war between neighboring countries (and that was something that bothered me about the United States of Thracia from the beginning – war with a neighbor has a different dynamic than a war with someone on the other side of the world). And the U.S.-Mexican war really was a question of who would dominate North America BEFORE the United States was a world power. And the goal was pretty explicit. Of course, the fact that it was so explicit makes it a less suitable analogy … though the United States officially went to war because Mexico ‘killed American soldiers on American soil’. It was also a war which, at the time, was seen mainly as a benefit to certain citizens – other citizens were pretty unhappy.

    Yep, I definitely am more into the politics than the robots. I do think that trying to ‘humanize’ a robot is, well … why the heck should a robot be humanized? Why can’t sentient robots be recognized as sentient beings in their own right? This is actually something that bugs me a little in Star Trek – even though a significant number of characters are not-human, the human and part-human characters act like being human is THE WAY to be a sentient. If I were a not-human character, I’d be pissed.

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