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.

Pluto 7

January 13, 2010

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2010 – 8 volumes

There are still several huge questions floating in the air as of this volume, so it falls to the very last to have the final confrontation with Pluto and explain the last few big mysteries.  All this time, we have been faced with the mystery of Bora.  It hasn’t really meant anything, just something Wassily said, and the name of the survey group, but it didn’t really seem to have an affect on the plot, which appeared to be… more or less Abullah putting his robot against the world.  Later, we find out that the robot is his son, in a way.  Their father/son relationship is much different than, say, Tenma and Atom’s, but it is still there.  Tenma explains the problems with advanced AI and how you have to go against robot laws if you want advanced AI to succeed last volume, and we are treated to a flashback that shows us how things went down in Thracia years ago that led to the awakening of… a robot.  As I was reading it, I assumed it was Pluto, but it could be one of three possible candidates now.

That flashback was my favorite bit of storytelling in the volume.  It explained several things, opened up several more, and my absolute favorite part was how Tenma bailed out after he saw the robot.  Granted, the place was being bombed too, but still.  I thought it was funny.

Most of the volume was set in the present, and was about Epsilon and Wassily.  We see a lot of Epsilon interacting with his orphans, we see how he and Wassily met, and Wassily begins to come out of his shell and speak a little more.  In a flashback, it is revealed that Wassily was the last surviving person in a village that had been evacuated so that Epsilon could destroy it.  Wassily had apparently seen something that he shouldn’t have, and inexplicably, Abullah sees fit to destroy this child in an elaborate plot to get around Epsilon.  Epsilon and Pluto fight twice.  Neither one really wants to.

Incredibly, after having the whole series to get to know Epsilon, I felt that the scenes with him and his orphans just didn’t have the same emotional impact as some of the other sections of the story.  I’m still blown away by how sad that Mont Blanc section at the very beginning of the first volume is, and I don’t care how obvious it was, I also liked the North #2 story.  There are certainly a lot of things to humanize Epsilon in this volume, and the contrast between him and his orphans and the rather insensitive way the humans in the military treat him is notable, but… even the final scene, with just his hands protecting Wassily, just wasn’t as powerful as I thought it would be.  I’m guessing this has more to do with the fact that the result of that scene was going to inevitably lead to the final battle and was full of more anticipation than sadness.  It’s no real failing in the storytelling, I was just surprised it wasn’t a little more sad.

We also learn a little more about Pluto.  We see him speak, and we learn that he’s being controlled, possibly by a third party (there’s an elaborate metaphor involving Pinocchio that Uran walks us through).  Seeing his little smiling face while being ordered to do the most terrible things against his will is pretty horrible.  His face only really looks like its smiling in one scene, but it’s still pretty creepy.

So, we’ve got one more volume.  I like 20th Century Boys better, but Pluto is great in the sense that… well, for one, I can always tell where it’s going, and I know what the outcome of the last volume will be, of course.  It’s an old-fashioned story, in some ways, so I can see what’s ahead, and there is something to be said about the familiarity of a story like this.  But it is, if nothing else, an old-fashioned story told on a grand scale, so there’s still quite a bit left up in the air for the last volume to unveil.  That’s what I like most about Pluto.  20th Century Boys is a more ambitious story, but Pluto is very solid and still quite amazing.  I like both series far better than I liked Monster, and I’m still blown away by just how far Urasawa’s storytelling abilities have developed since Monster.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Pluto 6

January 6, 2010

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

There was a major event at the end of this volume.  I had thought I saw it coming, but on the other hand, it’s such a major event that it completely changes the nature of the story.  I… kind of wonder how things will proceed from here.  You can tell the plot is starting to wind down, because everything is coming together.  In fact, most questions are answered as of this volume.  There’s a very clear conclusion.  And yet, I have no idea how the ending will play out.  I mean… there’s only a bunch of old men running around.  Powerful old men, don’t get me wrong, but, I mean… Ochanomizu?  He’s not real heroic.  Tenma certainly isn’t.  And yet… I suspect they will both have a part to play later.

But yes, everything is pretty clear at the end of this volume.  The mystery surrounding Abulla’s nature is revealed, as is the nature of Pluto.  Most of the volume is spent with Gesicht following leads surrounding Abulla and trying to find out who and what Pluto is.  He succeeds after visiting many countries and digging very deeply into the past.  During this, Gesicht recieves several comments about how un-robot-like he’s acting.  Robots don’t have hunches, as Gesicht has towards Abullah, and robots certainly don’t disobey direct orders or ask for retirement.  He also gets angry when he suddenly realizes what happens in his past and realizes his supervisors had wiped his memory.  Gesicht does seem very tired by the end of the volume, and I think that’s a big part of what happens at the end.

My favorite parts were probably both instances of Gesicht running into the little boy robots.  There’s something especially heartbreaking about the thought of a little robot that had been blown to pieces in a war wandering around selling flowers like an orphan, with his exact twin happily doing the same in a different country.  Gesicht’s conversations with both were the real highlight of the volume for me.  Very subtle, and they conveyed a lot of emotion without being over-long.

I also liked the use of color when Gesicht was traking down Pluto’s identity.  A similar technique is used earlier in the series when Pluto paints, but having “Pluto” being the only element of color in the book (aside from the color pages that open the volume) is pretty amazing.

As for the ending… in addition to being shocking and somewhat disruptive (not in a bad way), I was a little disappointed that… a bigger deal wasn’t made of it.  It seems like as more and more of these happen throughout the series, their importance is lessened each time it happens.  I couldn’t believe more wasn’t made of it.  But perhaps that’s just the nature of that event and this person.  The scene at the end with Tenma instructing the robot on how to cry was quite touching, but especially since it was Dr. Tenma, usually depicted as quite heartless.

Again, between the two works, I think I prefer 20th Century Boys, but both are favorites.  There’s more of an insane charm and amazing storytelling techniques at work in 20th Century Boys that are more to my taste, but Pluto is still telling an amazing story, using the older framework of robot stories and Tezuka themes to tell a rather modern stories.  There are many themes at work here (mostly the same themes that Tezuka used in Astro Boy), but it does a good job of weaving them subtley into the story.  And it’s an amazingly powerful story, emotionally, for being mostly about the lives of robots solving crime and fighting bad guys.  There’s definitely a lot at work here, and all of it’s good stuff.

Pluto 5

October 18, 2009

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

Admittedly, I get more of a conceptual pleasure out of Pluto than I do actual entertainment value, which is okay.  The story is more about exploring its themes, and it does this masterfully.  At this point, I’m still trying to ponder setting armies of robots against one another to fight a war, and the story looks at that problem from both sides, how it affected the robots involved and also what the humans were thinking at the time.  There’s also the themes of the limited range of emotions robots can experience, and some eerie scenes of bitter disappointment when robots have to feel sadness for the first time.  It also looks at robots dealing with anger and hatred, two emotions purposely left out of their AI routines in order to avoid harm or death to humans.  Sometimes it happens, though.

Gesicht has to deal with anger in this volume.  Again, it’s eerie to see scenes play out where the robots just have to deal emotionlessly with whatever is happening to them, and the abuse Gesicht takes from the man he’s protecting is one of those times.  But then he does get angry, and his memories return to him, and he suddenly remembers what anger and hatred are really like.  He has to talk to Brau again, who seems quite pleased with his revelation, and then he has to do something incredibly selfless anyway, all the while asking if anger and hate are things that go away.  It’s just… sad.  Also sad are scenes where robots wish they hadn’t been allowed to adopt since they wouldn’t have to feel sadness at losing their children in that case Gesicht covered all those years ago.

More interesting is the ending, when Dr. Tenma comes in and begins discussing his AI programming.  The point is made that AI can never replace human intelligence, as was the case when he tried to replicate Tobio Tenma.  But he claims that he made the perfect AI routine, one with the information from all six billion people on Earth in it, that the computer was left to sort out and deal with, but was unable to.  He claims that the only way to tip the balance when the computer can’t deal with something is to give it the anger and hatred it’s not allowed to have otherwise.

And there you have one of the main themes of the series, I think.  There’s also a fight between Pluto and Hercules, but this was much less interesting since we’ve seen fights like this before and know their outcomes.  I’m not sure where the story is going at this point, but I think we will have a grand, if evil, revival sometime soon.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Also, the comic is once again printed with one panel in color when the field of flowers representing Pluto is shown.  It’s still an amazing technique, and really… really makes the difference of Pluto’s personality stand out.  I’m looking forward to seeing it explained.

Pluto 4

July 13, 2009

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

I love it.  Professor Tenma appears on the cover of the volume, but isn’t mentioned until almost the end, and his face isn’t shown until the very last page.  Even better, it seems he has a massive role to play in the overall plot.  At least some of Atom’s origin story is intact in Pluto, we see brief flashes here of Tenma’s memory (his son Tobio’s death, Atom being activated).  One wonders if the whole “I got disgusted, so I sold him to the circus” element will come up.  Or can we just… you know, ignore that odd bit of continuity?  It would probably be for the best.  On the other hand (feel free to skip this geek moment), Hamegg makes for a delightful evil ringmaster, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Urasawa draw him.

At the beginning of the volume, we meet up with Ochanomizu again in a rather nice story where we see compassion for older, less important robots.  But nice things don’t last in this story, even little Aibo-looking bots, and the main plot sneaks in when we (presumably) meet the assassin that’s been taking out the Bora group of scientists.  Dirty tricks are used, and Ochanomizu’s grandson and robot dog Bobby are threatened.  Uran and Atom go to his rescue.

And then something… rather unexpected happens.  Something that you just can’t believe in this type of story, because it breaks things.  In the original Astro Boy… this never would have happened, and didn’t (well, not like this, anyway).  I’m left speechless after this particular plot twist, because not only can I not imagine the end of the story now, it’s just horrible and sad.  I can’t say much more than that.

Elsewhere, Gesicht is sent to guard that anti-robot radical that has been trying to kill him.  This is kind of an uncomfortable twist, but we learn that the former king of Persia, Darius XIV, is literally insane.  This is also very uncomfortable and somehow frightening, and it remains to be seen how it will tie into the plot.

We also learn of the three great robot master scientists, one of which kicks the bucket here, introducing Epsilon, the last of the Seven Great Robots.  One of the three is, if you hadn’t guessed already, Professor Tenma, a rather evil dude who perfected robot AI, yet insists in order for the AI to be perfect, failsafes regarding the inability to kill humans have to be removed and negative emotions like hate, despair, and anger have to be put in their place.

It’s also suggested that he may be behind everything, which is strange because… Professor Tenma isn’t really evil, just moody and depressed.  I suspect allegations against him here will either later be proven false or explained further.

In any case, this is still one epic ride, and I was shocked and disappointed when I tore through the volume so fast.  Some of the pieces aren’t fitting together quite right for me (like the finer details about the history of the war, and the identities of people like Goji and the guy he pals around with, and the teddy bear, if anything has been said about that).  A few things clicked into place during this volume, but I’m actually very much looking forward to re-reading the entire series just to digest finer points of story I may be missing between volumes or just passing over as I tear through for maximum enjoyment.  There’s a lot to digest here, and it’s one of the few series I don’t begrudge the necessity of a second reading.  Everything about Pluto is just worth it.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Pluto 3

May 8, 2009

I have a crippling headache tonight, but I feel the need to talk about this since it’s Pluto and all, and I just finished reading it.

I really like Uran.  I liked her in Astro Boy too, but she’s a great character to have in this series.  She’s likely going to be one of the most positive characters we’ll see, and not only is her empathy an interesting ability, she scored major points for the awesome scenes between her and the robot hobo in the park.  She seems like one of the only robots that would appreciate his chaotic emotions and get along with him.  For that matter, there are so far very few human characters that would appreciate the robot hobo, so Uran may be the only one period.

There are a few scenes between Atom and Uran at school and at home.  The absence of Cobalt, Atom’s brother, is notable.  He may not have been a part of the original story, or perhaps hadn’t been introduced at that point in Astro Boy, but it seems strange not to include him.  I’d love to see Urasawa’s character design for him.  Maybe he’ll appear later.

It’s not clear what the robot hobo is going through (mentally) during his stay in the park, but he slowly opens up to Uran more and more, and we see later that he’s got special un-robot-like abilities to control nature and life.  He’s never really all that friendly, or approachable, but he is a robot who does abstract art, and the conclusion of his story towards the end of the volume is an interesting one.  His painting, the two times it appears, is in color.  Not that the page is a full-color spread or anything, but just one panel is in color, and just the painting in the panel.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and it makes his painting that much more striking.

Also in this volume: Epsilon is introduced, who stuck around with Astro until the very end in the original story, if I’m not mistaken.  He stays pretty close to his origins here… powered by a special type of energy, loved by children, and a lover of peace, which I thought was interesting.  Of course, besides Astro himself, he was the only one of the robots in the original that had any character development, so I suppose that has something to do with it.

Also introduced is a bizarre anti-robot cult.  A subplot involving one of the members wanting to destroy Gesicht begins developing, and… well, it raises an interesting question about Gesicht, too.

We get to find out a little bit more about Pluto by the end of the volume, too.  A member of Pluto’s entourage is a robot taken straight out of Men in Black.  There’s just no way to not think of that movie when you see him.  He’s got an Edgar suit and everything.

Anyway.  The series continues to reward me with an extremely deep and interesting story that keeps adding more layers, including questions of morality that can’t be answered, as it continues.  The anti-robot cult should prove to be an interesting addition to the story, and I’m very much looking forward to how the aggression/accusations against Geischt will pan out.

This is a review copy provided by Viz.

Pluto 2

February 14, 2009

A few more regular characters make it over from Astro Boy.  Superintendent Tawashi, the eternal pessimist when it comes to robots, and Inspector Nakamura, his better half, make an appearance in the first pages of the volume.  They discuss a redesign of the police cars, and our friend Professor Ochanomizu appears later to confirm our suspicions: the police will be using the puppy cars.  I can stop reading Pluto now, because I’ve gotten what I wanted: Naoki Urasawa drawing puppy cars.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

Putting that aside, that may be the only humorous thing that happens all volume.  Things start off with a murder in the first chapter, and soon afterwards we see the battle between Brando and Pluto.  We don’t see it so much as we see what Brando is seeing, and the reader and the other characters are left to make heads or tails out of it.  It’s an interesting way of depicting the fight.  Also notable: Brando abandons his human-looking body in favor of a robot fighter body that is probably more consistent with Tezuka’s original Brando design.

Before the Brando fight, Gesicht and Atom have a talk in a cafe.  This scene is fantastic, if only because it points out the differences between what we’re seeing (a man and a little boy enjoying themselves in a cafe) and what’s actually happening (neither of them need to eat or drink, they’re just going through the motions to imitate humanity).  They talk about a few other things as far as the gap between the most advanced robots and human emotions, and it is… well, just great.  It’s difficult to remember, since Gesicht and Atom look so human, that they just aren’t, and I think we’re meant to speculate on what emotions they can and can’t process, and that perhaps both of them are more human than Gesicht realizes.

The contrast is illustrated further a bit later in the book.  We get a bit of a history lesson and see a flashback between Brando, Mont Blanc, and Hercules, a robot we’re introduced to this volume.  All of them fought in the war, all of them took out thousands and thousands of robot soldiers.  None of them can understand exactly why, and all of them seem saddened by the senseless destruction.

At this point, Gesicht and Atom are key players.  We don’t find out anything new on Pluto or the murders that Gesicht is investigating, or if the two are even related, but Gesicht and Atom got more character development in this volume than… well, pretty much any other two characters you can think of.  There’s a lot of nuances to this series, and I’m really, really looking forward to seeing what kind of story unfolds.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.