Original Concept: Osamu Tezuka
Manga-ka: Naoki Urusawa
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: February 2009
Synopsis: “In an ideal world where man and robots coexist, someone or something has destroyed the powerful swiss robot, Mont Blanc. Elsewhere a key figure in a robots right group is murdered. The two incidents appear to be unrelated… except for the one very conspicuous clue – the bodies of both victims have been fashioned into some sort of bizarre collage complete with makeshift horns placed by the victims’ heads.”
This first volume of Pluto was truly a memorable piece of both art and literature. Admittedly, despite all the glowing things I’d read about it being Naoki Urusawa’s best work, I remained skeptical about Pluto purely based on how much I enjoyed Monster (and more recently 20th Century Boys), but here his ability to give robots and humans alike an undeniably empathetic breath of life was nothing short of moving.
A spin-off of sorts of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, Pluto follows a detective named Gesicht who is investigating two seemingly connected murders: one of a beloved robot who is mourned by millions and the other of a man who played a key role in a robots’ rights group. It doesn’t take long for the plot to begin unraveling, one that marks the seven greatest robots in the world as targets for an unknown hunter.
I’ve never read the original Astro Boy manga, and my last memories of following Astro Boy on television I’m quite sure involved diapers, so I considered myself going into Pluto with a fairly clean slate in terms of knowledge of the source material. That said, I had no trouble reading this story, which stands very independently. While there may be some references I didn’t understand, there was nothing to make me feel that I was ill equipped to enjoy this book. In fact there were some things that never ceased to surprise me and I was thankful that my not having read Astro Boy allowed me these little unexpected pleasures (though what I did remember allowed the final page of the book to prove a fun surprise all on its own). My recommendation however, is that if you haven’t read Astro Boy, then don’t read the official synopsis of Pluto either until after you’ve completed reading volume one, to save yourself one of the book’s first twists.
Naoki Urusawa did a brilliant job setting a distinct tone and atmosphere of this story, able to move between scenes of emotional light and dark as easily as day becomes night. The majority of the attention in the story is on robots, and regardless of if they appear to be human or remain mechanical in appearance, its impossible not to feel for them as they bear emotions as real and ever changing as any human would.
A bulk of the book’s second half takes focus on a blind composer whose new butler, North-2, was once a robot in a war where he was forced to kill thousands of his own kind. Burdened by both their pasts, the two forge what becomes an almost heart-wrenching friendship that had me wiping at my eyes more than once. I couldn’t believe how seamlessly and almost effortlessly I had become attached to these two characters who I’d known (and I feel like that’s the only suitable word) for mere pages. It’s this ability that Naoki Urusawa possesses which gives importance to every panel and page in the book, no matter how seemingly inconsequential.
Along with a caliber of writing and art that is rarely found, Viz’s treatment of the book, including a larger-than average cut size and a slick faux slipcover, makes this English edition of Pluto an altogether quality piece that’s easily worth the slightly higher price tag. The back of book includes several pages of information, after word and interviews that were really interesting to read once completing this first installment.
Suffice to say my initial skepticism has been met with strong, winning opposition. With a subtly that hides a fantastically potent strength of both character and suspense, volume one of Pluto is a read I whole-heartedly recommend and eagerly look forward to enjoying again before volume two hits store shelves.