Have you read Pluto? It’s out in English, you know. You should probably read it. No, seriously. You don’t even need to read what I have to say about it. Just go read it. Go now. Your library probably has it if you don’t have the cash to keep this series on your shelf permanently. But if you have the cash, you should probably think about buying it. You’ll want to read it again. (Even if, like me, you have your issues with it.)
I read the series as it was released in Japanese, which means it took me six years to read the whole thing. Which means the effect was somewhat diluted? Getting a volume every year or so gave me plenty of time to forget what had happened before and lose any connection I had with the characters. This is the problem with serialized manga. Of course, I could have followed along with the release of each chapter in Big Comic Original, but we all know how I feel about manga magazines.
I liked Pluto the first go round, but my socks were not knocked off? Urasawa is a great storyteller with stellar timing, perfectly thought out twists and turns, and sympathetic characters walking down the paths he’s laid out for them. But for me, he’s a slow starter. I almost stopped reading Monster after the first book because it didn’t really grab me. Ditto for 20th Century Boys. There’s something about his storytelling style that needs that slow burn, to really bring you in and give you time to get invested in his characters, so that you really care once you get to the twists and turns and tragedies. (There is always tragedy.) I think Pluto was the first of his works where I actually felt invested during the first book, maybe because at eight books, this series is one of his shortest works, so he had to pick up the pace a bit.
And maybe because it’s so short, it has so much more of an impact when you read it all at once, without the year-long wait for the next book. I don’t think I cried once when I read the series the first time, but I could not stop tearing up reading it this time. I think it might be the most moving thing Urasawa has ever written, which only stands to reason, given that a large part of the story hinges on the world’s most powerful robots developing powerful human emotions. Everyone is feeling a lot of feels in this series.
Basically, Urasawa reworks an Astro Boy story arc, “The Greatest Robot on Earth”, to tell it from the point of view of the robot detective Gesicht. Something is trying to kill the world’s most powerful robots (Gesicht himself is one of these) and the human creators of robot rights legislation. Gesicht tries to hunt this killer down while grappling with his own strange issues and the aftermath of a massive war in Persia, which began when the United States of Thracia accused the country of having robots of mass destruction. Sound familiar? Yeah, Urasawa is not particularly subtle in drawing his parallels between this war that sets the stage for Pluto and the war in Iraq. And his conclusions are fairly simplistic, even if his setting and story are complex and multi-layered: War is bad, nothing comes from hate. But this is essentially a Tezuka story, so I can accept the unambiguous moral and ending.
Urasawa’s art is as always clear and expressive, without hindering the flow of his story. More than once, I had to stop and just admire the strength and softness of the line defining Atom’s jaw. It’s just so spot on. One thing I always love/notice with Urasawa is his close attention to noses. I don’t know what it is with him and noses, but each and every nose is defined and distinct, so much so that you could name a character if you just saw the nose. Something that particularly struck me in Pluto, though, is how often panels look down on characters, so you really get a spectacular view of the entire length of their noses. Dr. Tenma, creator of Atom, is almost exclusively shown with this camera above his head, peering over his glasses, pompadour shadowing his forehead. It’s a weird technique and I’m not quite sure what Urasawa was trying to accomplish with all the shots from this peculiar angle above.
And looking at the images I’ve posted, you can probably guess what’s coming next. Because I am a broken record on this apparently. But seriously, where are all the ladies?! I am going half-crazy reading book after book in which women barely figure. Pluto is the story of a future world which is home to robots so advanced, some are indistinguishable from human beings. We get shot after shot of futuristic cities, self-driving cars, technology, super-science labs. There is even a flower that never dies. But women? Yeah, they are only in the story to show us the feels. Uran, Atom’s sister, literally just runs around finding people who feel sad. She is the embodiment of empathy. The other woman who features prominently in the series is Helena, Gesicht’s wife. She is appropriately supportive and emotional, but obviously only is seen when it advances the story arc of a male character.
Seriously. This world has robot children. (Featured robot children are, with the exception of Uran, all boys obviously.) For some reason, people are manufacturing robot children. They are deliberately creating robots that will always be immature and small. At first I wondered if maybe the robot children would grow up, given how advanced the tech is, but Atom himself says something along the lines of “I’m a robot. I don’t grow up.” So this society is so wasteful and weird that they can throw dollars at Peter Pan machines, but it still has no place for women? I know that the story is based on Tezuka’s, so Urasawa’s freedom in terms of characters was likely limited. But I know that he did introduce characters that were not in the original version, so why not some active women? I mean, go look at this character list. These are the characters driving the story, and only one of them is female. In a world where machine can feel hatred and love, this is just sad.