Monday, April 1, 2013

The Run: Naoki Urasawa's Pluto Volume 3

In The Run I review multi-volume works over several weeks. This is the third of eight reviews of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto. Click here for my other reviews in the series.

Pluto Volume 3 Written & Produced by
Naoki Urasawa & Takashi Nagasaki
Illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
Translated by Jared Cook & Frederick Schodt
Based on Astro Boy: The Greatest Robot on Earth
 Created, Written & Illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
Shogakukan 2006/Viz Signature 2009
"Robots are servants, robots are slaves, death to robots!"

Adolph Haas hates robots. His father was replaced by robots in the factory he worked in, then crawled into a bottle and jumped off a roof when Haas was still a child. Haas and his brother grew up, his brother becoming a criminal, Haas getting a respectable job, a family, a robot maid. He belongs to KR, a far right anti-robot group, all clandestine meetings and hoods like the KKK they were modeled on. KR's membership is secret, but they have influential people from all strata of society in their ranks. They are unified by hate. This is more than just a harmless social club, but a terrorist group. A robot judge has died under mysterious circumstances, an explosion. KR is pleased by this.

Adolph Haas's brother died three years ago, killed by the police. His brother's crimes are so ugly and unspeakable that even Adolph thinks he probably had it coming. But he was still his brother. Only now is Haas able to claim the body, and a new autopsy shows that only one weapon could have killed him, a weapon that can only be wielded by a robot, only one robot on Europol... But robots can't kill humans, and there is no record of a shooting three years ago. Haas sees this as his opportunity for revenge against the robot that killed his brother. KR sees this as an opportunity to set the robots rights movement back by decades. Haas finds himself in a web of conspiracy and vengeance, inextricably linked to one of the most powerful robots alive, none other than Inspector Gesicht.

"I couldn't tell if he was robot or human..."

Professor Abullah arrives in Tokyo, a brilliant scientist and ambassador of the provisional Persian government at the World Science Peace Conference. He was one of the last people to see Junichiro Tasaki, the formulator of the robot laws, alive. He may not be a suspect as the Pluto Killer, but Abullah is hiding dark secrets of his own. He was there during the 39th Central Asian War, a witness to the destruction wrought on his homeland, and his reasons for being in Japan are far from peaceful.

"How can a robot with your powers refuse to fight?"

Epsilon is the last of the most powerful robots in the world, and the only one who didn't fight during the War. He felt it was unjust, but his stand cost him - where the other robots were treated as war heroes, he was leveled with abuse and derision. But he believes in peace and nonviolence. After the War, he took in War orphans who were physically and psychologically effected by the War. One boy saw something horrifying in the desert during the darkest days of the conflict, a sight still effecting him. He can only say one word about it. "Bora."

Epsilon appears just in time to stop Hercules from confronting the Pluto Killer, or at least his preparations to. Hercules can't seriously expect to defeat the Pluto Killer who so easily dispatched Hercules' fighting equal, Brando. Even Epsilon, superpowered by photon energy, superpowered even by Hercules' standards, is scared. But violence cannot be the answer. The War has left scars on all of them, and they "must sever this connection... to the cycle of Hate."

"You sensed they were afraid?"

We first saw Uran at the end of Volume 2, a precocious girl of Atom's apparent age, perhaps younger. Some lions and tigers had escaped the zoo and were surrounding a small child. The police were going to shoot the animals, and Uran stepped in, brought the cats to her and calmed the whole situation.

At the beginning of Volume 3, the police are incredulous. Uran is a robot, super advanced like Atom. She sensed the animals' fear, from kilometers away. Atom, her brother, picks her up, and even he is stunned by her ability. She can't explain what it is that she feels, she just does. She's a powerful empath, probably the only one in existence, another example of the changing face of robot kind.

This ability draws her to a troubled homeless man, a robot suffering in pain and grief. He is haunted by the things he saw in the War, unable to cope with life after War. Uran, in her childlike innocence wants only to help him. Without Atom's knowledge she visits the man, brings him food and clothes, and emotional support. Inspired by something within himself that he cannot identify, he draws on a wall, an interpretive, abstract image. Robots aren't supposed to be capable of abstraction, yet here on this wall - like an ancient cave painting heralding something more from a species on the verge of ascendance - is an image of profound pain and beauty.

He doesn't know his name or how he got there or why these images haunt him. Then on one visit, Uran witnesses from this robot what can only be described as a miracle. But of course things aren't as they seem, and what happens next blows the story wide open with simple, shocking and sudden revelations about the forces at work behind the War, the Pluto murders and the very future of robotics.

"I wonder what it really means to die?"

The mysteries weaving throughout the series come into unexpected sharp focus in Volume 3. The series' multiple identity as not just a mystery and international thriller, but surprisingly scary work of horror also come to the fore. There is plenty to fear, from the creepy abilities of one subtly monstrous robot at the beck and call of a mysterious foe, to grand shifting horrors beyond human and even robot understanding, through to the menace presented by base human hate. Things are coming into focus at the same time the lines blur even more, the lines between guilt and innocence, beauty and horror, war and peace. 

And we are given moments of beauty wrapped in pain, and startling revelations that ask more questions than they answer. The future is here, but things could not be more uncertain. Naoki Urasawa continues to deliver a unique and moving work, with detailed and powerful art, and characters and a vision of the future that stays with you long after you put it down.

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