Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Run: Naoki Urasawa's Pluto Volume 4

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

Pluto Volume 4 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
Naoki Urasawa's Pluto Volume 4 is an intense emotional roller coaster that starts out with the drama and the action dialed to eleven and never lets up.

The head of the Ministry of Science in Japan, Professor Ochanomizu is under police protection. He is one of the last surviving members of the Bora Survey Group, and a prime target of the Pluto Killer. He doesn't believe protection is needed, that the police are overreacting. While sitting in a park, he discovers a discarded dog-bot, badly damaged. The heartbreaking scenes that follow offer a window into Ochanomizu - a widower and grandfather, he is kind to robots, going out of his way to help those in need. Then, Ochanomizu gets a visitor, the owner of the dog-bot, but things aren't as they seem.

The scenes that follow are pure moments of riveting suspense that drive the story forward into amazing, nonstop action-packed set pieces. Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki's scripting and Urasawa's art evoke an astonishing economy of storytelling, propelling the plot forward with an emotion and tension that are rarely seen in comics of any stripe. The confrontations that occur right out the gate, urgently staged, are frightening and moving and will have far-reaching consequences for all of our characters going forward. And this is just in the first few chapters.

Not letting up, we get visions - fever dreams of loss and fear. Nearly incapacitated by the events that occur, Inspector Gesicht finds himself with far more on his plate than just the rising body count. Adolph Haas, seeking revenge, has been stalking him - but the robot hate group that Haas belongs to has other plans for Gesicht. They want him alive to destroy him in the public arena, and they are willing to take out Haas to maintain their nefarious plans. Haas and Gesicht's fates are intertwined far more than either could have ever predicted, all the way to the top of a conspiracy spearheaded by the imprisoned Persian monarch Darius XIV.

And then there's Tenma, Ochanomizu's predecessor and at the Ministry of Science and the creator of one of the most powerful robots in the world, Atom. Seven years ago, the late Professor Newton-Howard (creator of Epsilon's photon energy, murdered at the hands of the Pluto Killer), Professor Hoffman (the inventor of Gesicht's zeronium, himself now on the run form the Pluto Killer), and Tenma (the preeminent expert in artificial intelligence) met at the Kimberly Conference. Hoffman and Newton-Howard wanted to pool their resources with Tenma to create a robot that could potentially save the world from itself. But Tenma rejected them - to make the perfect robot, the perfect AI, would be to create a being capable of suffering, of hatred, and the capacity for mistakes. "Stop trying to make robots more like humans, or something terrible may happen..." Prophetic words or the voice of experience? And could Tenma's reluctance stop the evolution in robots that seems to be happening regardless? "You don't understand. Frustration and failure, seething hatred... That is what fosters Artificial Intelligence." And is that what fosters human intelligence, too? Is the key to humanity pain?

The tragedies and revelations come fast and hard. This is an extraordinary character drama wrapped in one of the most intense science fiction thrillers ever produced. Urasawa delivers an astonishing work of graphic fiction, equally at home in hyper dense future cityscapes, world-shaking sci-fi action set-pieces, quiet conversations dripping with suspense, and the mentally tumultuous moments of loss and despair that define the human experience.

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