Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Run: Naoki Urasawa's Pluto Volume 5

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

Pluto Volume 5 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 2007/Viz Signature 2009
At the beginning of Pluto Volume 5, Brau 1589 laughs at Gesicht, who he was expecting: "How does it feel to have killed a human?" Gesicht knows now what happened three years ago, or at least most of it. The memories are coming back to him, memories deleted by Europol without his permission, part of a massive cover-up. Gesicht knows that he was investigating a serial killer of child robots, that he cornered the subject, that he killed him in cold blood. That he committed murder outside of the bounds of normal police activity, in contradiction of the very code within him that should keep him from taking human life. And he now knows that the one thing that made it possible for him to kill, that one thing that is still giving him nightmares, is pure hatred. Deep within him, for reasons he is still coming to terms with, is pure, all encompassing hatred, a hatred that should not exist in robots, that scares Gesicht. A hatred shared by Pluto, by the power controlling Pluto, by the surviving victims of the War.

It is the role of hatred in the human experience that drives this volume. Professor Tenma created an Artificial Intelligence so advanced that it could only be woken by the introduction of a violent emotion to tip the balance. It may be hatred that is the key to robot evolution, hatred the key to what being human is. It is Adolph Haas' hatred of robots and of Gesicht for his role in his brother's death that has put Haas' own life and his family's life in danger. Epsilon is a pacifist who is trying to break the cycle of hate that began in the War in Persia - by refusing to fight, then by raising war orphans. Darius XIV hates the United States and the United Nations and the Bora Survey Group for their roles in turning his country to ash.

Hercules is not driven by hate, but he must fight the legacy of hate represented in Pluto, in the spirits of all those who died in the War. He has no choice but to confront Pluto, and he knows that he will likely be killed. But he goes forward anyway. If he cannot beat Pluto, he can definitely harm him and broadcast the results of the battle out to Epsilon, forced by his moral code to watch and to not interfere. These broadcasts during various characters' battles with Pluto are like telepathic transmissions of minds flashing through the end of their lives, the thoughts and emotions and memories that unintentionally come to the fore when confronted with inevitable mortality. Each time it happens is no less moving than the last and is a window into the characters' very soul. The battle that comes is the most violent and vividly presented yet, finally getting a clear picture of what Pluto is really capable of.

Uran is driven by sadness, but not just her own. Dealing with her own loss, her empathic powers send her across Tokyo, instinctively helping those in need. From lost kittens to lost wallets she comes across sadness so profound, sadness compounded by grief and despair, the sadness of Atom's creator Tenma. The revelation of Atom's origins in loss are the emotional core of the second half of the volume. The lengths that Tenma was willing to go, the questionable ethics, the universality of his intention. He created the most advanced robot in the world to be his son in place of the son he lost  - but despite Atom's advanced nature, there is no substitute for the real thing. Tenma resented Atom for being a simulacrum, a facsimile he created, a pale shade, and he rejected him so completely, so violently - he sold him, like an object, not like the sentient being he was. And now Atom is gone and Tenma's own abilities as one of the most brilliant scientists alive are not enough to bring him back. Just like he failed to bring back his son, failing Atom in death like how he failed him in life.

Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki's scripting continues to leave you breathless, as does Urasawa's astonishing art. From a robot compulsively washing its hands, unable to clean the metaphorical blood on them, to a quiet dinner packed with subtext, the quiet moments of pain and loss and grief which fill the book are seismic.

And amongst all the pain and sadness there is hope, bleeding in around the edges. But things are darkest before the dawn and under gathering storm clouds, we are still far from sunlight.

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