Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Run: Naoki Urasawa's Pluto Volume 6

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

Pluto Volume 6 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
When Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki set out to adapt Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy they brilliantly made the robotic police inspector from The Greatest Robot on Earth the central character. It's Gesicht around which the story revolves. It is not just his investigation into the Pluto killings that drives the plot, but the hidden mystery of his own past that makes the emotional core of the story, especially in this volume. Urasawa continues to pull out a virtuoso performance of comic storytelling. Extraordinarily powerful and moving, this is a work of art that says volumes about the human condition, one of the finest accomplishments of the medium.

Pluto Volume 6 is a tightly plotted thriller with equal parts explosive action and riveting suspense-filled conversations. Gesicht's investigation takes him across the world, from what's left of Persia to interview the imprisoned King Darius XIV and Dr. Abullah (who lost his family and even his body in the War) to Amsterdam on the trail of the mysterious Sahad. Gesicht reaches a breakthrough in the case - he discovers the Artificial Intelligence behind Pluto and the secret of Pluto himself. We get far more answers than we could have hoped for, but the cost may be too high.  

Before the War, Dr. Abullah commissioned Dr. Tenma to create the most advanced AI in the world for Persia. But the AI was too advanced, trapped cycling through six billion personalities, unable to find its true identity. Every aspect of the AI was in balance, and the only thing that could awaken it was to introduce emotion: hatred, sadness, fear. The true fate of this robot is one of the great twists in the story, and it is soon revealed that the Greatest Robot left on Earth, the (second) most advanced AI, is not Gesicht or Epsilon, but the force behind Pluto, seeking revenge for the loss of his country and his family.

And then there is the tragedy of Pluto himself. The roots of his story comes back to the recurring theme of the field of flowers, the field that Pluto draws for Uran, that Darius draws in his cell. Before the war, Sahad, a brilliant botanist created the perfect flower, a tulip that could live forever, but at the cost of all life around it. Persia was going to bloom. But then War came, and all was lost.

And we come back around to the way hate poisons the soul, the scars of war reverberating down through the years, the power of loss, the lengths of revenge, the very bounds of death itself.  The humanity of the robots, the inhumanity of the humans. Visionary representations of love, hatred, sadness, and truly terrifying horror. What Urasawa accomplishes in this volume cements the work as a whole as one of the great masterpieces of the comic medium.

Gesicht tracks down Pluto at the same time that Professor Hoffman, his creator, is being held hostage. He makes a practical decision to save Hoffman, at the same time breaking himself free from the cycle of hatred and revenge. He was built as a police robot, but he is something more, now. The revelations of his own past, the truth behind Sahad and Abullah, it all adds up to a fever pitch of change. He rejects the orders of his superiors, violating the robot laws. Hate and loss evolved him, forgiveness and compassion made him more human. But the powers in play are too strong, the stakes are too high, and the events that transpire and how they come to pass are heartbreaking and unspeakably tragic in a story already rooted in profound sadness and tragedy.

He plans that vacation to Japan with Helena which he's been meaning to take with her since Volume 1. And when they finally get there, it once more signals the evolution of robot kind, this time born in tears.

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