In my previous installments in this series, I looked at the individual volumes of Naoki Urasawa's transformative masterpiece Pluto. (Click here for my other reviews in the series.) Here in my eighth and final review (split into three parts), I look at the themes, story and art in the series as a whole.
In the first part of my treatise, I examined The Role of Hatred, Redemption, and Evolution in Pluto. In the second part I looked at Humanity and the Role of Memory in Subjective Reality in Pluto and I also examined the Effects of War and Urasawa's commentary on the Iraq War and American Imperialism.
Here in the third and final part, I examine Urasawa's craft and Pluto's role as a fiercely original work. I also give an overview of my reviews of the individual volumes.
staging of even simple events utilize the comic medium in simple and
very effective ways. In our first exposure to Gesicht, it appears he is
talking on a cell phone, when we know that he was simply holding his
hand to his ear while communicating with someone remotely. (Much can be
said about robot communications throughout the work which really amounts
to powerful, long-range telepathy.) In Gesicht and Helena's final
conversation, it appears they are in the same room, but they are
communicating remotely. This is not a cheap trick but a brilliant and
obvious bit of storytelling utilizing the established confines of robot
communication. The result is more poignant and powerful expression of
their bond, and the events that subsequently occur are that much more
The future presented in the story has a unique flavor to it. Pluto
takes place many decades, if not many centuries in Earth's future.
Despite it's far flung nature and the presence of nearly human
artificial intelligences, the world is recognizable. The fashions worn
by the characters are those of this current day and age, the
geopolitical scene an identifiable pastiche of known nations and thinly
disguised analogues. The biggest difference is in the level of
technology (largely represented in the robots of the story) and the
densely packed and stratospheric cities. Urasawa presents a bold vision
of the future that does not get bogged down in unnecessary detail. One
of the many strength's of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples current
ongoing series Saga, despite the broadly exotic fantasy/sci-fi
setting, is that there are purely recognizable elements like current
slang and technology like iPods and televisions and printed books. Why
take creative energy to make fictionalizations, be it in name or design,
of common things that serves only slow down the narrative? The focus of
both Saga and Pluto is on the characters and their emotions and actions, not in sci-fi minutiae. The story of Pluto leaps forward, propelled by the characters, unencumbered by needless detail while still reveling in its fantastic elements.
Pluto the adaptation, as a fiercely original work
Pluto defines itself immediately as something more than just an Astro Boy
story. The central character is not at first Astro Boy, but Inspector
Gesicht, a detective for Europol who is investigating a series of
murders committed against robots and humans linked to a recently
concluded war in Iran. The murders are grisly crimes committed against
beloved robots and renown human scientists alike, with connections all
the way to the leadership of several global powers. Set against a
backdrop both futuristic and completely recognizable, the story grows to
encompass themes of loss, identity, vengeance, and the very core of the
human condition. And the story takes place at an axis of profound
societal transformation at the dawn of a new human species and where no
less than the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The focus of "The Greatest Robot on Earth" storyline on which Pluto is based is apparently more on the robot-fight aspect of the story, while Pluto goes in far more and far deeper directions.
Urasawa apparently hits many similar story points
to Tezuka's original, specifically the characters used and the deaths of
the most advanced robots. I don't know, I haven't read it. And you don't need to, Pluto
stands on its own. Its very easy to find analogues of what Urasawa
accomplishes. You could easily look at any of the modern masterworks of
the superhero genre as important and original takes on classic
characters and concepts. Or perhaps Don Rosa's masterpiece, The Life and Times of Scooge McDuck, inhabiting and expanding on Carl Barks' own seminal works. But I think a better comparison is the Batman
film-cycle of Christopher Nolan. In it, Nolan takes the core concepts
that have been around for decades and crafts startlingly original works
of art, mature pieces of deeply commentary science fiction wrapped in
riveting, suspenseful action packed character dramas. Which is Pluto to a tee.
do not have a lot of experience reading manga. This is not an aversion
on my part, just a dual matter of availability and finding that small
fraction of "good." I have read some Tatsumi, tried some One Piece
(it is, after all, the best-selling comic on the planet, but not one
for me), and even some Tezuka, but my manga exposure is woefully thin,
something I am slowly rectifying. I picked up Pluto on a whim - I
was familiar with Urasawa's reputation, I liked the production design,
and when flipping it open I was struck by the detail of Urasawa's art.
Deciding to read it, the story hooked me completely by the point Gesicht
informs Robby's widow of her death. In the end I was definitely shocked
by how superb the overall story was, and on rereading struck by the
sustained intensity of the masterpiece. It is a work that rewards
rereading and the experience of absorbing this work is one of the most
rewarding interactions with a work of fiction I have ever had. This is
one of my all time favorite comics of any kind.
Pluto is a
work that is required reading, and should be taught as one of the signature
achievements of the medium, very different from but in the same critical
league as the comic masterworks of Los Bros Hernandez, Chris Ware, Alan
Moore, Jack Kirby, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Warren Ellis, Jason Aaron, Grant
Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Moebius, Carla Speed McNeill, Brian K. Vaughan,
Kevin Huizenga, and Osamu Tezuka himself.
There's a lot going on in this work...
...clearly, and I've only just scratched the surface of all the extraordinary things Urasawa accomplishes here. Pluto is an intelligent and layered work that rewards multiple readings and stays with you long after you put it down.
"Pluto and Doubling" by Craig Fischer, The Comics Journal October, 2011
"Pluto: Robots and Aesthetic Experience" by Peter Wilkins, The Comics Grid January, 2012