From the back cover:
A timeless comics and animation classic, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy is still going strong half a century after its creation, winning over readers of all ages with its combination of action, wit, and humanity. In the novel-length “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” a wealthy sultan creates a giant robot to become the ruler of all other robots on Earth. But in order for that to happen, he must defeat the seven most powerful robots in the world, including Astro Boy, who must have his horsepower raised from 100,000 to 1,000,000 to face the challenge! And Astro’s sister, Uran, also flies in to lend a helping hand! Plus, in “Mad Machine,” a scientist invents a device that causes other machines to go berserk, and Astro Boy must save the day!
Well, I can certainly see why someone would want to create a series elaborating on “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” There’s a lot going on and some surprisingly sympathetic robots. In his introduction, Tezuka says that he created this story during a period (1964-1965) when he was really enjoying his work. I think it shows, since even though there are still robot battles and dastardly caped villains, the potential to say something about the plight of robots isn’t squandered as it has been in other stories.
Once upon a time, there was a sultan who was ousted from power and exiled from his land. Still ambitious, he hired a roboticist to create a robot, Pluto, that would defeat other powerful robots and declare itself king of the robots, allowing the sultan to get his vicarious power fix. Pluto polishes off his first opponent in short order, but by the time he’s met the second, his personality is starting to come through. “I have no hatred of you but my master has ordered me to destroy you and I must obey him,” he says, before engaging in one of the cooler robot battles in the series so far.
Pluto also encounters Astro’s sister Uran when she tries to trick him by impersonating Astro, and actually strikes up a friendship with her, inquiring about how she’s doing and even allowing her to plaster his chest with some of her favorite stickers (my very favorite panel in this volume). His opponents are pretty sympathetic, too. The one that sticks out in my mind is Epsilon, who worked with and was beloved by children. Even when he was defeated, there’s a neat panel of his hands still clutching a kid who’d wandered too near the duel.
Throughout the story, Doctor Ochanomizu keeps telling Astro that the truly great robot is not the one with the most horsepower but rather the one who helps people. Pluto’s attempts to achieve greatness through fighting will never succeed, but when Astro boy finally convinces him to help avert a volcanic explosion, at that point, Pluto really has achieved greatness. It’s kind of deep, actually. Pluto’s whole character arc is surpisingly touching.
To say that I’m really looking forward to seeing what Naoki Urasawa does with this concept would be a profound understatement.