Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka 1 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka: A+

In the Astro Boy story “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” available in the third volume of Dark Horse’s edition of the Astro Boy manga, a power-hungry sultan creates a robot named Pluto and gives him instructions to destroy seven other powerful robots that could challenge Pluto’s claim to the title of King of the Robots. Pluto dutifully carries out his orders but bears no personal animosity for his opponents. The story is notable because Pluto and the other robots are highly sympathetic characters, though some are more fleshed out than others.

In this reimagining of “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” Naoki Urasawa is, in many ways, adhering closely to the original story, though he adds new layers and provides additional background for some of the robots that get less attention in Tezuka’s version. Where the original presents the story from the perspective of Astro Boy and addresses the question of what attributes really make a robot great, Urasawa’s approach is more like a sci-fi mystery novel. His protagonist is Gesicht (Gerhardt in the original), a highly-advanced robot detective with sensors that allow him to make Holmesian pronouncements about crime scene details. He’s investigating two cases with striking similarities: the killing of a much-beloved robot named Mont Blanc and the murder of a human involved with a movement to preserve the existing robot laws. The evidence seems to indicate a robot culprit is responsible for both deaths, even though robots are forbidden to harm humans, so Gesicht pays a visit to the last robot known to have violated this prohibition. It’s there that he first hears the name Pluto and learns that he himself might be a target.

The result of Urasawa’s story tweaks is nothing short of amazing. I am by no means a fast reader, but with an almost cinematic feel for scene and pace, the pages of Pluto just fly by. This isn’t a story that gets bogged down by its own weight. Even when Urasawa takes the time to flesh out a character—as in the touching tale of North No. 2, a robot formerly used in war who gradually becomes indispensable to a crotchety composer—the momentum doesn’t suffer. Urasawa extends this humanizing treatment to robots with more machine-like visages, as well. There’s one memorable sequence where, as the wife of a police bot receives news of her husband’s death, Urasawa devotes three panels to a close-up of her face, acknowledging the presence of the grief that she is facially incapable of expressing.

Urasawa’s seemingly limitless arsenal of character designs is on full display in Pluto, though the percentage of people with huge noses is still higher than normally occurs in nature. Like Monster, Pluto is set in Germany, so it’s a bit like coming home to see the Düsseldorf tag on a scene. It’s a futuristic Düsseldorf, though, with multi-tiered highway systems and seamlessly integrated bits of swanky new gadgetry.

The packaging itself is quite nice, with an innovative spine design, larger trim size, satin finish, French flaps, and color pages. And though Viz isn’t responsible for the title font and the way the “U” looks just like Pluto’s horns from the original story, it’s still really cool.

While it’s not necessary to have read “The Greatest Robot on Earth” to enjoy and understand Pluto, I still recommend doing so. It makes Urasawa’s achievement all the more impressive to see what he started from and, without it, you might miss out on some of the impact of various scenes. Seriously, I got geekbumps at least twice.

Pluto is still ongoing in Japan with six volumes released so far. In English, it’s licensed by Viz.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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