Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka 2 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka: A

Robots and humans continue to die in this second volume of Urasawa’s re-imagining of Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy story, “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” Gesicht travels to Japan where he meets with Atom, another of the seven strongest robots allegedly being targeted. After accessing Gesicht’s memory chip, Atom is able to assist the Japanese police as they work a similar case and discovers the common factor between the human victims. Meanwhile, Gesicht continues to warn other robots on the list while questioning mysterious gaps in his own memory.

While volume one did a good job of setting up the plot and the world, volume two really gets the ball rolling. There’s action and plot twists aplenty, as well as answers to questions that only serve to beget more questions. I certainly can’t complain when a story proceeds to go somewhere, but I still missed the “robot interest” stories that made the first volume so stellar. There were a few touching moments scattered throughout, but mostly the focus was on plot advancement.

Urasawa’s art is uniformly excellent, as usual. I’m a big fan of the futuristic city scenes, but perhaps my favorite thing in this volume is actually Atom’s hair. No matter which way he turned, Tezuka’s incarnation of Astro Boy always had two triangles of hair poking up. Atom’s case is far subtler, more like tufts really, but it’s definitely there. I love attention to detail like that.

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

20th Century Boys 1 by Naoki Urasawa: A

I reviewed the first volume of this well-regarded series for Comics Should be Good. Check it out!

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.

Monster 18 by Naoki Urasawa: A

After eighteen action-packed volumes of murders, secret organizations, suppressed memories, and the most exciting book donation ceremony known to man, Naoki Urasawa’s Monster has come to a close. With its multitudes of well-developed characters, unique setting, expressive art, and interwoven plot threads, the tale of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a gifted surgeon who is out to stop a murderer whose life he saved in the operating room, has been a rich and rewarding reading experience. It can be hard to have faith that such an ambitious undertaking will hold together, however, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who had put off reading it until they’d heard whether all of the lingering questions had been satisfactorily answered in the end.

Well, the answer to that question is “mostly.” Throughout the course of the series, various people have played a part in the creation of the monster that is Johan. Unfortunately, anyone expecting the final volume to provide a conclusive explanation for exactly how he turned out the way he did will be disappointed. Some additional insights are revealed, though, which at least will give readers a basis upon which to come to their own conclusions.

On the positive side, several of my other questions were unambiguously addressed. On the whole, I found the conclusion of the series to be a satisfying one. In a volume full of important scenes, my favorite moments were those between Tenma and his pursuer, Inspector Lunge, who’s quite the fascinating character. The penultimate chapter also catches up with a few characters who haven’t been seen in a while; I can’t think of anyone whose fate was left to dangle.

While Monster is not without flaws, they are far outnumbered by its virtues. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this series to anyone.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Monster 17 by Naoki Urasawa: A-

From the back cover:
In the little mountain town of Ruhenheim, life is simple and peaceful. Neighbors greet each other on the street, and the biggest case the local authorities have to worry about is a lost dog. But this bucolic splendor is about to change. Will Tenma, Grimmer, and Inspector Lunge be able to prevent the massacre Johan is planning for this sleepy village and its unknowing inhabitants? Or will the cobbled streets of Ruhenheim soon run red with innocent blood?

Of the unanswered questions listed in the review for volume sixteen, only the fifth is answered. The identity of the child who was taken to Red Rose Mansion and what they experienced is, indeed, cleared up.

Plotwise, we get one of those situations where some characters seem to know where to go and what Johan’s planning without the audience having any idea how. Eventually, some explanations are given, but I think my confusion over that kind of hampered my enjoyment of the malevolent happenings going on in a secluded mountain town. It’s fairly interesting, but not nearly as good as the previous half a dozen volumes or so have been, even if Grimmer and Lunge are awesomely working together.

At this point, it’s kind of hard to say anything that isn’t a spoiler of some kind. If it’s not evident by now, Monster is not a series without flaws, but it’s got an exciting story full of twists, turns, and random awesomeness.

Oh, and I still love Dieter.

Monster 16 by Naoki Urasawa: A

From the back cover:
Tenma is lying low, but his brief respite is doomed to be short-lived. Milan, one of Tenma’s new friends, is planning to assassinate a man with deep ties to “Red Rose Mansion.” Can Tenma dissuade him from this drastic line of action? Also, a seemingly unrelated string of murders by various serial killers hints at a sinister connection with Johan. How many more people need to die before the monster’s work is complete?

A tremendous lot of stuff happens in this volume, but I shall resist the temptation to summarize. Instead, I have a new list.

Answered Questions:
1. What is the story of the twins’ parents and birth?
2. Who are the last two people running the organization in Frankfurt?
3. What’s the story on the “devil’s apprentice”?

Kind Of Anwered Questions:
1. What’s Johan’s agenda?

Unanswered questions:
1. How are the recitals at the Red Rose Mansion inducing the kids into violence? What, really, is the experiment?
2. Who was the guy who came to the Lieberts’ house the night they were killed?
3. Whatever happened to the other Lieberts pretending to be Johan’s parents?
4. What about the MPD theory?
5. What’s the deal with Nina’s memory of welcoming herself home? “The man in glasses” made a possibly telling remark, then Johan seemed to swing it one way, then the final panel threw all into a muddle again.

I also want to take this time to praise Urasawa’s chapter beginnings. They’re always interesting, unique, and immediately engaging. Too, I applaud the two strong female characters that kick some butt in this volume, and once again, am kind of surprised I am cheering for Eva. Taking a bitchy person, making her even more unlikable, and then suddenly turning her into someone sympathetic is quite an achievement!

Monster 15 by Naoki Urasawa: A

From the back cover:
Dangerous men of influence hoping to exploit Johan’s frightening mind for their own shadowy purposes are also hot on the “monster’s” trail, and they’re willing to use Eva, Tenam’s ex-fiancée, to identify him. But what will happen to Eva when her assistance is no longer required? Will her only chance for salvation rest on the shoulders of the very man who’s been hired to kill her?!

It’s late and I’m tired, so it’s definitely a list this time.

Awesome Things:
Nina goes back to Munich and enlists the aid of Doctors Reichwein and Gillen to recover her latent memories. The resultant session with Gillen is terrifically creepy.

Super Awesome Things:
There are two perfect chapters in this volume, and both feature Eva, believe it or not. In the first, Martin defies his boss’s orders to kill her and faces the consequences, and in the second, Eva and Tenma share a somber conversation over coffee. I adore Martin, and I really hope Eva’s on the path to redemption this time.

Confusing Things:
I still have no idea what’s up with a particular scrap of memory Nina keeps remembering, but I’m sure it isn’t good. I just hope that we don’t get some utterly kooky explanation that makes no sense.

Monster 14 by Naoki Urasawa: A

From the back cover:
Tenma’s long quest for justice, Johan and Nina’s search for identity—all roads converge on the mysterious “Red Rose Mansion.” Is Nina prepared to confront the dark memories this cursed house will awaken in her subconscious? If Tenma gets there in time, will he find a clue that will help him save the life of his ex-fiancée Eva? Or will Johan, as always, remain several steps ahead of everyone?

These books really are quick reads. I think it’s because there’s nothing extranneous in the panels. The art is fabulous, to be sure, but there’s nothing like shrinky-dink text or frenzied panel layouts that might detract from the story. Back to a list this time!

Awesome Things:
1. Someone—it isn’t clear who—recalls some events from Nina and Johan’s childhood, including when they were initially found near the Czech border, a photo op with the Lieberts after they made it to West Germany, and the night Johan asked Nina to shoot him. It’s good to finally get some detail on this, and I love how it’s internally consistent with what has been previously established.

2. We see a few more of the stories by the picture book author, as creepy as the first.

3. I actually kind of love the last chapter, told from the point of view of a thug assigned to guard Eva. He hates taking jobs involving women, and she drives him crazy, but he eventually feels the urge to protect her and ends up getting shot. I’m not a fan of hers, but his reaction to her is great.

Confusing Things:
1. Some guy arrives at the Liebert’s house before Nina finds them all shot. Who was that?

2. When Nina and Johan are near the border, she calls him Johan and asks him to say her name. He replies that they have no names. Later, General Wolf says, “They didn’t have names when I named him Johan.” So, is Johan really his name or what?

A Note:
Sometimes, with this series, one just has to give up asking, “Now, how did he know that, again?”

Monster 13 by Naoki Urasawa: A

Fairly major spoiler in the back cover blurb, so enjoy this nice cut.

From the back cover:
After his arrest in Prague, Tenma is deported to Düsseldorf to stand trial, but the odds are terribly stacked against him—one of the lawyers is a devoted follower of Johan. When his ex-fiancée Eva’s life is threatened, Tenma realizes that if he wants to save her, his only option is to escape captivity. With Eva still bearing a nearly bottomless grudge against him, can Tenma reach her before it’s too late? And even if he does, will she be willing to accept his help?

The timeline’s been corrected as of this volume, and now reads “1996-97” for all of the action happening in Munich and Prague. That reminds me that I should commend this series for being set in such interesting places. The inclusion of European architecture is definitely welcome, and it’s also nice not to have to rationalize why so many characters are fair-haired.

This volume is particularly suspenseful, since while Tenma is incarcerated, one of his lawyers (a familiar face that was wholly unexpected) threatens Eva’s life. Tenma takes some unexpected actions to achieve escape, although he arrives at Eva’s hotel after she’s already checked out.

Urasawa once again introduces a bunch of new characters and makes them interesting. In this volume, these include Fritz Verdeman, a defense attorney whose own father was falsely imprisoned for crimes he didn’t commit, and Gunter Milch, a petty crook with a flair for prison escapes. I particularly love how Fritz, while working for good causes, is shown to be flawed. For example, he’s more concerned with showing up the government’s mistakes than he is with his clients’ wishes, and he’s also shown to be kind of mean to his wife.

Also multi-faceted is Eva, who thinks back on her early courtship days with Tenma and, though she blames him for ruining her life, eventually decides that she will testify about having seen Johan on the scene of one of the crimes. Even though I’m not at all fond of her, seeing her change her drink order from booze to coffee was also kind of a cheer-worthy moment.

My favorite moments of this volume are the reactions of Tenma’s supporters to the news reports of his arrest, confession, and escape. I’m not sure why, but I just love those segments. Also great is when Verdeman reads a bunch of names of patients who had asked him to defend Tenma. Even though Tenma is on his own a lot of the time, his network of friends working on his behalf continues to be one of the best things about the series.

Monster 12 by Naoki Urasawa: A

From the back cover:
The Nameless Monster, a mysterious children’s picture book, holds the key to unlocking the secrets of Johan’s past. The startling discovery that it was created by an official from the Czechoslovakian secret police leads Tenma to the ominously eerie Red Rose Mansion—an estate with a dark and tragic history covered up and sealed away for decades. Meanwhile, a serial murderer in Prague has been identified as a beautiful blond woman. Who could she be and what is her connection to Johan?

Um, blurb? That last question was answered in volume eleven. Not to be outdone, the story recap (dubbed the “Monster Chronicle”) says that when Tenma gets to Prague, he discovers that Johan was once in 511 Kinderheim. Except he learned that back in volume three.

Before I proceed, I’m gonna talk about a pretty major spoiler in my review, because one of the things I loved best was in direct reaction to it, so avert your eyes now if you don’t want to know.

Awesome Things:
1. The orphans Grimmer befriended a couple of volumes ago try to prove he didn’t have anything to do with the killing of the guy who ran the orphanage. They do this by staking out a street for a suspect and even have a little map and everything.

2. Grimmer reveals more about his background, and it’s really fascinating. It casts his typically jovial manner in a whole new light. I particularly love the scene where he tries to comfort Milosh, an orphan who has seen some pretty freaky stuff while searching for his mother in a bad part of town.

Super Awesome Things:
1. Lunge returns and tracks down some details on the writer of the picture book that freaked Johan out. He finds an abandoned old mansion, covered with vines, breaks down a wall, and discovers the most gloriously creepy room ever. It’s mostly empty, and yet its freaky atmosphere is perfectly conveyed.

2. Tenma is apprehended in Prague! The way in which this happens is great, but even better is the final chapter which, I know, is probably trying to make me all verklempt, but features a bunch of grateful patients and people Tenma has encountered while on the run wanting to rally together and support him. Since they’re not sure where he’ll be sent in Germany, Schuwald instructs his son Karl to line up the best criminal attorney around in each of the possible venues. I am kind of excited by the prospect of a trial in the offing.

Confusing Things:
So, whatever happened to the theory that Johan has Multiple Personality Disorder? That seems to have completely dropped by the wayside.

With Tenma’s apprehension, it really feels like the series is turning its final corner. I’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow to join it, however, since my brain is frazzled from reading Monster all day.