Monday, December 5, 2011

Pluto: Urusawa X Tezuka Vol. 2

by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

I'm starting to think that Naoki Urasawa could very well be my gateway into manga.  My previous forays into that realm have me with mixed success, but I really do love Pluto.

This series is a collaboration between Uraawa and manga master Osamu Tezuka, in the same way that those Frank Sinatra Duet albums can be considered collaborations.  In other words, Urasawa is working with one of Tezuka's most beloved stories - "The Greatest Robot on Earth", from his Astro Boy series, updating it and adjusting it to a more modern, adult sensibility.  I've never read the source material (the extent of my Astro Boy knowledge does not extend past Saturday morning cartoons when I was eight or so), but I can say that this is an incredibly impressive story.

This second volume brings Atom (Astro Boy's Japanese name) into the story. Atom is a robot, but appears to be a boy of about ten or eleven.  Inspector Gesicht is trying to track down just who is killing the most powerful robots on Earth, and warns Atom that he is in danger.  They exchange memory chips, so that Atom can be brought up to speed on the investigation, and we learn that he is more capable of feeling emotion than any robot we've met so far.

Shortly after this, the robot fighter Brando confronts the mysterious force that is destroying his brethren.  This is a pretty exciting scene, with real emotional consequences.  I like how Urusawa allows his mystery to deepen, while casting all sorts of questions about Gesicht's memory, and just who understands what is going on.  There is also a touch of political commentary introduced in this volume, as we learn a little about the 39th Central Asian War, which was apparently sparked by the belief of the President of the United States of Thracia (named Alexander, of course) that Persia was harbouring Robots of Mass Distruction (RMDs?).  Sound a little familiar?

I don't really understand how or why the society portrayed in this comic developed around having independent robots who live their own lives, renting apartments and pretending to eat food, would have developed, or why there would be such prejudice against them.  This aspect of the story needs a little more clarification, but otherwise, this is a beautifully illustrated and very compelling series.

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