"It's not a remake, it's a re-imagining!" For many fan-boys these words rank right up there with "I think you're really sweet... but... I see you more like a brother than a boyfriend." They're usually uttered after Hollywood's latest trip to the vaults in search of a suitable property to remake, repackage and resell. Thankfully, Naoki Urasawa's Pluto is a re-imagining in the truest sense: it retains the spirit of Osamu Tezuka's original while reinvigorating it for a contemporary audience. Astro Boy fans of the world take a deep sigh of relief.
Commissioned to commemorate the year of Astro's birth (2003, Tezuka's original manga began serialisation in 1953 and was set 50 years in the future), Urasawa's tale is based upon one of the character's most beloved adventures: The Greatest Robot on Earth. (For the curious or uninitiated this is available in volume three of Dark Horse Comic's English language editions). In Tezuka's story a despicable, if misguided, sultan builds Pluto, a towering, devil horned robot, to challenge the seven greatest robots in the world to a duel. His motive? Simply to command the Earth's strongest robot! And so, Pluto travels the world seeking to destroy his opponents. Gradually he realises the error of his ways but he struggles to balance morality with his programming. This is a prime example of the kind of thought provoking ideas that Tezuka relished. But, rest assured, Urasawa has plenty of his own ideas up his sleeve.
Urasawa places Gesicht (Gerhardt in the Dark Horse translation) centre stage. As in the original, he is a German detective and one of the seven robots on Pluto's list. Needless to say, his skin is no longer made of shining gold Zeronium! Following the destruction of Mont Blanc, a much loved robot and mountain guide from Switzerland, Gesicht begins to investigate this first incident and subsequent murders. His only clue to the identity of the murderer is the way the bodies are ritualistically arranged to appear horned.
If you have any doubts as to whether a robot can be murdered, witness a scene in which Gesicht visits a recently widowed robot. Her retro, 1950's looking design renders her inexpressive but you will feel her loss regardless. If you will excuse the irony, Urasawa greatest ability is how he allows the characters to become more human. Mont Blanc isn't only one of Earth's greatest robots, he is also a comrade and friend.
To appreciate just how accomplished Urasawa's storytelling is you need look no further than the second story arc featured in this volume. North No. 2 is a robot butler tending an ageing genius in a Scottish mansion. Lasting less than eight pages in Tezuka's tale, Urasawa expands the sequence into a three chapter long, masterfully paced story in it's own right. Incredibly, he changes very little of the original (at least one panel directly references Tezuka's) but he greatly expands it to allow his characters and their situation to breathe Paul Duncan is a semi-retired, blind composer living in isolation. He is skeptical of North No. 2's desire to play piano and only reluctantly employs him. Like many of Urasawa's characters, robot and human alike, both Duncan and North No.2 are haunted by dreams (an idea that Tezuka would no doubt have appreciated). Watching these characters develop over the chapters is riveting. Giving an indication of just how ambitious Pluto is, Urasawa isn't content just to tackle one of Japan's pop culture icons, he also references another tale of a self aware machine: Robert A. Heinlein's 1967 Hugo award winning novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Urasawa is quite rightly considered a master of his craf