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Pluto Vols 2 and 3
Author/Artist Naoki Urasawa
If J.J. Abrams' Star Trek says anything about modern science fiction it's that, as sure as scissors cut paper and rocks blunt scissors, explosions and special effects all-too-easily top-trump thought provoking ideas. Thankfully, Naoki Urasawa's uniformly excellent re-imagining of 'The Greatest Robot on Earth' continues to impress with its intelligent take on Astro Boy.
The main development here is the introduction of Atom himself (known as Astro in his previous English language outings). Simply put, he's a delight to read. Gesicht, the detective investigating the Pluto murders, remarks that his recognition system goes haywire when looking at Atom, unable to determine if he is human or machine. Urasawa's depiction of the boy robot will likely leave readers facing a similar conundrum. He forces us to continually shift our expectations from one scene to the next (sometimes even from panel to panel!); one minute Atom seems like an adult trapped in a child's body; be he regretfully recounting his war experiences or cleverly undermining a police inspector's robot prejudices as he examines a crime scene. But just when you think you've got him sussed, Urasawa pulls the rug from under us again with a reminder that Atom is just as much a child as he is a robot. This is particularly striking when he is genuinely excited to see a young boy flaunting the season's must-have toy. Amazingly, to Urasawa's credit, none of these leaps seem out of character. It is impossible to imagine the inner conflicts that must reverberate through Atom's robotic mind but it's fascinating to speculate.
These volumes also begin to show how Urasawa has expanded Tezuka's comparatively short manga into something more substantial. Indicative of this, in his illuminating afterword to volume three, Fusanosuke Natsume tellingly refers to Urasawa's work as gekiga, a term used in Japan to denote comic books of depth and maturity. (Gekiga literally translates as 'dramatic pictures'; manga, on the other-hand, is commonly translated as 'whimsical pictures'). Urasawa underscores the basic plot of of Tezuka's tale with two significant events: the 39th Central Asian War and the founding of the International Robot Laws (a descendent of Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics). Details of both are revealed slowly but their effects are readily apparent throughout these pages and the preceding volume.
Viz continue their handsome treatment of Urasawa's future classic. At once a re-imagining of a timeless Astro Boy tale, a parable of real world conflicts & prejudices and an immersive sci-fi detective story.