Monday, December 17, 2007


Mangaka: Urasawa Naoki

The original Astro Boy manga introduced young readers to the realities of racial conflict by presenting them on a level children could understand and discuss with their parents, but this meant that Tezuka could not fully explore the more mature psychological and moral issues in the background of Astro's grim world. The rough and episodic nature of Astro's adventures and the long time over which Tezuka developed the world and character also limited his capacity to bring to the fore the emotional and philosophical potential of the universe and characters he had created. Naoki Urasawa's Pluto is, quite simply, Astro Boy for adults. The work is a retelling of the Pluto chapter of Astro Boy, originally entitled 'The World's Strongest Robot,' which looks at the seven most powerful robots on earth as their programming and human vanity force them to fight one another. The original story focused on Astro being asking why humans create these temporary life forms, robots, then bind them to specific programs and hardware which lock them into limited roles in life, and why ultimately do humans make robots destroy each other. Naoki Urasawa preserves this central question, but adds to it many subtler questions about the psychological and social tensions which would arise in a society as densely populated with robots as Astro's.

One new question is how the existence of extremely human-like robots affects both human and robot identity. How do non-humanoid robots feel about those robots who can 'pass' for human? How do humans feel about their growing inability to distinguish human from robot? How do low-powered robots feel about the sophisticated robots who are immeasurably more powerful and important than they are, not by chance, but by human design? How do other high-powered robots feel about Astro, whose uniquely sophisticated electronic brain makes him the only robot to have real human-like learning capacity and to experience nearly-human emotions, and who is also the most universally beloved robot ever created? One might envy Astro as the 'ambassador of peace,' friend to all humans and robots, destined to bring the two races closer, or one might pity Astro as the first robot truly capable of feeling the pain of the conflict between the races and the loneliness of being the only one.

Another focus is robots' capacity to love and have family. The central character followed by the narrative is actually not Astro but the robot detective Gesicht, one of the original Great Seven robots, who is assigned to investigate the Pluto case. Following him we see the experiences of a humanoid robot working with human and robot colleagues, human and robot victims and human and robot witnesses. We also see him living with a robot wife, and dealing with the widows and orphans left when robots are destroyed. The backgrounds and families of the other Great Seven are also filled in, and we see how different super-robots have or have not imitated human lifestyles and friendships. It is also our first real chance to meet Astro from the perspective of an outsider, rather than taking the boy hero as our point of view. References to Astro's home and family remind us of the grim fate of the robotic parents Dr. Ochanomizu created for Astro who, as we recall from the original manga, will be destroyed at Dr. Tenma's order.

Urasawa also adds a detailed investigation of how the existence of super-robots would affect war and the balance of global politics. Taking the shallow political despot who was responsible for the conflicts in the original story, Urasawa creates instead a very realistic middle-eastern war, similar to those which have been so controversial in the last years, and then asks how the existence of robots would change it. How do robots, who are forbidden by their programming from harming humans, feel about fighting wars for the humans where they are forced to destroy one another while unable to harm others? How would mechanized armies change the speed and cost of warfare? How is it fair for there to be a Robot Law when there is no corresponding Human Law limiting humans' capacity to do harm to one another or to robots? And does making robots more and more human also inevitably mean making them capable of hate, irrationality and murder? These philosophical themes are not absent in the original Astro Boy manga, but here Urasawa has brought them much more to the foreground, presenting a mature philosophy of warfare which is clearly closely related to Tezuka's own treatment of it, both in early works like Metropolis and in late social commentaries like Adolf and Ayako.

The art style of Pluto is perhaps as starkly different from Tezuka's original as it is possible for art to be. In Urasawa's rendition, all people and places are reproduced in near-photographic detail with far more realistic proportions and faces than one sees in most manga today. At the same time, Urasawa preserves a very Tezuka-like pacing and layout, with very detailed cityscapes and landscapes of the style Tezuka used to punctuate his work. Urasawa even includes the characteristic 'emotional abstracts' which Tezuka used to convey very intense scenes. (US readers will know these best from the rape scene in Adolf and the enlightenment images in Buddha and Phoenix, but they may be seen as early as the Moth and Flame scene in Crime and Punishment.) The effect makes the visuals a perfect match for the tone and story – this is Tezuka, but a harsh, adult Tezuka, not stylized for children anymore.

Pluto has received the prestigious Osamu Tezuka Cultural award, and praise and honors from all directions, with good cause. Urasawa reminds us why Astro was the most moving and influential of the many hundreds of stories and characters created by the 'God of Manga.' I cannot overstate the quality of this work, nor its emotional impact. After reading it, I found myself re-reading the original Tezuka manga with fresh tears in my eyes. Masao Maruyama and Rintaro, creators of the Metropolis movie who worked with Tezuka on many of his animated works, spoke at AnimeNEXT 2006. I heard a fan there ask them what manga and anime they liked best out of everything Japan had produced. Rintaro answered that they both treasured each and every page Tezuka ever drew. Maruyama added, 'Also Naoki Urasawa.'

This manga review was taken from here


anima51 said...

agree with you!!
urasawa and tezuka rocks!

Anonymous said...

Teneis que ver esta pagina: Fanatic Manga. Es flipante, tiene material muy bueno, imagenes, videos, series, etc...

OboeChica said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this analysis of Pluto - it cleared up a lot of things I hadn't fully understood (I didn't realize the connection to Astro Boy as I had never read/seen it). You obviously put a lot of thought into this - it was a really great review!