Review

by Carlo Santos, Sep 30th 2009

Pluto

GN 5

Synopsis:
Pluto GN 5
In the future, the world's greatest robots and scientists are being killed one by one, and robot detective Gesicht is on the case—or at least he was, until a distraction came along. Right now, Gesicht has been assigned to protect anti-robot activist Adolf Haas due to Haas's own faction turning against him. However, the two of them are connected by a very grim incident in the past—an incident that shakes Gesicht to the core when his suppressed memories finally resurface. Meanwhile, the battle robot Hercules is the next target for the mysterious, murderous Pluto, and it looks like his legendary strength may have met its match. And what of the boy robot Atom, who died in an earlier attack? His "father," robotics genius Professor Tenma, may be Atom's last hope.
Review:

Is there anything left for Naoki Urasawa to accomplish in this dizzying sci-fi thriller? In the past four volumes, he's already reimagined the God of Manga's most iconic creation, explored the mysterious spaces between artificial intelligence and human cognition, created a futuristic allegory of today's political and social issues, and—most importantly—crafted another brilliant tale of suspense. The only thing left to do in Volume 5, then, is for Urasawa to keep doing what he's doing, unwinding each plot thread and guiding them in carefully planned directions. Some scenes aren't quite as impactful as others, and not every chapter is perfect, but the overall result shows that Pluto still has plenty of firepower in store.

The story arc involving Gesicht and Haas, which takes up the first few chapters, is practically a masterclass on the action thriller genre. This is where Urasawa shows off what he does best: the shock as Gesicht's suppresed memories come rushing back, the tension and fear of trying to keep the Haas family safe, and then a blistering car chase as Haas's pursuers finally catch up with him. There's also some terrific action to be had when Hercules takes on Pluto, although that particular fight scene isn't quite as developed on the story side—it's just a fine piece of eye candy that comes out of nowhere and happens to provide some crucial information after the battle is over.

On the more emotional side, the aftermath of Atom's death brings an air of melancholy to the book's second half. We have little sister Uran's empathic abilities being stressed with grief, while the cold, eccentric Professor Tenma proves that even he has a heart deep down. For a series so concerned with technology and artificial intelligence, it also achieves great depth of human emotion. However, the last couple of chapters slide back into thriller mode with Gesicht investigating former Persian king Darius XIV—which of course also hints at today's political issues. However, that particular story arc falls into the trap of having lots of dull dialogue scenes. Ultimately, it's an issue that goes hand-in-hand with complex plotlines: at some point, Gesicht and friends will have to stand around and make serious faces for several pages as they explain what's going on.

Fortunately, this series isn't all about serious faces, and Pluto does pack a powerful artistic punch when it comes to the fight scenes. Hercules' great battle may be skimpy on plot, but it still delivers some of the most memorable visual sequences yet, including a physical tussle with Pluto's ominous horns. Haas and Gesicht's car chase, meanwhile, is the other eye-catching set piece, although in a totally different style—this one is all about finesse and speed (and one explosive finish) rather than pure robot power. The storyline concerning Atom's death, meanwhile, may not seem like a fertile ground for artistic virtuosity, but there it is, revealed in the characters' deeply expressive faces and shaded into the scenery. (That wistful sunset while Tenma has a flashback? Definitely not a coincidence.) Even Gesicht's visit to the Middle East squeezes out some stark desert backgrounds that help establish a strong sense of place.

In addition to clearly defined visuals, we also get clearly defined dialogue, where even the trickiest political maneuvers are easily explained. A straightforward translation helps in bringing out the essence of the characters' lines; Uran's little stroll down empathy lane is particularly effective because she speaks so directly. What is also notable about this translation is the smooth reworking of the sound effects—although every Japanese character is removed, the replacement effects in English meld so well with the art that few would even notice. Also of particular note is the critical essay in the back of this volume, which is perhaps the most interesting one so far: rather than gushing about the skills of Tezuka and Urasawa, it delves into what might be considered the darker side of the great creators' minds.

Once again, Pluto continues to impress with its multi-layered plot and suspenseful pacing, even though the key villain still refuses to show himself fully. Even a diversion like Gesicht's involvement with Haas and the anti-robot group proves to be a fulfilling storyline, and the quiet gloom surrounding Atom provides an emotional counterpoint to the growing tension of the serial murders. As for the murders themselves, well—things are proceeding as planned, even if it leads to a shallow (but still impressive) fight scene. Meanwhile, Gesicht's next lead on the case seems to lead to a whole lot of dry conversation at first, but things should pick up later. There's little need to worry about the fate of Pluto's next volume, because Urasawa always brings a high level of artistry and consistently good storytelling. Maybe too consistently good—could the creator of this manga be a robot himself?

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Art : A-

+ Brings in great action with Gesicht's car chase and Hercules' battle, while still remaining emotionally sensitive when the subject of Atom comes up.
Hercules' battle lacks story depth; some investigative scenes come off too dry with all the dialogue.

Story & Art:Naoki Urasawa
Original creator:Osamu Tezuka
Producer:Takashi Nagasaki

Full encyclopedia details about
Pluto (manga)

Release information about
Pluto (GN 5)

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