*Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 3 — Recommended

Review by Ed Sizemore

At the end of volume two, Uran, Atom’s little sister, helped tame and recapture some loose zoo animals. This volume opens with her at police headquarters explaining how she got involved in the first place. We learn that Uran can sense strong emotional states, especially fear. A few days later, on the way to school, she senses powerful feelings of fear and confusion. She skips school to find the distressed person and help him/her. She discovers what appears to be a homeless robot suffering memory loss. He’s very disoriented and is scared to go for proper treatment. Uran visits him daily hoping to help him get well.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 3 cover
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 3
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Adolf Haas is a German businessman who hates robots. In fact, he belongs to an underground organization, KR, which is seeking to repeal the International Robot Laws and to once again make robots slaves and property of humans. His brother was a criminal killed by the police during the commission of a crime. There is now evidence that it was a robot police officer that killed Adolf’s brother. KR hopes to use this evidence to prove the danger of unrestrained robots. Adolf is simply looking for revenge.

This volume is a change of pace. The Pluto investigation story arc is put on hold; instead, we are introduced to two new protagonists. The first is Adolf Haas. His story arc lets us see the other side of a world with robots. He dramatically experiences some of the negative impacts that the mass productions of robots create.

Adolf Haas’ father was a factory worker. When the factory became fully automated, he lost his job. The need for human physical laborers continually decreased, so he couldn’t find a new one. Adolf’s father was arrested for a petty thief by a robot police officer. The arrest and unemployment eventually drove him to suicide. Understandably, Adolf and his brother grew up hating robots.

Adolf’s story is a reminder that sometimes technological advances come with a human cost. It’s great that humans have been freed from simple manual labor, but there is a large segment of the population that makes its living from jobs like factory worker, housekeeping, construction worker, etc. It takes humans time to be reeducated with new job skills and to shift to a new economical model. This transition period won’t be kind to everyone. Some people and their families will find themselves left behind as the world marches on. It’s easy to see how the newly disenfranchised wouldn’t sing the praises of robots or see any benefits to mass-producing them.

Also, it would be foolish to think that everyone will readily accept robots as persons. To some humans, maybe most, a machine is a machine. The fact that humans designed and created robots is proof that they can’t be our equals. Robots have off switches, they have electrons running across circuit boards, they have to be programmed to work. True living creatures can’t be shut down, they have blood flowing through veins, and the moment they’re born they live and function by their own will. Artificial life is an oxymoron. It’s an insult to human dignity to say a sophisticated toaster has the same rights and should be treated with the same respect. Robots are tools and never anything more.

Because Urasawa is such an adept storyteller, Adolf and the KR aren’t moronic bigots. They are intelligent, successful men who refuse to acknowledge robots as equals. Adolf’s hatred of robots is tied to the devastation they brought to his father. His own experiences have shaded the way he looks at and evaluates robot actions. Adolf may not be a sympathetic character, but his actions are understandable. Unfortunately, not all writers take the time and effort to craft such well-thought-out villains.

It’s a testament to Urasawa’s skill as a world builder that he includes the dark side of this vision of the future. It further adds to the depth and realism of this series. Any radical change in society is going to naturally bring opponents of that change. Like Marvel’s X-Men, Urasawa is drawing from American civil rights history in shaping this subplot of the story. This becomes obvious when we see the KR dressed in the same ceremonial robes as the KKK. This natural human response allows him to create new dramatic tension and possibilities.

Uran is the other major cast addition. She has always been a foil to Atom. I’ll admit I’ve never been satisfied with Tezuka’s characterization of Uran. She comes across as impulsive and reckless. Atom always seemed to be annoyed at his sister, and he treats her like a child, rightfully so. Urasawa remolds Uran, making her a fully developed person in her own right. Her ability to sense strong emotions has shaped who she is. Uran has chosen to respond to such feelings with compassion and a desire to alleviate their suffering. She’s still impulsive, but for a good cause. She’s still a foil to Atom, but now it’s because of a fundamental difference in their approach to life. Atom is logical and formal. He is the typical eldest son. Uran is emotional and casual. In fact, she comes across as more human in her behavior than even Atom. She’s not afraid to stand up to her older brother for what she believes in. She still frustrates Atom, but he can no longer treat her like a child. Urasawa’s Uran is not only likable, but she’s admirable. That’s an amazing transformation of this character.

Urasawa’s art is as wonderful as always. I love the way he draws Uran, especially her facial expressions. You can see how bored and frustrated she is with the police questions. I’m glad these pages were in color. The emotional scenes really make this volume. Adolph’s anger at discovering his brother was killed by a robot jumps off the page. Pluto’s brief appearance is powerfully filled with raw emotion that just smacks you in the face.

I’m also still amazed at the amount of detail Urasawa puts into his backgrounds. They really give his art a sense of solidity and reality. The mansion where the KR meet is an incredible architectural structure. His cityscapes are some of my favorite eye candy. It’s a testament to his creativity that with each volume there is always a new backdrop that stops me in my tracks. I find myself just staring at the panel, soaking in all the marvelous details.

I also want to commend Viz on a beautiful printing job. There are some pages in here that had to be particularly difficult to get right. It’s essential to one part of the story that the pages have a particular feature. Viz does it flawlessly and creates the effect that Urasawa wants when the reader get to that section. Well done and thanks, Viz.

I will say this volume can be a little disconcerting to read. I think it’s the Uran section that causes this reaction. We are given a lot new information that doesn’t fit with anything we know so far. I trust Urasawa enough to feel that what’s revealed will play an important role in the volumes to come. I also think that once we see how this section fits into the overall story structure, these are chapters you’ll go back and reread so insights can be better understood.

At this point, I don’t know what more I can say to recommend this series to readers. Anyone who values well-written, meticulously executed comics of any genre or format should be reading this series. Urasawa is a master of the craft and will be remembered in the same breath as his idol, Tezuka.

P.S. See if you can catch the reference to Jungle Emperor Leo in this volume. Urasawa really rewards Tezuka fans who pay attention to details.

Similar Posts: *Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 5 — Recommended § *Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 4 — Recommended § *Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 2 — Recommended § *Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 1 — Recommended § *Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 6 — Recommended

23 Comments

  1. [...] News Sources wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptReview by Ed Sizemore At the end of volume two , Uran, Atom’s little sister, helped tame and recapture some loose zoo animals. This volume opens with her at police headquarters explaining how she got involved in the first place. We learn that Uran can sense strong emotional states, especially fear. A few days later, on the way to school, she senses powerful feelings of fear and confusion. She skips school to find the distressed person and help him/her. She discovers what appears to be a home [...]

  2. How wonderful was the bit where Uran demonstrates the difference between robots and people just outside of the police station? That’s one of my favorite panels in the series so far.

  3. David, I think Urasawa is really having fun with Uran. She’s a scene stealer.

  4. [...] [Review] Pluto Vol. 3 Link: Ed Sizemore [...]

  5. [...] Kyuma (Every Day Is Like Wednesday) David Rasmussen on vol. 3 of Pluto (Manga Life) Ed Sizemore on vol. 3 of Pluto (Comics Worth Reading) Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 4 of Ral Ω Grad (The Comic Book Bin) Leroy [...]

  6. Speaking of the cityscapes in the comic, I loved that scene with that suburban neighborhood turning out to be sitting on top of a massive skyscraper.

  7. There’s only one thing I look forward to more than your reviews of Pluto, and that’s the actual books. Keep up the great reviews! I make it a point to read ‘em between my first and second read-throughs.

  8. Ed Sizemore

    Thanks, JM. All the credit goes to Urasawa for writing a such a substantive series that it inspires me to explore deeply the themes and ideas he presents. It’s a pleasure to just think about each book after I read it.

  9. [...] is Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Currently, he is co-translating the Pluto series by Urasawa. This was an unstructured panel that allowed attendees to ask any question they desired. Mostly, [...]

  10. [...] and introduce him as a caring person, regardless of his role and situation. This isn’t the first time character stories shed new light on the world of robots and humans living [...]

  11. [...] robots handle hate. This theme is first mentioned during Epsilon’s conversation with Hercules in volume three. Epsilon is worried that as robots grow closer to humans, robots will learn hatred. He’s scared [...]

  12. [...] move very rapidly, and you may want to reread all five of the previous volumes in order to grasp all the details and twists of the mystery. But “who did [...]

  13. [...] Book 3 [...]

  14. While I find this review well-written, in paragraphs 7 & 8, Sizemore notes that Urasawa drew elements from the civil rights movement in the USA, and that Haas is a complex character, not merely a 2 dimensional villain. But Tezuka’s manga had these elements, though they were featured in various stories. In FRANKENSTEIN, Tezuka depicted a KKK-style gang whose purpose was to create distrust of robots among humans. In DEVIL’S BALLOONS, the candidate for Mayor has ample reason to hate robots, having lost his job to them, and losing his daughter to illness because he, being unemployed or reduced to working odd jobs, could not afford medical treatment for her. He then employed Skunk to discredit Astroboy & create fear of robots in general. His campaign pledged to remove robots from society.

    To me, it is clear that Urasawa drew most of his inspiration from the TETSUWAN ATOM corpus, though he obviously had other sources as well.

  15. Jeffbert,

    I never suggested that Tezuka doesn’t have three dimensional villians. I simply to point out how Urasawa is not just borrowing the ideas of the Civil Rights movement (which Tezuka did also) but the very images from that era too. This makes Pluto feel much more grounded in reality than Tezuka’s original story.
    I’m the first to argue that the Astro Boy stories may be targeted at an 8 year-old demographic, but they are written for both children and adults. Tezuka doesn’t dumb down his children’s books. Astro Boy is filled with complex stories, characters, and ideas. Anyone that writes it off as kiddie sci-fi has obvious not read more than a story of two.

    Urasawa is definitely going beyond not just Astro Boy, but Tezuka too. He is incorporating as much of the robot literature as possible. You can definitely see the influences of Isaac Asimov and Shirow Masamune in Pluto.

    Thanks for your careful read of my review and your thoughtful comment.

  16. I am sorry that I failed to note anything positive in your review, and also that I seemed to be criticizing you for saying that Tezuka had 2 dimensional characters, because that was certainly not what I meant. I am used to having a preview option when writing in a forum, as the editing window is rather small.

    I only meant to say that I found it odd that you, whom I thought was familiar with Tezuka’s manga, made no mention of the elements in Pluto, having been from the Astroboy corpus.

    I admit that this is the first review of yours that I have ever read, and it was a bit premature for me to assume that because you made no mention in this one review (of Pluto 3), that you likewise made none elsewhere in your reviews of the series.

  17. Jeffbert,

    That’s okay. One of the things I love about Pluto is how many of the details of the original story Urasawa incorporates in his retelling. After reading the entire Pluto series I reread The World’s Greatest Robot and was shocked at even little details are in there. Urasawa shows his not just a fan, but a true student if Tezuka and know his works well.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying Pluto too and are a fellow fan of Tezuka.

  18. Here is a link to my review of Greatest Robot on Tezuka in English:
    http://tezukainenglish.com/?q=node/329

    This is the last one I uploaded, as I really want to write a book.

  19. Jeffbert,

    That’s not a review but an in-depth look at the history of The World’s Greatest Robot in all it’s incarnations as well as a comparison to similiar stories and themes found throughout sci-fi. An amazing essay. I’m humbled that anyone who writes for TezukaInEnglish.com is even looking at my stuff. Obviously, your knowledge is much more extensive than mine. Thanks for stopping by and a deep felt thanks for the link to your essay. I learned a lot. I’ll be forwarding that link to other Tezuka fans.

  20. I learned by doing, so the distinction between reviews and essays is a bit fuzzy. Would you call your own writing on this page a review? The online dictionaries I referenced say that a review should critically examine a work; this is at least in part really what I intended. I guess I learned by writing user reviews on NETFLIX, which encouraged comparisons to other works.

    BTW, I have written such essays about the 1st season of the B&W series; the link to the index is at the end of the essay, just before the credits.

    As far as being humbled, I had no idea that TezukainEnglish was held in such high esteem. Thank you for enlightening me, & for the compliment. I had assumed that you were one to whom I should bow, but it seems the other way around. I hope I have expressed myself as intended; ^-^. Again, thanks for the kind words. I will take time to explore this site.

  21. Jeffbert,

    Well, I’ll avoid the eternal debate about reviews versus essays. Personally, I thought what you wrote was much more comprehensive than a review.

    I consider TezukaInEnglish.com the premiere website on Tezuka and I can’t image Ada just letting anything get posted. She has maintained a very high standard over the years and I’m very appreciative of her efforts. Being published there I consider to a mark of excellence. Your writing certainly lives up to that.

  22. I am just speechless. Thank you. BTW, I have now read your 1-5 reviews, & though you compliment me so, I see that your writing covers aspects that never occurred to me. Though I had studied literature in university, and read or watched scifi in preparation for my essays, I simply failed to perceive most of the aspects you mention.

  23. Jeffbert,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the reviews. Thanks for the kind words.

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