by Naoki Urasawa; story by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Gesicht has been assigned to guard Adolf Haas and his family. Haas’ former colleagues have decided he’s a liability and want him dead before he can reveal too many of their secrets. But Gesicht is starting a personal crisis as buried memories begin to surface, revealing shocking details of his past.
Also in this volume, Hercules faces off against Pluto, while Uran, Professor Ochanomizu, and Professor Tenma all have to come to grips with what happened to Atom.
Volume five at its core is about robot psychology. It specifically focuses on how 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 of the consequences robot hatred will have. We also see this theme briefly alluded to in volume four, when Tenma tells Ochanomizu that emotions like sadness and frustration are needed for an artificial intelligence to truly mature.
Tenma’s statement in volume four is further significant because it offers a different definition of intelligence than is commonly held. Tenma believes that true intelligence is both cognitive and emotive. Robot law demands robots be built with suppressed emotions, thus robots are stunted intellectually. It’s obvious that even Ochanomizu doesn’t share this view, since he thinks Atom is a masterpiece. Tenma sees Atom as a failure because of his lack of emotional range. Further, I believe Tenma is echoing Urasawa’s own belief on the nature of intelligence, and I suspect we will see the rest of the series explore this idea.
Why does Tenma see emotion as fundamental to true intellectual development? In the West, we have a compartmentalized view of human nature. We see the cognitive and emotive sides of our beings as not just separate but in opposition to each other. Urasawa is offering a more holistic view of human beings. Reason and emotion are opposite sides of the same coin. Just as there is no such thing as a coin with one side, so too there is no such thing as pure cognitive intelligence. Pure rationality is simply machine processing. For cognition to have life there must be emotion. What fuels us to seek a cure for cancer? A well-constructed, logical argument about physical health? No. It’s compassion. It’s seeing people suffer and die from cancer and being moved emotionally to want no one else to endure the same fate.
So why does Epilson fear hatred? Because of its irrational nature. Robots are constructed with multiple levels of safeguards to prevent them from intentionally harming humans. Any strong emotion would bypass or override those safeguards. What happens when robot behavior truly becomes human and losses its predictability? Robots are stronger, faster, smarter, and more durable than humans. Robots have enjoyed civil rights because they are not seen as a threat to humanity. But what if humans can no longer trust robots? They’ll revoke robot civil rights. Imagine how the newly emotive robots will react to the loss of their civil rights. Epilson fears for the future of the Earth, if robots learn to hate.
This discussion brings to light the differences between cognitive maturity, emotional maturity, and experiential maturity. Robots have the reason and body of an adult. The difficulty comes when robots begin to develop emotions but have no experience to handle what they’re feeling. It’s obvious why they would be dangerous at this stage in their lives. In humans, the danger is mitigated by the fact we are physically developing as we begin to mature emotionally. Of course, you can’t program in emotional maturity the same way you can program in rationality. Assuming we’re as committed as Tenma in making robots holistic persons, the problem is how to safely develop emotional maturity in robots.
There is a great Tezuka moment in this book. One constant motif in the original Astro Boy series was robots teaching humans how to behave humanely. In this book, Gesicht has come to realize the anger buried deep inside himself. He confesses his anger to Haas and how it scares him. He asks Haas if the hatred ever disappears. Haas has let anger consume and define him all his life. Here, a robot who has a right to hate Haas and his brother is shamed by his anger and begs to be free of it. In that moment, a machine is teaching a human proper care for the soul. Haas sees his failure as a person and cries. It’s a powerful moment of redemption for both men.
Adding depth to the exploration of robot psychology is the chapter focusing on Uran. She is coping with the loss of her brother. We see her going through the same steps of grief as a human. It’s a heartbreaking chapter as we come to see how deeply she loved Atom, even if they didn’t always get along. Uran shows how emotionally complex robots really are. I love that the school principal understands this and advises the teachers to treat Uran like any other student coping with death of a family member. The last two pages are the most poignant. They also show us how amazingly perceptive and accurate her intuitions are.
This book introduces Professor Tenma as a major character. In the original series, Tenma was an enigma. You could understand why he created Atom, and even why he rejected Atom, but not why he went on to treat Atom the way he did. Urasawa fleshes him out more, like he does with all of Tezuka’s characters, while preserving an air of mystery around him. The conversation between Tenma and Ochanomizu is one I’ve longed to see as an Astro Boy fan, two robotic geniuses talking shop. There’s a darkness to Tenma that unfortunately skews his vision of life. He focuses on the negative emotions and thinks they are the path for robots to reach full personhood. I’m hoping in the next volume that Ochanomizu will offer a corrective, showing Tenma that robots can mature just as fully through love. Atom and Uran are the perfect examples of this.
As always, the art is amazing. One thing that struck me in this volume was the perfect pacing of each scene. Urasawa knows exactly how many panels to dedicate to each moment to produce the needed emotional impact or dramatic effect. If there is tension between two characters, he knows whether you need one or two silent reaction shots to convey the proper friction. The last scene of Uran’s chapter is amazing because each panel is a punctuated moment. Each moment increases the emotional potential of the scene. Slowly, meticulously, Urasawa progresses the narrative to the last page, where we are hit with all that stored emotion. We feel both knocked off our feet and relieved. Then brilliantly, the last two panels provide the seamless transition to the next chapter.
I want to praise Viz for their reproduction job. In the last three volumes, there are pages that can’t have been easy or cheap to get right. Viz has spent the time and effort to make sure the book you’re holding is the same quality as the series it contains. The Viz Signature line is at a slightly higher price point, but the books are worth every penny you pay.
I have to say that volume five has been my favorite book of Pluto so far. It’s an incredibly rewarding read, both cognitively and emotionally, with multiple layers of narrative. I love how Urasawa is giving new depth to older themes while bringing in new themes to explore. It’s a book that has captivated and energized my thinking for several days. Each time I think about a particular chapter or character, I get excited by all the ideas that come flooding in for me to examine and play with. Setting the imagination on fire is the hallmark of great literature.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)