by Naoki Urasawa; story by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
I was stunned to realize that this volume didn’t conclude the series, since so many plot points are tied up and conflicts resolved. All the themes of the series are prominently on display:
* Robots demonstrating human emotions. Detective Gesicht solves the murders based on a self-described hunch.
* The horror of war. Gesicht’s visit to a Persian bazaar seeking clues introduces him to a robot child maimed during the past conflict and reduced to begging.
* Trying to survive a loss of family. Many of the professors responsible for creating advanced robots were motivated by the death of loved ones and wind up transferring their affection to self-created replacements. This also ties into a desire to influence the future and pass one’s purpose on to another generation.
* The pain of memory, and yet its necessity. Robots can have their memories erased, but few (in the scenes we’ve seen where the option was offered) have chosen to do so. In contrast, humans who have suffered express envy for that ability. When we do hear of a robot memory deletion, it was part of a government conspiracy with lasting ramifications. Memories can’t be covered up forever, and the more you try to hide them, the worse the effects when they resurface.
* The definition of humanity. When Gesicht meets Abullah, head of Persia’s Ministry of Science, Gesicht is at first confused as to whether Abullah is human or robot. Most of his body is artificial due to severe war injuries. This echoes back to the way Astro Boy crosses the same line, as does Gesicht himself.
Things 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 it” isn’t the point, although that question is answered here. Why they did it boils down to one of the most basic human motivations possible: revenge.
The image of the world’s most advanced robot, maintained in an unconscious state because no artificial intelligence, no matter how superior, can cope with the confusion of personalities of everyone on earth, is a mysterious, tragic picture that keeps being brought up. Only one strong emotion will wake him, and those emotions are negative — hatred, anger, sadness — because of the flaws of his creators. In the series’ core contradiction, robots truly have the potential to become human when they gain the abilities of deception and murder. Yet the robots in this series are the ones who maintain hope for the future, taking stands for pacifism and justice and dreaming of a desert blooming with flowers.
After the events of this book, not all of the world’s seven greatest robots are deceased, and due out in January is volume 7 to continue the story. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
Update: There are lots of art samples and spoilers at Matthew Brady’s writeup.