by Naoki Urasawa; story by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
Ah, dear Pluto. What will we do when you’re gone? You’re well-respected, widely enjoyed, critically praised, and amazingly entertaining, but the next volume is your last.
And really, where else can you go? There’s only one of the seven great robots, Epsilon, left on earth, and in this volume, he has his showdown with Pluto, the grand villain of the piece. Of course, since you’re created by Naoki Urasawa, there’s a lot more to his motivation than that, and the thoughts you raise about the nature of humanity, definitions of good and evil, and which actions are “right” are thought-provoking beyond your genre and format.
I think, though, this time I’m most impressed by the associations you raise in my mind. For example, in the opening scene, where we see how a robot can go mad by holding six billion personalities simultaneously, you portray (in color, no less!) a series of headshots of all kinds of different people of various ages and races. I was reminded of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, with its end sequence of morphing heads, a visual technology so revolutionary for the time (1991).
Professor Tenma’s prophetic words in the flashback, “We may be creating a monster,” of course remind me of Urasawa’s other work of that title. Several of the concepts and images evoke classic science fiction tropes, whether the idea of trying to replace a dead loved one with a robot or the images of the dark, pipe-lined tunnels and mechanized transports they ride. The soul chips that are used to give robots their “spirits” resemble a mutant blend of futuristic key and razor blade.
Hogan, a robot cop sent to be Epsilon’s bodyguard, has a helmet that reminds me of, yes, Robocop. Uran reads Pinocchio, another story about a creation who wanted to be human. But it’s not just movies, videos, books, and comics referenced; there’s mythology and news, too. There’s a prophetic, otherwise silent child for creepiness, and war crimes underlying it all. Epsilon’s ability to glow and channel proton energy makes him a kind of sun god, like Apollo, with undertones of a nuclear bomb in his destruction and a Christ-like striving for peace and love in his care of war orphans. (Plus, in his weakness of needing enough solar energy to recharge after a great explosion of power, I saw hints of both Superman and Green Lantern.)
Most surprising to me was when we finally see Pluto, the great robot monster — the shape of his body and the markings on his rounded helmet reminded me of Spawn. Which, since I despise Todd MacFarlane, worked quite well for me in terms of connotations. Instead of sending my thoughts wandering away, these memories and allusions, whether intentional on your author’s part or not, make you a deeper work, one that connects to a grand tapestry of art and history.
I will miss you when you’re gone, Pluto, but in the meantime, I will eagerly anticipate your conclusion and reread your other volumes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)