by Naoki Urasawa; story by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
The much-anticipated (and much-feared, because no one wants it to be over) final volume in the deservedly much-praised series is here, and the presentation is excellent. This volume, with 10 chapters and 254 pages, is over-sized compared to the previous, and it opens with 10 glorious color pages. This book feels substantial and important, and so it is.
This is the manga series that converts any comic reader to appreciating the format. It has an immediately intriguing high concept — someone is murdering the world’s seven greatest robots. But how do you murder a robot? Does that even make sense? And why would someone make a gripping story for adults out of an Astro Boy story? Isn’t that like doing War and Peace with Mickey Mouse? Surprisingly, no. It plays off of all the strengths of the medium in an approachable way.
The art is gorgeous, easy to read, with the pacing and emotional punch of a great movie. The themes are big and classic. What makes someone human? How do you cope with the loss of a dearly loved one? What if you could bring them back, or prevent war from hurting anyone else? What is the responsibility of science and how do you practice it ethically? Anyone can relate, especially once you meet the great robots, lovable personalities with their own quirks. They’re all remembered here, inspiration for a new generation.
Each chapter ends at a point that immediately rushes you into wanting to read the next installment. Yet the staging is so well-done that you won’t realize the story was originally serialized if you’re not looking for it. It all holds together, each revelation building on previous events. The layers of identity can be confusing at times, but they demonstrate the potential for anyone’s change and re-invention of self.
As befits a story based on his series, Astro Boy has returned, but in a much scarier way than his usual cheery fly-by. The visual contrast between his deep, adult motives and his friendly, childish appearance is shocking, and that’s what makes him the perfect centerpiece of the book. Everyone wants to protect him, almost instinctively, without realizing his power and abilities. It’s a kind of deceptive immortality, where he can’t grow up, no matter how much he learns or mentally ages. Yet it’s his increasing wisdom that drives him to begin deceiving those he cares for.
The end will seem young in its optimism to some, but I think hope in the light of acceptance of the horrible things people can do takes maturity, as shown in the gorgeous cover illustration. This is the kind of book where, as soon as you reach the end, you want to reread the whole series to recognize what you missed and relive the emotional power of the story. Here’s a look back at our reviews of every volume in the series. (The first were by Ed, but then I took over later in the series.)
(The publisher provided a review copy.)