#16 PLUTO – Naoki Urasawa, Takashi Nagasaki
“He said that when his time came... he just wanted to be chopped up, melted down and recycled...”
Pluto is a chopping up, melting down and recycling of a famous Astro Boy storyline: ‘The Greatest Robot On Earth’. The original is about a villain hunting the world’s seven best robots, who of course include Astro Boy. This remake takes one of those robots, a German-made android detective who is a minor character in the original, and makes him the protagonist. In doing so, it becomes a murder mystery.
What it keeps from Astro Boy is the sentimental tone. The cartoon’s sad violin music would play for two-thirds of every weepy episode, and a similar soundtrack would suit Pluto. Its robots make touching attempts at being human by taking the jazz musician’s advice, “fake it till you make it,” and applying it to everything. They copy people by drinking tea, eating ice cream, even crying, all in the hope that eventually they’ll figure out why we do these things and in doing so what it means to be human.
Meanwhile, the only robot to ever achieve ‘perfection’ is also the only recorded robot to have murdered a person; a mechanical Hannibal Lector who is visited in prison by our android detective, Gesicht, for advice when the killer begins targeting humans as well. The human victims are all former UN weapons inspectors, which is where Pluto veers into politics. In the war between a thinly disguised future USA and future Iraq that they failed to prevent, all of the seven robots served as peacekeepers of varying kinds. This allegory mostly exists to give each of the seven an opportunity to make some variation on the Iron Giant’s “I am not a gun” speech, each of them suffering some kind of trauma from the war and none of them emotionally equipped to deal with it.
Their attempts at learning by copying resemble children copying adults, made most obvious through the character of Atom, who is Pluto’s version of Astro Boy. While he’s the most advanced of all the robots in terms of human-ness he’s also stuck in the body of a child. Likewise, Pluto the series is a murder mystery that explores themes of identity – it’s basically Silence Of The Blade Runners – that’s still a kids’ story about robots. Without that child-like innocence though, it wouldn’t be able to get away with its almost mawkish side, which tugs on the heartstrings with a ruthless effectiveness.