Thursday, April 08, 2010

Pluto vol. 1 - A Review

Pluto Volume 1

Viz Media

200 Page Trade Paperback


Murder is not how you would expect a modern day adaptation of Astro Boy to begin, but that is precisely how the first of Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki’s nine volume Pluto starts. High the in mountains of Europe, the body of Mont Blanc, one of the nine strongest robots in the world and beloved by millions, is found destroyed in the ashes of a forest fire.

Gesicht, another of the nine strongest robots in the world as well as a police detective, must find out who could have done such a thing. As he investigates this crime, Gesicht discovers that this was not just an isolated incident, and someone has marked the world’s strongest robots for death, including Atom (that’s Astro Boy to us foreigners, although here he looks like a normal 8 year old boy and not a robot in hot pants).

From the first page, Pluto is rarely what you expect. As an adaptation of the classic Astro Boy story, “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” it is not a slugfest between robots, but a tense, suspenseful murder mystery. Instead of the hyper exaggerated anime style art one would associate with Astro Boy, the art is a very clean and detailed style that is almost more at home in an American comic than a manga. What could be an extremely reverential retread of a well known story by a writer/artist who is renown for his love of Astro Boy’s creator Osamu Tezuka is instead a thoughtful and challenging thriller that forces you to think.

As you may be able to tell, Pluto is an extremely ambitious book. It adapts a well known manga classic that has been around for almost half a century, and yet it still manages to feel like its own unique creation. Through Gesicht’s investigation and a side story with another of the world’s strongest robots (the awesomely named North No. 2), we get a well told murder mystery that explores themes as varied as identity, revenge, family, and the impact that violence leaves on a person. And it is never boring to read or hard to follow.

This is due in large part to Urasawa’s gorgeous artwork. No matter what his story calls for, Urasawa’s crisp, clean line work is always up to the challenge. Expressive, unique faces that make even an interrogation riveting; beautiful futuristic cityscapes; or crazy looking robots beating the holy crap out of each other, Urasawa makes it all look great, and he does it with a command of storytelling that would rival Dave Gibbons. Every page is easy to read and you are never confused as to where to go next, even when he is using innovative or complicated page layouts. The only potential problem that some readers may face is that the book is a manga, so it reads right to left. Don’t worry about it though, once the story sucks you in, you won’t even notice.

I have honestly never seen anything like Pluto before. The best comparison I can think of for an American audience would be if some A level creative team, like Grant Morrison and Alan Davis decided to pay homage to Jack Kirby by giving us their version of, say, the original Galactus story.

Whether you have ever read any Astro Boy or not (and I haven’t read any) Pluto is kind of book that makes you proud to be a comics fan and I highly recommend it.


  1. Greg - Great review. Now I really want to read this. Are all nine volumes out?

  2. Good review Greg, welcome to the blog :)

  3. Glad you guys liked it. 8 volumes are published so far. The story gets better every volume. If you enjoy Pluto, he has two other books out: 20th Century Boys (still being published and a phenomenon in Japan) and Monster (16 volumes and regarded as his seminal work). Both are good stuff.