An advocate for robot rights and a renowned European robot have been murdered. Gesicht, the detective assigned to the case, has deduced that the killer is targeting the great robots of the world–which means that he too is one of the targets. Gesicht takes it upon himself to warn the potential targets, and Atom, the famous boy robot from Japan, is next on his list. Elsewhere, the Turkish robot hero Brando sets out on his own to take on a mysterious challenger. As the robots traverse a labyrinthine path edging toward their own souls, the question remains: Who is the killer and what is his motive?
This manga continues the story established in the first volume–and you should have been hooked to this series by then–but there’s a different vibe going on here. Whereas volume one had a balance of action scenes combined with heart-wrenching drama, there’s more of the latter to be found here. Which isn’t to say this is a bad thing, mind you. But Urasawa’s beats are clearly the character-driven moments, and there’s a couple of them, from Atom crying to the final thoughts of a dying character. Even the violent scenes are treated like mysteries as they are never overt and simply hinted at, adding suspense to the dilemma plaguing our protagonists.
Pluto isn’t necessarily an Astro Boy manga. Though this volume could easily have been one since for a good chunk of the story we’re following the point of view of Atom. The conceit here is that they are robots and memories or data could be exchanged, so it works. Similarly, Urasawa is fond of using amnesic protagonists, and Pluto isn’t an exemption to that rule. At this point, you’ll probably love it or hate it, but taking the context into consideration, Urasawa has a convincing alibi here. This also gives the series a sense of deja vu, but whether that’s the Urasawa familiarity or the Astro Boy fan talking, I’m not quite sure.
Another compelling aspect is the themes being tackled. There’s an old school science fiction flavor to it thanks to its reliance on the Asimovian Laws of Robotics and this is the venue where Urasawa tackles a different kind of philosophy. It isn’t particularly original but the presentation is impressive and keeps readers interested.
The artwork is amazing as usual, although there are no breathtaking scenes such as the ones in the first volume. The closest it comes to that is the last page, which is the introduction of another familiar character, but it’s less suspenseful this time and again, the cliffhanger moment relies on the reader’s familiarity with the Astro Boy mythology. The first few colored pages are amazing so much so that it’s a different experience reading the rest in black and white. If there’s ever a manga that needs to be redone in color, this is my vote for the series to receive such a treatment.
This is a definite keeper and Urasawa proves how a popular and mass-market franchise can be transformed into a mature and deep title. Again, not so much action in this volume but rather a lot hinges on the character drama.