Pluto by Naoki Urasawa proves an assertion I made in my guest post for Black Gate. Pluto can go up against any science fiction or fantasy novel, even the greatest, and come out the victor. Now, I am not going to do a review because I clearly think any manga fan who has not read Pluto should get on it as soon as possible.
I first heard of Pluto on SFSignal in a post titled “Words and Pictures: If Isaac Asimov Wrote Manga” by Brian Ruckley. From there, I waited for my local library to put them on the shelves. After some cajoling, they did. I then proceeded to check out two volumes a week for a month. Reading Pluto has been a revelation. I agree with Ruckley that the series is an excellent jumping on point for fans new to manga.
As most readers know, Pluto is Urasawa’s reimagining and expansion of “The Greatest Robot in the World” arc from Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy series. Readers of Urasawa’s work do not need to be familiar with Tezuka’s original, but it is interesting to catch all of the different and various references that Urasawa makes (some of which are pointed out in the analytic afterwords of each volume).
The theme of the series is wonderfully encapsulated in the oft stated phrase at the end of the series: “Nothing comes from hatred.” The entire series proves this. The hatred that the antagonists have for the world only leads to destruction. To death of the antagonists’ own dreams as much as the protagonists’.
To see the depths of despair and destruction that infects the antagonists, one must look to the past, the back story of the various characters. While the hatred of the antagonists are ultimately destructive, they are not alone in facing hatred.
The hate begins when the Persian Monarchy is invaded by a coalition of nations led by the United States of Thracia. The rationale of the war is that Thracia accused Persia of having a secret robots of mass destruction program. This accusation and the discovery of a mysterious robot graveyard led to war. A war that ultimately destroys Persia and gives rise to a hatred so destructive that the entire world is endangered.
It is clear that the Iraq War played a major influential role in the construction of the 39th Central Asian War. As an aside, I think a further exploration of the political themes of the series would be valuable. Especially in how the Iraq War and other influences play a role in Pluto’s construction.
The motives of the antagonists is to target the seven greatest robots in the world for their roles in the war (even though two of those robots played a strictly post war peace keeping function), assassinate the group of inspectors who found the graveyard, and gain a final revenge on Thracia.
The ultimately sad realization is that both Pluto’s AI and Bora were intended to make a garden of flowers in the desert. Darius XIV’s dream was to make the desert bloom. That was Bora’s intended role. And Sahad, the AI controlling Pluto held a similar dream. But infected with the hatred of Abullah, the dream becomes perverted. Instead of a garden, the world becomes a wasteland.
Hatred is not solely an issue for the antagonists. Hatred also plays a role for the protagonists. Gesicht’s murder of a human (a supposed impossibility given the robot laws) is a product of hatred. The man Gesicht kills kidnapped, murdered, and dismantled robot children for parts. One of the children kidnapped and killed is revealed to be the antique adopted child of Gesicht. This event gave him hatred. A hatred that simmered until his death, when he realized that hatred leads to nothing.
Hatred, as a strong emotion, plays an important role in awakening the most powerful AIs. The balance of six billion must be tipped by a strong emotion. The interesting question is whether or not any other emotion but hatred can act as a similar bias.
The struggle is overcoming hatred. Gesicht overcomes it at his death, and Atom and Sahad overcome it during their battle. Becoming Sahad again allows Pluto to defeat his father’s plans and save the world. By getting past the hatred, the characters become more fully human.
But, is hatred the only source of negativity here? In a very real sense, Abullah’s hatred is manipulated by the supercomputer Roosevelt and the President of the United States of Thracia. The entire war was little more than a plan to ensure Thracia’s ascendancy as the most powerful nation. And Pluto’s murder of the seven greatest robots further plays into Thracia’s hands (as none of the seven are Thracian). And of course, the destruction of the world plays into Roosevelt’s plans to create a world of robots.
The machinations of Roosevelt are coldly cynical, emotionless. How does this attitude, this lack of emotion play with the stated attitudes towards hatred? In many ways, Roosevelt is a true monster, like Brau 1589. That the two can act without emotion makes them inhuman.
A related theme is how desirable it is for Robots to become more like humans. Increasingly, robots are having emotions (or simulations of emotions) that mimic human emotions. I suspect that there is a continuum of emotion at work here. From a lack of emotion, to strong emotional bias, and finally to balance, I think facing hatred (or another destabilizing emotion) and getting past it leads to the characters becoming ever more human.
I have never read Astro Boy, but from what I can tell of its themes (compassion, a dislike of fighting) I see how Urasawa takes those common themes and reimagines them in his own vision. Strong emotion is a sign of being human, but so is overcoming that emotion. Pluto asks what is the measure of being robot and human is.
This is, at the end of the day, one of the greatest manga series I have ever read. This is just an indication of how great manga can be.