Monday, February 14, 2011

Manga Monday: Do self-aware robots deserve human rights?

It’s a scary thing when a new author gets his hands on a venerated series. So much can go wrong when another author tries to follow the vision of another.  Sometimes, the author interprets the series and characters differently than most of the fans, and takes the series in a completely different direction ‘to make it his own.’  Others simply don’t have the writing and plot skills to live up to the original author’s quality.  Readers always want more stories from worlds gone by, though, so the reader can’t help but be excited and hope that the source material is respected.

So far, all that and more have been done in Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Volume 1.

This isn’t a child’s book. The series is nominally a sequel to Astro Boy, but it is absolutely intended for adults who grew up watching Astro Boy as children.  Topics such as human rights, the death penalty and the emotional and psychological effects of war are addressed in just the first volume of this series.  It’s a much darker series than Astro Boy ever was, but it’s so far from the main storyline of Astro Boy that it still works.

The story focuses on Europol robot detective Gesichta detective robot, and one of the 7 most advanced robots in the world. They all fought in the same war as Astro Boy (or Atom, as he was known in Japan and is referred to here) and each has come out of the military different.

The story starts with the murder of Mont Blanc, a beloved robot. Det. Gesicht is put on the case to find his killer. Along the way, we meet North No.2, a robot with a passion for music who never wants to again, Brando, a Turkish robot wrestler who raises a family of little robots off prize money he wins as a fighter, and the wife of a police robot who was destroyed/killed in the line of duty.

We also meet a Hannibal Lecter type robot, the only one to have killed a human.  He’s being housed in the basement of the building in which he was captured, that has now been turned into the one and only prison for robots.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and not much of it is happy. Robot rights is a new concept, and hasn’t pervaded the public mindset yet. This story blurs the lines between humans and robot and what it means to be each.

Highs: Well paced, well plotted and unforgettable characters

Lows: Minimalist artwork at times help drive emotional impact, but at others can be ambiguous

Verdict: A must read for fans of literary manga

Further Reading: Ghost in the Shell, Black Jack Volume 1

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