Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Urasawa’s Bold Collaboration

From Netflix’s perspective, there is a fundamental aspect apparent when witnessing a great debut on the streaming platform without heavy promotion. Whether the content symbolizes excellence in Netflix’s repertoire or represents a comparatively low point, it receives varying degrees of modest treatment. However, such a fate should not befall Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto. It is an anime miniseries premiering on October 26, 2023. Despite standing as an extraordinary creation, its existence surpasses expectations. Of course, many television shows and films draw inspiration from the amalgamation of fear and anticipation surrounding advances in artificial intelligence or AI. However, few productions display the same level of skill and depth as this anime miniseries. Osamu Tezuka’s breakthrough manga Astro Boy has endured for more than six decades. It has captivated successive generations of fans and shaped many artistic careers, including Urasawa’s, following the success of his seminal manga Monster in the early 2000s. Urasawa conceived the concept for Pluto, offering a reinterpretation of the narrative arc of Astro Boy entitled The Greatest Robot on Earth and contextualizing it as a murder mystery. Pluto tells the story of Gesicht, a robotic detective involved in uncovering the truth behind a series of murders targeting robots and humans. By extension, the Netflix anime adaptation provides a new perspective and complements Urasawa’s flawless execution.

As an extraordinary anomaly within its domain, Urasawa collaborated with Takashi Nagasaki and Tezuka’s son Makoto Tezuka in creating Pluto. Despite revisiting being commonplace in comics and American pop culture, it remains a rarity in the world of manga. Considering Tezuka’s unmatched influence in the medium, the audacity to reimagine Astro Boy in such a manner was bound to encounter difficulties in translation. The figure is beloved by audiences of all ages. For the sake of contemporary audiences, a renowned retelling by a well-known storyteller, catering predominantly to adults, maintains deep respect and fidelity to the essence of the characters in the reinterpretation. It is a concept that surpasses the limits of imagination. However, the manga Pluto somehow achieved this feat from 2003 to 2009.

Besides being hailed as a comic masterpiece for its beautiful artwork and intricate narrative, Pluto weaves together the core elements of the Astro Boy series, featuring a charming android teenager as the titular protagonist. Often, narratives about artificial intelligence assign humans with positive qualities, as if to differentiate them from robots. For example, the ability to understand love or establish emotional relationships. From the start, Pluto has transcended conventional boundaries. In this realm, robots emulate most positive human emotions such as hope and joy. If robots in the anime universe engage in marital ties, it is not considered strange. Therefore, humans assume that robots operate with full calculation and precision, devoid of emotion.

Dystopian Coexistence

In a futuristic setting, Pluto explores the relationship between humans and robots coexist. Although the hierarchical structure predominantly favors humans, robots demonstrate prowess across a wide spectrum of occupations. For example, they can serve as managers, caretakers, architects, and investigators. However, they persist as second-class citizens. Indeed, the rights enshrined in law have resulted in lasting gains for robots. Nonetheless, robots remain subject to exploitation by humans who underestimate their significance and emotional capacity. Despite humans heavily relying on AI, the paradox is that they also worry about its potential impact.

As mentioned earlier, the anime centers on Gesicht. Shinshū Fuji in the Japanese version and Jason Vande Brake in the English adaptation portray the characters. Gesicht initiates an investigation to uncover a series of mysterious murders targeting both robots and humans. The primary targets of the assassination scheme include seven of the world’s most advanced robots, among them Gesicht himself. Additionally, it encompasses individuals sympathetic to robots, such as the creator himself. What is most perplexing is that the nature of the murders appears untraceable, implying the potential involvement of highly sophisticated robot perpetrators. This revelation challenges the common belief that robots are incapable of harming humans, suggesting they are strongly bound by programmed limitations.

Dichotomy of Leads

Apart from Gesicht, another robot, Atom, embodies a significant divide within the story. Described as a detective robot, Gesicht possesses the ability to instantly analyze crime scenes. In contrast, Atom, despite being a child-sized robot, exhibits rapid processing abilities while displaying prominent human traits such as distractibility and curiosity. Notably, Atom is a variation of Astro Boy, with Tezuka retaining the character’s original name. When the two characters share a scene, their interactions enrich each other; Atom’s innovative “flaws” compel Gesicht to broaden his conception of the potential capabilities of robots. Additionally, the visual juxtaposition enhances the narrative. With Atom representing a more sophisticated machine, these subtle dynamics hold great potential for adults to gain insights by listening to children’s perspectives.

Like Gesicht and Atom, the firm status of robots deserves legal recognition as full citizens. However, Pluto focuses on their internal struggles. For example, characters expressing prejudice against robots exemplify extreme deviations from societal norms. Moreover, the dichotomy plays out as a construct entirely imposed by the human race itself. Throughout the series, robots consistently express emotions that humans traditionally consider “flawed,” such as sadness and longing. However, both human and robot characters dismiss these emotions as deviations rather than intrinsic traits. This tendency leads society to dehumanize social groups, perpetuating a cycle of loss and repeated sentiments like a robot.

A Long-Awaited Adaptation

Pluto pays homage to the works of Urasawa and Nagasaki, presenting a lavish, deliberate, and faithful adaptation of the eight-volume manga. Despite arriving six years after its initial announcement and a period of perceived abandonment, it stands as a significant achievement, marking a departure from the conventional path of successful adaptations into anime. Upon reflection, it becomes evident that the investment of time ensured a faithful adaptation. Indeed, the anime emerges as one of the major science fiction murder mysteries we could have seen last year, even without considering its history.

Set in a future where humans coexist uncomfortably, Pluto involves a serial killer traversing the globe. The killer targets prominent robots, known as Palawan robots, to garner the most attention, while human activists advocate for the rights of robots. This horrific series of events culminates in a setup reminiscent of a tableau, akin to characters such as Dexter Morgan, John Doe, and Dr. Daniel Pierce. Gesicht’s journey in chasing the killer finds himself next on the list of targets.

Although Pluto draws on science fiction tropes, it distinguishes itself through careful character development and the depth of its micro-stories. Each character exhibits complexity, allowing viewers to closely examine their respective journeys and outcomes. Additionally, the anime’s pacing deliberately provides ample opportunities to ponder philosophical questions about the evolution of consciousness and the impact of emotions. Brilliantly, the anime is not without its flaws. In particular, it features a representation of archaic gender roles, with no significant female characters—either human or robot. These characters are still confined to stereotypical roles, primarily focused on nurturing and providing support to their highly capable yet powerful male counterparts.

Melancholy and Emotional Depth

Pluto maintains a consistent melancholic tone from the beginning to the end of each episode. Indeed, the atmosphere remains dark throughout. However, it exhibits moments of romanticism and depth that evoke sympathy and empathy. The series celebrates themes of love, friendship, and compassion without succumbing to sentimentality. Consequently, it evokes emotional resonance similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Spike Jonze’s Her. Additionally, the anime emphasizes the idea of life or the act of living, imbuing individuals with character and humanity that transcends mere biological components.

Initially, they were devoid of complex emotions. In the series, androids gradually develop sentience through everyday experiences and interactions with fellow robots and humans. However, the central focus of Pluto revolves around the 39th Central Asian War, serving as a metaphor for real-world conflicts such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. During this conflict, powerful robots are compelled to engage in a massacre of innocent enemy robot citizens. As they grapple with the eternal stain of bloodshed that never fades, characters including Gesicht feel guilty.

In reality, Urasawa contrasts characters who perceive robots as heartless with the robots themselves, who experience genuine feelings of regret. For example, a powerful scene juxtaposes the atrocities committed by robots during the war with their activities in the present. In the first episode, we meet No. 2 North, a gentle robot veteran working as a butler for a blind Hollywood composer. However, a flashback reveals him mowing down hundreds of enemy robots in complete silence, starkly contrasting with his calm demeanor in the present. Such dissonance forces us to confront the complex morality and inner turmoil of the characters.

Misleading Whodunnit Premise

Although the initial episodes frame Pluto as a film-noir story, it shows no interest in adhering to this premise. Similar to 20th Century Boys and Monster, which both feature antagonistic entities and open-to-interpretation endings, Pluto deliberately obscures the identity of the killer during the first half of the series. This approach creates the impression that every character is a suspect. However, such a method presents problems because the revelation of the killer’s identity bears no resemblance to a genuine mystery. When we finally discover who the killer is, it feels more like an extension of a character rather than a shocking reveal, rendering the episodes spent unraveling their crimes pointless. The anime does not operate as a show where characters attempt to mislead the audience, thus there is no reason to pretend otherwise for multiple episodes.

As a character-driven drama, Pluto delves into the impact of war and the essence of humanity. However, the main aspect of the detective story may feel a bit flat; nevertheless, the balance with the emotional plot is perfect. Despite the production taking more than six years, the wait was worthwhile. With each episode being less than an hour long and totaling eight episodes, each roughly corresponds to a volume of the manga with adjustments. The anime takes its time to delve into the introduction of each character.

Of the many science fiction stories about artificial intelligence, the narrative of Pluto poses a question about the essence of humanity: Can artificially created creatures truly feel emotions? This question serves as a springboard for a narrative filled with sadness. Almost every character grapples with past tragedies or struggles to find meaning amid life; this juxtaposition reflects a profound understanding of the human capacity for hate. The adaptation is a strong contender for one of the best anime productions of 2023. It stands out as one of the best shows on Netflix overall. It presents a reinterpretation of the character Love’s restraint, opting to portray him not as an overpowering or charming hero, but as a child—crouching in the rain, pausing to pick up a snail he finds on the street. One hour becomes a trajectory that we don’t yet understand.

Indeed, there is advancement in technology and comfort in the futuristic world, yet prolonged war still ravages the world. The series encourages us to reflect on whether war will truly cease, reminding us of the ongoing conflicts and tragedies in the real world. According to Pluto, ending war is impossible as long as hatred persists. For many people, it stands out because of its beautiful artwork and captivating narrative. There is no doubt that it represents the pinnacle of animation work in 2023.

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