Pluto is a manga written and drawn by Naoki Urasawa from 2003 to 2009. It's based on one of Osamu Tezuka's original Astro Boy stories, The Greatest Robot on Earth.
Understandably, it was a long process to gain the ability and trust to use the Astro Boy (Mighty Atom in Japan) property. Tezuka and Astro are both cultural icons, and Tezuka's work holds a special place in the nation's heart. Macoto Tezuka (Osamu's son) supervised the creation of Pluto. In addition, Tezuka Productions also monitored and provided their official support.
Even though it's based on an Astro Boy story, Astro is not the main character. It instead follows Inspector Gesicht (a robot), as he attempts to solve a series of murders being committed across the globe.
Act 1: Mont Blanc
Gesicht's second investigation is of the murder of Bernard Lanke, a passionate activist. Lanke had supported (and been a key member of) several causes over the years. The only connection between his and Mont Blanc's death is the jamming of long objects in the sides of their heads, depicting horns.
Authorities are confused, because Mont Blanc was an extremely strong, able, and advanced robot. Only another robot could have torn him apart so easily. But Lanke was a human. According to the Robot Law (which all robots must instinctively follow), no robot may harm or kill a human. Only one case of a robot-killing human had ever been reported, nearly a decade before.
An urgent call suddenly comes in about a man who broke through one of the police checkpoints. Gesicht locates the suspect, who had injured the checkpoint human police officer and destroyed the robot one. He apprehends the killer, then visits the wife of the destroyed robot officer to tell her the news.
Act 2: Gesicht
On the way out of the lab, Gesicht stops a waste collector who is scrapping the remains of the robot officer. He takes the memory chip to the wife he met earlier. She inserts her husband's memory chip, and puts the act of the murder on a monitor. Gesicht is shocked to see a figure in the distance on the footage. The figure is making a massive leap between buildings, but it isn't a robot.
Act 3: Brau 1589
Gesicht shows Brau photos from both murder sites. Brau discusses the historical use of horns and death in many cultures. They touch on the fact that the Roman god of death was named Pluto. Brau reveals that he and Gesicht both know that six more murders will take place. The cream of the crop, the most advanced robots ever created are all in danger, and Gesicht is one of them. These robots also share the distinction of being able to be turned into weapons of mass destruction.
Act 4: North No. 2 (Part 1)
Duncan seems to be an angry man, prone to tantrums and physical violence. He expresses an immediate dislike to North, especially since North informs him he used to be a military robot. North asks Duncan why he composes only on an acoustic piano instead of the vast array of mechanical instruments available. Duncan responds that they're just a bunch of machines that only make fake music. They can't capture the real thing.
North continuously angers Duncan by attempting to play his piano. North says he just wants to learn to play, and he never wants to go back to fighting on the battlefield ever again.
Act 5: North No. 2 (Part 2)
Act 6: North No. 2 (Part 3)
North tells him that he traveled to Bohemia to find out the truth about Duncan's mother. He reveals the only reason his mother went with the rich man was to pay for Duncan's experimental treatment. She loved him very much, and was right by his side, too ashamed to admit what she had done. North also tells Duncan that he's forgetting a very important memory. He and his mother used to hold hands, watching the sun set. She would always sing a certain melody. It turns out to be the melody Duncan can't figure out in his composition.
Duncan breaks down, finally truly realizing his mother's actions. His character changes considerably for the better. Time passes, and he and North play the piano together.
One day, though, North senses a weather disturbance in the distance. It is very similar to the one that preceded Mont Blanc's demise. He also senses something threatening heading their way. He tells Duncan not to worry, and that he'll be back shortly. He rips off his cape, revealing a massive bunch of weaponry, and flies into the sky. Duncan is unable to see what is happening, but he hears massive explosions. All of a sudden, his mother's melody echoes through the entire sky. It's followed by an explosion, then silence. Duncan asks North to hurry back, because it's time for their piano lesson...
Act 7: Brando
Brando lives in a crummier part of town, but says he's got more important things to spend money on than a big mansion. At that point, his five children burst through the door. Gesicht joins Brando, his wife, and their kids for a human-style meal. It's pretty chaotic.
After dinner, all the kids go to sleep, and Brando and Gesicht talk about the recent murders. It's revealed that Brando and Mont Blanc fought together during the war. Gesicht tells Brando that they're both murder targets, and to contact him if he hears anything.
Gesicht then finally makes his way to Japan, where some kids accidentally kick a soccer ball into his path. He muses how children are great, then sees a young boy pick up a snail off of the ground and place it into a nearby garden. He inquires if the boy is named Atom, which the boy confirms...
I thought it was great. I can completely see the Tezuka influence, especially in the North No. 2 arc. That sense of building emotion and tear-jerking endings permeates the writing. It just has a different atmosphere since it takes place in a more modern, "realistic" setting.
The art is very good. The locations have a lot of detail, and hit that "futuristic from a 1960's perspective" perfectly. The robot designs get this aspect too. It's such a cool fusion between Tezuka's original Astro Boy ideas Urasawa's re-imaginings. Every time I see a character I recognize I just smile, because their character type and personality is the same, but they're less cartoonish I guess. The emotion that Urasawa captures is very impressive.
The characters also seem very real and easy to connect with. Their personalities are well-defined and interesting, and it keeps the story fresh.
The sudden shift in location for the North arc wasn't unexpected. Lots of the Astro Boy stories suddenly take place in another location. And even though the North arc is present to solidify some major plot points, just as much effort is put into the storytelling. I thought as a standalone thing it was probably the strongest Act in this volume.
The mystery is definitely built up. I'm looking forward to the unearthing of the unanswered questions and all the connections between characters and histories. On to Volume 2!