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Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary — Pluto volumes 4-8

There’s no doubt that Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki’s Pluto is a great comic but I think one of the things I admire most about the concluding volumes is the way they raise a number of questions but don’t offer neat answers to them.


Pluto is both a dark vision of Tezuka’s  Astro Boy and also a redemptive one.  To recap the series’ plot, the seven greatest robots on earth are facing certain annihilation, one by one, from an even greater, mysterious force.  As each robot faces his fate we come to see the complexity of their existence and the beauty and tragedy of their lives.  The last volumes of the manga takes us through a beautifully, almost tortuously, complex journey to find out the mystery behind who could create an existence strong enough to destroy the best AI’s ever built or even imagined by the human mind.

Although I will avoid spoilers as much as possible in this review, I will be talking a bit about the effect of the work as a whole (so, perhaps we are entering a space of emotional spoilage).  Building on my review of Pluto volumes 1-3 here, I’m going to isolate a few key themes that I found most interesting in the latter half of the series.   Everything builds on the statement I made in my first review,

Urasawa’s depiction of robots is marvelously complex, as the more advanced they become, the more and more they taken on human characteristics.  I’m fascinated by Gesicht.  He looks human, can pass as human, has very human characteristics — for example, he dreams — but he is fundamentally not human.  However, each of the seven greatest robots demonstrate an extraordinary ability to explore what it means to be human.  What it means to have memories, to have nightmares, to physically and emotionally feel, to touch, and to experience.

This work is at its most basic level a meditation on what it means to be human.  And what I loved so much about Pluto is that there the creators offer a variety of things that inform the state of being we tend to define or delimit as “human.”  Humans can lie.  Humans have memories.  Humans can hate.  Humans can grieve.  Humans can forgive.  At any one moment, any one of the robots in this book might find him or herself experiencing a “human” moment and also recognize that moment for what it is and what it is not.  But the bottom line, for me anyway, is that there is no one thing that makes us human.  It’s the interaction of everything that we are, the sum of all the parts, what we might even call the “soul.”

Also, the fact that the robots in Pluto question what it means to be human is in fact a very human quality.  I’m reminded of any number of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where Picard tells Data that he may be the most human person he’s ever met — I’m paraphrasing from unreliable memory — simply because Data is always searching out human experiences.  At one point in Pluto, characters question if the simulation or mirroring of human emotions is the same thing as actually having the experience of that emotion.  I interpret the manga as saying “yes, eventually the simulation of a feeling becomes that feeling,” but others might read this differently.  This becomes important because if robots are made to reflect human beings, than by performing human bonds — such as the bonds between parents and children — they then create those bonds through the performance of them.

The robot who takes the performative path to humanity above all others is Gesicht.   Gesicht also remains the character who stood out the most to me even though Atom is clearly a fan favorite.   In the later volumes it becomes more and more apparent that some terrible event has disturbed Gesicht’s sense of himself as an individual defined by a sense of justice and reason.  The rage that probably led him to commit a terrible act was excised from his memory by his “creators” (i.e. human beings) who in doing so take away a fundamental privilege of being human.  Without the memory Gesicht is not allowed to come to terms with his own mistakes and, therefore, he’s not given permission to process and overcome his fault.  Although Gesicht is not given the chance to reconcile the loss of certain memories — both positive and negative — his burden is bravely carried on by another and allows Gesicht to become a figure that finally inspires heroism in others.

While Pluto is a structured as a mystery narrative, the final pages resolve some things but leave a number of questions open-ended.  I actually kind of hated myself a little bit for wanting more closure in relation to the plot, in spite of the fact there the ending was deeply moving on a number of levels.  I suppose I wanted to spend a little bit more time with the seven greatest robots — Gesicht especially — and was sad to have to say goodbye.  Yet it is the lack of closure that increases the power of this work, somehow, in that the read as a whole nicely emulates the fragmentary nature of human knowledge and experience.  We are emotionally richer for reading Pluto, even if intellectually it offers more questions than it ever answers.

Review copies of volumes 7 and 8 of Pluto were provided by Viz Media.


Darn it – I can’t read this because I haven’t gotten around to reading volume 8 yet and don’t want even a hint of spoilers! Maybe I’ll have to read it tonight so I can check out your thoughts on it.

Danielle Leigh

April 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm

just to be safe you might want to wait but I tried to just discuss the themes that moved me the most in the latter half of the series. It’s more of a personal response rather than a discussion of how the plot fits together.

For me—and in no small part due to the back matter—Pluto also resonated in its examination of violence and in the consequences of hatred and violence. The essay by Nagasaki at the end of volume 8 made this really clear, and I thought it was particularly interesting how they tried to craft an end to the story that felt true to the spirit of Tezuka’s work and to the particular political philosophies that defined his generation.

It’s amazing to me that a book that’s nominally about robots fighting can raise all of these questions about identity, the nature of memory, what it means to be human, and how conflict has and will continue to shape human history.

And while I’m here, does anyone have any recommendations on other manga that manages something similar? I’ve got the first couple volumes of 20th Century Boys and a few more Tezuka volumes on my to buy list, but I am curious about other authors that manage similar.

Like Greg, I can’t read this because I haven’t read volume 8 yet. I bought it, it’s sittin’ pretty, there on the shelf.

Damn homework.

I have to say, as much as I love Urasawa’s work, he’s not great at delivering really satisfying endings. Like you said, maybe it’s on purpose but it can’t help but sorta nag at you. That said, it really is an emotionally resonant work and I love how it transitions from sort of a noir/murder mystery to start with to this relatively grand epic at the end. Good times all around.

[…] Maoh: Juvenile Remix (Manga Life) Rob McMonigal on vol. 5 of Nana (Panel Patter) Daniele Leigh on vols. 4-8 of Pluto (Comics Should Be Good) Tangognat on vol. 1 of Ratman (Tangognat) Richard Bruton on Red Snow […]

I’m not sure how to consider the series really, mostly because science fiction tends to bug me sometimes. This was sort of the opposite in that I wasn’t annoyed by any misapplications of science (it even anticipates some breakthroughs in understanding how human and true artificial intelligence can be compared!), but I wasn’t quite as compelled as I was with Monster. Maybe reading all 8 volumes in the space of a few days means I just haven’t had the right amount of time to digest them though.

One thing I would like to point out, without getting too spoilery myself, but I thought Gesicht did recover his memories, or did I misread that? It seemed like his final moments especially, and his last conversation with his wife, seemed to convey to me that he had come to some sort of peace and understanding with his past. Although it took someone else to act on those feelings in the very end, I thought he had reached a private closure of his own. He was easily my favourite character in the series though!

Danielle Leigh

April 10, 2010 at 6:20 am

Jose, your last paragraph is essentially my reading of the end as well (I was trying to be as vague as I could as to not spoil some of the last emotional revelations of the book). However, as you point out, some amount of closure was certainly achieved — I think I just loved Gesicht so much I’m being selfish and wanted more!

DED — I’ve been very silent about your request for recommendations because I’ve been waiting to see if anyone else had something to say. I have to admit, I haven’t really come across works with as much power as Urasawa and Tezuka’s for the most part. I really enjoy Eden: It’s an Endless World, but Eden’s world is much more…nihilistic? I guess…or pointless or something. There isn’t a lot of redemption in that work, at least according to how I read it, yet it is a compelling take on a post-human world.

I don’t read much Manga at all, only really Otomo and Shirow’s works. That said Akira is one of my favourite comics of all time. I find most Manga I’ve come across to be overly decompressed and melodramatic and not really to my tastes at all. Would this series be worth my time picking up based on my tastes? Is it more Akira than DBZ?

Oh yes, David, this work is definitely more Akira than DBZ. It manages to be entertaining but also strike out some great themes (violence, war, being human etc). Although there is action it doesn’t slow down the plot (i.e. “decompression”) and in fact the action propels a lot of the emotional AND plot development in the story.

Hope this helps!

Thanks Danielle. I can pick up all 8 volumes for €50 online. Both yourself and iFanboy have raved about this series over the last month so I think I’ll take the plunge.


Fantastic review of the series and the reasons why it becomes so powerful with every additional turn of the page. When I was reading it, all I could think about was how Gesicht was given the gift to have a horrifying set of memories erased from his life and how much it bothered him in the end. After all, have you ever met someone who didn’t wish for that at one time?

@DED: If you haven’t read Berserk, I think the first you’ll find that the first 16 volumes create an incredibly powerful narrative about suffering, revenge, and redemption. It’s not for everyone, though.

Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s original Neon Genesis Evangelion manga is also one I consider to be a top-tier title. It’s still running, but the 11 volumes that have been released so far are all excellent.

Danielle Leigh

April 19, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Thanks, Grant for stopping by and for your kind words! Nice point about the “gift” of forgetting…I think these last volumes show that humans shouldn’t be granted such a gift or at least we shouldn’t have the power to decide for another being whether or not they remember their past experiences.

I agree completely with your recommendation of Berserk (I’ve slowed on the series now that I’m past volume 20, but my god, that first long major arc in insanely good. And incredibly disturbing).

Wow. Just finished reading the first volume last night and have ordered the remaining seven this morning. The story of North No 2 was amazing. Haven’t been as impressed with any comic (manga or mainstream) so far this year. Geat stuff. Thanks for giving me the push to give it a try Danielle.

oh I’m so happy to hear this, David! Yeah, there were a number of times I was surprised how emotional a story about robots could become. Hope you enjoy the rest of the story (it is hard rather to imagine you wouldn’t)!

[…] Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary — Pluto volumes 4-8 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) […]

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