As an emotional experience, PLUTO falls flat. Naoki Urasawa set up a science fiction universe within which the murder mystery of the seven most advanced robots on Earth takes place. It’s a fast-paced thriller that propels its audience along masterfully, setting up a finale that promises to be breathtaking and awesome.
And Urasawa circumvents readers’ expectations by having Atom (aka Astro Boy) defeat Pluto with love. Intellectually, it’s a joy to experience. But emotionally, it is a complete let-down.
I imagine, for many, this resolution seems to come out of nowhere. On first glance, it feels as if we have been cheated. Like Perry Mason, where the audience was never able to solve the mystery, because there was always a key bit of evidence they were never privy to, and so it always felt like a cheat when Mason revealed why his client was innocent. But, if one is able to get past that initial shock and, for some, that feeling of anger, in order to examine the story as a whole, it becomes obvious this is where Urasawa was leading us all along.
Although I was disappointed when the big battle turned on a dime with Pluto’s emotional reaction, I wasn’t all that surprised with how Urasawa resolved this story. I knew love was going to play a big part in this because of one major plot point – Professor Tenma remarks on at least three occasions of how one can awaken a robot whose AI is overwhelmed:
“I knew there was a way to make it wake up though . . . By destroying the balance . . . anger . . . sadness . . . hatred . . . it just required throwing things off balance.”
And every time Tenma brings this up, he always uses the same, or similar, emotions to describe how to destroy the balance of the robot’s AI. And these emotions are all NEGATIVE emotions. But love is also a strong emotion, and the fact that Tenma never uses it as an example foreshadowed heavily that love as an “imbalancer” would be utilized.
Readers are also aware of Pluto’s dichotomous psyche – a result of his initial creation as part of a greenification project for Persia, which became subverted by Abullah’s when he decided to make Pluto this almost unstoppable weapon. His rampage against the advanced robots of the world is one part of his psych. But he also paints lush fields of flowers. This, we discover, when Uran, unknowingly – for us and for her – runs into Pluto in his “other” form. Having this dichotomy means there is “still good” in him (if I may be allowed a call-back to Star Wars) and means Atom’s overwhelming sense of love would have an effect on him.
We also learn that, when Atom is awoken from his coma at the end of volume 7, he “began emitting strange brain waves . . .” We are also told that “When a robot as sophisticated as Atom awakens, it triggers a reaction in the AI of every advanced robot in the world.” So, the fact that Pluto has such an emotional reaction when he comes close to Atom in battle makes sense. Again, it was laid out by Urasawa, setting up the climax nicely.
Lastly, the big question would be: where did this strong sense of love come from? Tenma had to awaken Atom by introducing a strong emotional imbalance. He took the memory chip of Gesicht, which he got from Gesicht’s wife Helena, and implanted that into Atom’s AI. Tenma believed that Gesicht’s final emotion, as he was killed, would be the stimulus to awaken Atom, and he was right.
Where Tenma was mistaken, was in the belief that the final emotion of Gesicht would be anger or hatred at dying. But, as we have come to learn through the story – and particularly in the flashback to when Gesicht and his wife adopted a robot that was going to the scrap heap – Gesicht wanted nothing more than to be a family man. He embodied love. And, as Atom relates to Helena when he visits her just before going to find Pluto (in a scene where Helena, before turning around to see Atom, believes that her husband has returned, because Gesicht has now become part of Atom), Gesicht was always thinking of his wife, and was thinking of her and the love he had for her just as he was dying. This was the sentiment introduced into Atom to create the emotional imbalance necessary to awaken him.
Urasawa set everything up for the climax to PLUTO from the beginning. Like any good storyteller, he seeded things throughout the narrative that appeared to be minor points but would come to bear as the final pages approached. Naoki Urasawa crafted an impressive story that holds together very well, and I appreciate very much his willingness to circumvent reader expectations and not take the easy way out.
But, at this point, I don’t know if it succeeds on a purely emotional level – which isn’t as important to me as whether its structure holds up under scrutiny. I guess I will have to read it again and see how it stands the test of time.
To read more of Chris’s thoughts or to check out his short prose and comic work, go to www.warrior27.com, the online home for the comics/prose anthology, Warrior27, created by Chris and by Dan Fleming – with contributions from Matthew J. Constantine (half of In the Mouth of Dorkness), among others.