Urasawa’s Pluto Was a Long Time Coming

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It’s rare that a manga gets adapted into anime as perfectly as Pluto on Netflix. The art and animation: almost as if Urasawa Naoki drew everything himself. The pacing: eight hour-ish episodes, one for every volume of the manga. This is something that might have been unthinkable 15 or even 10 years ago, but they actually pulled it off.

Pluto is a dramatic reimagining of a story from Tetsuwan Atom (or Astro Boy) called “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” changed to be equal parts speculative political fiction, introspective examination, murder mystery, and monster thriller. The story takes place in a world where robots have achieved greater rights as fully autonomous beings, but prejudices still persist. When a Swiss robot named Montblanc is murdered, everyone is shocked: As not only one of the most beloved robots in existence, but also one of the 7 most powerful, taking him out would not have been an easy task. Another one of the greatest robots, the Europol detective Gesicht, is assigned to the case, which takes him around the world to discover the truth—not only about the case, but also about himself and the moral/social/ethical conundrums among humanity and robotkind.

One of my favorite things about Pluto is the way “Pluto” is presented to the audience. At first, there are only hints and flashes, and over time, more gets revealed. However, by the time we have a fuller picture, the context changes how we perceive the threat, and causes all the philosophical challenges to become even greater. 

Netflix hides its numbers, so there’s no telling how successful Pluto has been. Even so, I can’t help but remember when another Urasawa Naoki series, Monster, aired on the Syfy Network in 2009. At the time, the US was clearly not in a position to accept that kind of mature animation, despite the fact that his work should have been perfect for cable television. Over a decade later, however, anime has become more mainstream, and viewers are more accustomed to a greater range of visual styles. I think, or at least I hope, that we’re ready now.

Pluto is a prestige title, and very deservedly so. It’s generally well animated, has great writing and characters, tells a compelling story, raises a lot of poignant questions, and is just filled with complex emotions, all done in a way that feels both pulpy and sophisticated. I highly recommend that everyone check it out, whether by watching the anime or reading the original manga. It’s my favorite of Urasawa’s work, and I hope as many people as possible seek it out.

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