Someone (or someTHING) is destroying the Seven Strongest Robots (along with some robot supporters). It turns out that a likely link between the victims was participation in the 39th General Asian War, either as combatants, OR as part of a UN fact-finding mission. And it looks like the targets include Atom (better known in America as Astroboy). We mainly see the story through the eyes of Inspector Gesicht, a robot detective whose own past holds a dark secret.
Pluto may be "based on" a Tezuka original, but it only uses some of the bare bones of its inspiration- the title character (that was portrayed VERY differently in the original); the fact that it's out to destroy the "Seven Strongest Robots"; some notion of the original visages of some of the robots (but Tezuka's were crude caricatures compared to the much more realistic character art here); most of the names of the robot victims (though "Photar" in the original is "Epsilon" here); and maybe something about the regional origin of the individual behind it all.
And that's it. Everything else is original- the surprisingly mature, and even at times touching, drama; the vividly-reimagined characters; the complex plot (maybe a little too convoluted- I think there might be a few loose ends there); and a rather deep meditation on what it means to be human- and why robots might be better off not imitating us too closely.
For the robots here DO want to imitate us. And quite a few of them are indistinguishable in appearance from human beings. (Robots that look just like humans are apparently more common in Pluto's universe than in Tezuka's own.) The robots are programmed to not harm human beings, but the closer they imitate us, the easier it is for them to cross that line, and we find there have already been violations - we're introduced early on to Brau 1589, a robot that has killed humans. Quite a few of our cast (even our "heroes") end up consulting with Brau for its insights into human-killing robots. (Just as FBI agent Clarice Starling consulted cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs for his insights into serial killers. Brau's sardonic attitude kind of reminded me of Lecter's, too, come to think of it.)
The robots here have a form of telepathic communication with each other, so the destruction of a beloved member of their own kind immediately shocks and saddens their whole community. (This sort of cyber-communication was also an ability of Naomi Armitage in the Armitage franchise.) It also does allow them to warn each other of danger while at a distance, though robots, being mostly noble characters here (as in Tezuka's original series), may feel compelled to immediately leap into the fray nevertheless. It proves PERMANENTLY costly to some, maybe less permanently so to others. (Though STILL difficult to recover from.) Their enemy is the title character, a mysterious killing machine ensconced in a maelstrom of its own making. (It's pretty far cry from the boastful brawler that Tezuka envisioned.) Its power seems unbeatable- and even if it were defeated, there might be another monstrous Infernal Machine, with an even worse agenda, waiting in the wings. (Pluto's design, in both Tezuka's and this story, seems inspired by a certain menacing character who shows up near the end of a certain Disney movie.)
The interactions between humans and robots are the real heart of this show. An early story arc, involving a robot named "North No. 2" that's servant to an irascible blind composer named Paul Duncan, I found particularly poignant. (It also gives the story an excuse to bring in another Tezuka character, Dr. Black Jack.) We see that anti-robot bigotry still exists among the humans (as it did in Tezuka's original universe as well); later we'll even see an anti-robot terrorist cell. But, also as in Tezuka's stories, sometimes these individuals come to regret their prejudice.
I really liked the depiction of Atom- and his "sister" Uran- as ordinary looking kids dressed in regular street clothes. Uran, in particular, is a gem of a character here- while sometimes showing a whiff of her bratty behavior in Tezuka's original, HERE she's often a wonderfully empathetic character; when she's stricken with grief, instead of retreating into a shell, she devotes herself to alleviating the sadness of others. I suspect her great compassion here- maybe even greater than Atom's- comes from her being the creation of Dr. Ochanomizu, whose own love of robots is also shown. Dr. Ochanomizu's proboscis is less outrageous here than in the original series, or even in Atom: The Beginning, the previous spinoff that I also loved. (Apparently, Dr. Ochanomizu is a family man here, with a grandson; but one wonders if they're human, or if his "family" are also robot creations of his, as was the "family" he gave Atom.)
Of course, Dr. Tenma, Atom's OWN creator, makes an appearance (complete with goatee.) Tenma was a somewhat morally ambivalent character in the original, and is even more so in this one, having his own connection to the tragic events underpinning the main story. While in Atom: The Beginning Ochanomizu and Tenma met as grad students, here it's implied they're not really closely acquainted until the events in Pluto. (Personally, if I had to choose one of these as canon, I think I'd prefer the Atom: The Beginning version.)
The Pluto manga started in 2003, and it seems that the war with the "Persian Empire" here has some plot elements borrowed from the real Iraq War (even though "Persia" is the old name of Iran.)
I was a little confused about who/what the "teddy bear" is supposed to be.
I was also pondering the fact that robots wouldn't normally be able to age. If Atom (or Uran) ever wanted to be an adult, would they have to have someone (Dr. Ochanomizu, maybe?) engineer a new body for them? (Astroboy did have one episode where someone created a succession of new bodies to make a robot believe they were "aging" (and therefore human).)
The show's production values are uniformly good (especially the character art.) I was wondering if the art in the opening really IS panels from the manga itself, since I've not read the manga. If so, I'd say the art was adapted pretty faithfully.
Tezuka himself would have loved this expansion of, and homage to, one of his own stories. As with Atom: The Beginning, this is aimed at a considerably older audience than the original series, and so the constraints of a kid's show are largely removed. I thought things sometimes got a little TOO complicated, but this has a sense of ethics (and a sensibility about robots) faithful to Tezuka's own. And it's all with a budget far greater than would have been available in those early TV days of 1963. Thoughtful, beautifully rendered, and an easy 5-star show. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Netflix says TV-14. It cites nudity as the reason (though I don't remember seeing any.) Mature situations (and violence) definitely.
Version(s) Viewed: Netflix video stream
Review Status: Full (8/8)
Pluto © 2023 Naoki Urasawa, Takashi Nagasaki/Shogakukan/Genco/Pluto Project/Netflix
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