One of the most notable criteria that establishes a work of art as classic in the true sense of the term is its lasting relevance through different periods of time, which can also be achieved by the scope of reinterpretation provided by the creator as well. Known as the “Father of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka’s masterpiece Astro Boy has proven to be such a piece of art that retains a timeless essence at its core—something that has inspired artists for the last sixty years. The story of Atom, a superpowered android kid whose humanity is his greatest asset, captivated fans of all ages, but most importantly, another legendary mangaka, Naoki Urasawa.
As they say, greatness inspires greatness, Urasawa decided to put his own grim-dark, mystery spin into retelling the most significant story arc of Astro Boy, known as ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’—and thus, Pluto was created. A tale, which is considered to be one of the most important reboots of a sci-fi narrative in the history of the genre. Manga readers who are familiar with his works like Monster and 20th Century Boys, revere Urasawa for his intricate, complex mysteries that plunge into the dark recesses of the human psyche but still surface with the most optimistic, positive outlook. Similarly, keeping the core characteristics of the main storyline of Astro Boy intact, in Pluto, Urasawa focuses on incorporating the themes of man vs. machine, pursuit of perfection, human nature, and a universal message of peace through an emotional, suspenseful thriller treatment. Recently, the series has been adapted into an eight-episode anime series by Netflix, which duly respects the brilliance of the source material.
Seven Guardians Of Earth: Why Are The Robots Being Targeted?
Pluto introduces viewers to a futuristic earth where advanced AI robots, who are almost indistinguishable in appearance and mental acumen from human beings, coexist with them. The robots are treated as equals to human beings and have started to mimic them in every single facet of life, be that in establishing relationships, community, experiencing sensations, expressing ideas, or emotions, and therefore they are given equal rights as well. All except one, which resonates with Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics: that under no circumstances a robot should kill a human being, not even if its own existence is threatened; not even a human commands it to do so.
As the series begins, Europol’s top detective robot, Gesicht, finds himself entangled in a murder mystery where an unknown serial killer is targeting the world’s best AI robots and the human scientists who fought for the rights of robots. The first one to fall is Swiss robot, Mont Blanc, a gentle giant and conservationist who is loved by fellow humans and robots alike and who is found to be brutally torn apart by an unknown assailant. Soon enough, the similar modus operandi of the killer—making a horn-like structure around their deceased victim—is noticed in the murders of two renowned robot scientists. Viewers are taken to a Scottish countryside castle and introduced to North No. 2, a war veteran robot turned butler of a legendary maestro, Sir Duncan. North tries to absorb himself into the idyllic symphonies of rural highland to heal his inner trauma of warfare and brings much solace to his ‘master’ Sir Duncan in the process by making him recall the fondest memory of his life. The concept of someone artificial being capable of aappreciating or even creating something as original and delicate as a work of art is a contentious topic, which is addressed by the interaction between Duncan and North. Unfortunately, North becomes another victim of this mysterious killer.
After the deaths of two of the seven best robots in the world, Gesicht starts visiting the remaining ones to warn them and also to look for a common pattern. While doing so, he sporadically experiences ominous visions and nightmares, which suggests his memories might or might not have been tampered with. Gesicht meets the ever-jubilant, hopeful, teenage robot Atom, the most advanced AI ever created, who is seemingly the closest construct to a human being, and allows him access to his own memory drive to search for clues Gesicht might have missed. Atom was created by Dr. Umataro Tenma, who tried to replicate him in his deceased son’s image but was later abandoned by him. Professor Ochanomizu, a kind scientist, adopted Atom and provided him with a family, including a super-advanced AI robot sister, Uran, who feels an empathetic connection to animals.
Meanwhile, one of Gesicht’s close friends, a strongman robot named Brando, who was living a peaceful life as a family man with his adopted robot family, dies at the hands of the mysterious serial killer as well. To find the connection between the deaths, Gesicht goes to the only robot in history that bypassed its code and took a human life—Brau1589—who attributes the killer’s horned decoration motif to the Roman god of death, Pluto. The common connection between the victims and Gesicht’s fleeting memories is a vicious war that took place a few years ago, which forever changed the human-robot relationship in the world.
Who Is Pluto, And How Did He Come To Be?
A few years ago, President Alexander of the United States of Thracia, one of the major superpowers of the world, suspected the desert country of Persia to be conspiring for world dominance by creating robots of mass destruction. An investigation team consisting of the top robot experts was sent to learn about the situation through the ‘Bora Fact Finding Mission’ where they found nothing but remains of thousands of robots. But this bit of information was enough for President Alexander to wage an all-out war against Persia chief Darius XIV by assembling the seven strongest robots on the planet. Even though the robots didn’t take any human lives, multitudes of Persian robots were killed during the battle, and the human forces decimated countless Persians, leaving a lasting impact on the minds of participant robots and humans alike.
However, in reality, contrary to Alexander’s claim, Darius XIV and his chief robotic scientist, Professor Abullah, actually aimed to utilize the robotic might in the forestation program of their desert country; instead, the assault of Thracia and the rest of the world brought the country to its knees. Ironically, Alexander himself possesses an evil AI supercomputer known as Dr. Roosevelt (the Teddy nickname of the real-life USA president, turning the appearance of the character into a bear), who was the mastermind behind the attack on Persia. Anyway, after the 39th Asian conflict, Abullah and Darius swore revenge on Thracia and planned a devastating covert attack by eliminating the Bora Mission members and the seven greatest robots.
Abullah himself was the most unfortunate victim of the war, as he had lost his entire family and later his own life as well. Honoring his last wish, Dr. Tenma (who was an associate in Abullah’s mission) used Abullah’s digitized consciousness in his latest AI robot, but the extreme hatred during his final moments turned the AI Abullah into a disturbed, vengeful individual with a personality disorder—the maniacal psychopath one becoming Professor Goji. Previously, Abullah had created a benevolent AI in the image of his son, Sahad, who was intended to help the people of Persia. After the conflict, AI Abullah turned Hamad’s AI into a merciless killing machine named Pluto, whom he fuelled with hatred against the world to carry out all the killings. Thus, Pluto’s backstory turned out to be a dark parallel to that of the Atom’s origin.
What Caused Gesicht’s Mental Block?
In the present timeline, Hercules, a rival fighter, a dear friend to Brando, and another among the legendary robots, gets killed by Pluto as well. Epsilon, a photon-powered pacifist robot who didn’t take part in the Central Asian War and dedicated his life to raising orphan war children, gets decimated by the murderous robot as well. Gesicht finally unlocks the part of his memory that was seemingly erased previously by the authorities, and it’s a heartbreaking one. During the Asian War, Gesicht rescued a human child, reunited him with his family, and was bewildered to witness the love of the father, who professed that he could lay down his life to protect his son. Later, Gesicht rescued a broken-down baby robot from a scrapyard, whom he and his robot wife, Helena, adopted as their own son and named Robita. Having a child of their own, Gesicht realized the true significance of the words of the aforementioned father.
But as fate decided to deal a cruel hand, Gesicht lost his son to a sadistic anti-robot serial killer, and in a furious rage, he overcame his programming and became almost human as he gunned down the killer. The authorities could not afford to let a scandal of this magnitude go public, nor did they have any intention of dismantling such an advanced AI robot; therefore, they erased the memory of Gesicht and his wife. But tragedy struck again as the same child bot, Robita, was programmed by anti-robot collision/Abullah to kill Gesicht—and almost as if in repentance, Robita died on the spot as well.
With all other great robots dead, Atom remains the only surviving one who sacrifices his life while saving Professor Ochanomizu. Tenma resurrects Atom using Gesicht’s memory drive, but just like Pluto/Abullah, he is initially overcome with an intense feeling of hatred as well. Ochanomizu worries for his dear ‘son’, who might not be the optimist icon of hope after being exposed to the final memories of Gesicht, but it seems like Atom has gotten a handle on his negative emotions for the time being.
Did Atom Save The World From Annihilation?
On the other hand, Abullah’s more nefarious alter ego, Goji, had created another dangerous AI robot named Bora, who, just like Pluto, was initially intended to serve benevolent purposes but was later corrupted by Abullah’s hatred. Abullah launches Goji inside the Earth’s core to trigger an antiproton bomb in order to destroy Thracia and seek revenge for their past actions.
Alexander and Dr. Roosevelt are overjoyed at the prospect of Earth being defenseless and consider this an opportunity for Thracia to assert domination, but the supercomputer turns out to be the true puppeteer who manipulated the president to wrest control. Brau, who had a change of heart after meeting with Atom, arrives at their location and kills Roosevelt as an act of nobility. Atom, on the other hand, meets with Helena to convey Gesicht’s feelings for her but lies about the erased memory part to save her from the trauma. The action indicates how human-like he has become, as robots can never lie.
Finally, Atom sets out to stop Bora, but Pluto stops him in his tracks, and the duo engages in a battle. Atom almost decimates Pluto by giving in to his hatred and rage against him for killing his comrades, but the consciousness of all the great robots speaks to his mind, stating that if their experience has ever taught them anything, it is that hatred only begets hatred. Atom resists himself and gets moved by seeing Sahad’s AI, who has assumed control over Pluto, crying his heart out in repentance for the actions he had to undertake. The duo decides to work together to stop Bora by going inside the earth’s core, and Pluto decides to sacrifice his life to save Atom. He freezes the magma explosion and, in the process, destroys himself and Bora along with it. As the series ends, a mesmerizing Aurora light is seen to be spreading due to the Peltier effect, where the images of all the martyr AI heroes are seen, along with Sahad as well. A despondent Atom asks Professor Ochanomizu whether there will ever be an end to the hatred. He himself answers that question, saying that the fallen heroes will be praying for such a day, as one of Pluto’s horns remains as the last token of remembrance by his side.