The decision to parse Pluto out into hour-long episodes – really movies – was an interesting one. I wonder if Maruyama actively encouraged it, or accepted an impetus that came from Netflix. In a sense, it’s the most logical way to go about adapting the series. It allows the anime to break up the episodes by volume (albeit somewhat abridged). And so much happens in this series all the time that 22 minutes would feel cruelly short. Yet 60 (or so) might just be too long. There’s so much to take in, so much to react to emotionally and intellectually. In truth I suspect that comes more from my place as a writer than a viewer, because trying to distill down an hour like that into eight or ten paragraphs is basically impossible.
People toss off “I hardly know where to begin” at the drop of a hat, but I really mean it here. I guess with Uran (Suzuki Minori), another link to Tezuka’s original Tetsuwan Atom. I’ll leave her origin story aside since Pluto hasn’t said anything about it, but she’s Atom’s little sister. And just as apparently human as he is, except (that we know of) for an ability to sense feelings around her. When a bunch of big cats escape after a zoo truck is caught in a freak mini-tornado (well…), she arrives on the scene to calm down the animals and keep them from getting taken out by the sharpshooters. In the process a young boy is rescued (Harambe should have had a friend like Uran).
The dynamic between Atom and Uran could hardly be more human. He’s the sober, responsible one and she the impulsive loose cannon (exactly as Tezuka himself modeled them). But both are fundamentally kind, a point that will come strongly into play during the course of this episode. Meanwhile, Gesicht is still obsessing over the death of Brando (so is Hercules, but we’ll get to that). He decides to go on that trip to Japan after all, though he doesn’t share his ulterior motive with his wife (she’s played by Paku Romi, by the way). But when he calls up “Marco Polo Tourism” to set things up, something strange happens.
The deeper you get into Pluto, the more you understand that Urasawa has written an exploration of racism as much as anything else. Separate bathrooms for “human” and “non-human”. Fully-fledged right-wing hate groups (complete with Nazi salutes, in Germany yet) dedicated to the eradication of the robot protection laws (and the robots). What’s been done to Gesicht is the most fundamental violation of his rights as a sentient being. But robot laws be damned, in the eyes of Europol wiping his memories and replacing them with fake ones is protecting their investment and no more. What we don’t know yet is specifically what memories were wiped – and why.
Gesicht fires a “zeronium” shell at an armored car used in a robbery, and there’s evidence it’s not the first time he’s used it in peacetime. He’ll soon become a target for the vitriol of Adolf Hass (Kimura Masafumi), a loser with a deep-seated grudge against robots. He is a loser, but Adolf’s story is quite relevant to the societal dynamics in Pluto. His father was among the many who lost their jobs in the initial explosion of robot labor, and a robot later captured his father after he stole a soccer ball for his sons. Add to that the evidence that a robot killed his brother (who even by Adolf’s own admission was an awful person) and the hatred is deep as the ocean.
Another crucial figure enters the fray for the first time – Professor Abullah (Yamaji Kazuhiro). He was the last person to see the murdered robot activist in Japan alive, and is yet another casualty of the 39th Central Asian war. Most of his body is artificial, to the point where neither Atom nor the restroom detectors can tell what he is. He expresses a keen interest in the latest tornado, and before the episode is out it will become clear he’s directly connected to the one called Pluto.
Yet another new figure is Epsilon (Mamoru Mamoru). Another of the seven great robots, he appears to be a pacifist. He refused to fight in the war (for which he was severely punished) and wound up taking in a gaggle of human war orphans (of which there were plenty). He shows up to dissuade Hercules from a transparent plan to face down with Pluto – Epsilon is of the opinion that would be the worst possible outcome. He sees a nexus point coming, fraught with peril, as humans and robots grow more and more similar in many ways.
Finally, we return to Uran, as she adopts another stray against Atom’s wishes. This time around it’s a man at a construction site, played by the peerless Miki Shinichirou. Again it’s fear that draws her in – and this man (a robot himself) seems to have a lot of it to go around. He has no memories of who he is, only of running from something terrifying. He feels a compulsion to paint, which Uran helps him with. He can summon tornadoes, and he can make even dying flowers bloom. But eventually he’s revealed to be an empty shell – the body of a construction robot, with no computer brain in his head. Which makes everything we’ve seen him do impossible, according to the rules as even Dr. Ochanomizu seems to understand them.
Urasawa has dropped plenty of hints about how all this will eventually fit together, but for now these many threads are still pursuing their own course. It’s all pretty breathtaking to be honest – the sheer weight and dexterity of the storytelling and the way it’s brought to life both. You can’t really compare Pluto to anything because there hasn’t been anything like it in anime for years (and won’t be for many more, if I were betting). It’s hard to put all that into words, and it’s hard to stop after a single episode, bit those are the challenges I’ve set for myself…