Astro Boy Made Modern

May 03 2010

Pluto, volume 2I want to talk about craziness for a moment.

In Japan, there’s a manga creator named Naoki Urasawa.  He’s known for his complex, intricate stories that are aimed at adults.  His most famous is 20th Century Boys, a modern thriller about a middle-aged man who learns that one of his childhood friends now runs a murderous cult.

A few years ago, Naoki Urasawa contacted the son of Osamu Tezuka, Japanese cultural icon and creator of Astro Boy.  Urasawa requested the unthinkable: his own serious, adult adaptation of the most famous Astro Boy story of them all, “The Greatest Robot in History.”

To be clear, this would be something like J.J. Abrams contacting Orson Welles’ estate, requesting permission to do a Lost-style remake of Citizen Kane.  Crazy.

Tezuka’s son admitted that he would normally have dismissed the request out of hand, but Urasawa was so famous, and so famously committed to high-quality storytelling, that he felt it was important to at least meet with him about it.  And as they talked, they discovered a shared passion for the story and the concept.  Urasawa got permission.

He released an 8-volume epic, Pluto, which has won multiple prestigious awards.  It’s a serious, tense geopolitical thriller that touches on modern politics, the nature of heroism, humanity, and man’s relationship to his environment and creations.

Astro becomes a minor character as Urasawa promotes a side character in the original story to the protagonist.  Gesicht, a robot investigator, becomes the main character, as he researches a mysterious killer who’s been murdering high-profile robots.  The plot quickly expands into a global crisis and a convoluted mystery centering around a thinly-veiled version of modern-day Iraq.

Sounds crazy.  But it works.  Urasawa’s clean artwork feels cinematic, always clear but always dramatic.  You can feel the energy behind the characters’ movements.  You can feel the intensity of their concentration.  It ends poignantly and thoughtfully.

All because someone had a crazy idea, and followed up on it.

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