By William Moo
Three main narratives drive the plot of the third volume of Pluto. The first deals with a hate group who are fed up with the changing status quo. The second involves a staunch pacifist who wants the violence to stop. The final narrative thread concerns Pluto himself, who makes his first full appearance at the end of the volume.
The first plot thread follows a seemingly normal family man named Adolf Haas. He’s secretly a member of an underground anti-robot terrorist group called the KR (standing for “kill robots”) who are vehemently against the rules and regulations that give robots rights and protection. Adolf, in particular, develops a deep rage and resentment towards Gesicht for apparently killing his older brother, joining KR to exact his revenge.
As the manga points out, the KR terrorists take inspiration from the real-life violent imagery of the Ku Klux Klan, especially when Urasawa depicts them with torches and white clansman hoods. They represent a symbol of hatred for robots throughout the story as they seek to scrap the Robot Laws that protect these machines. The KR view machines as nothing more than objects, slaves, and servants, creating more tension as more robots are pushed into the spotlight. While some members are ordinary family men like Adolf, the KR also has members in various high business, financial, and other authoritarian roles.
With the introduction of this terrorist group in Pluto, Urasawa paints a fine line of peace and conflict that must be balanced by characters like Gesicht and Atom. This line can be easily broken if humans or robots cross it too far, resulting in further conflict between both parties that can be irreconcilable. For robots, it’s the risk that they will snap and kill their owners for disobeying orders. For humans, it’s their attitude towards robots and machines, constantly treating them like trash daily and disregarding their feelings.
It’s a great allegory to how different groups in the real world struggle to find common ground and continue to engage in conflict without resolution. The third volume of Pluto mirrors cultural tensions by using the human-robot conflict to demonstrate how each side tries to co-exist, while certain groups live in a cycle of hatred. They let this hatred fester until it becomes uncontrollable and begins affecting many innocent people. Everyone is trying to undermine each other into destruction instead of compromising and working towards resolving their differences.
The seven great robots in the world of Pluto have been established as integral public figures that represent robot kind. Like Mont Blanc, they strived to be important role models for humans to look up to and learn from. However, because of their role in the Central Asian War, their public status also invited scrutiny from those affected in warzones or people who simply view them as obedient objects. Regardless of what people think of robots, characters like Geischt and Atom believe it is necessary for both humans and robots to co-exist as technology evolves and globalization becomes more complicated. Being more present in public spaces and work areas will help integrate robots into human society. Otherwise, more people will get hurt and conflict will always exist.
To illustrate that a peaceful resolution is possible, Urasawa introduces a new character named Epsilon: another one of the seven great robots. Unlike his colleagues, however, he is a staunch pacifist who refused to take part in the 39th Central Asian War. As a result, he was heavily criticized by the world for not doing his part, but he had good reason not to participate. Rather than fight, he took care of abandoned war orphans affected by the conflict and raised them under his own care.
Epsilon appears when he confronts his friend Hercules, who has been dead set on avenging Brando after his demise. He has a kind, quiet, and pensive personality that is best exemplified when he tells his fellow robots to sever the cycle of hatred between them and the humans. He strongly believes that non-violence and engaging dialogue will help both parties grow closer and reach an understanding. Although he prefers not to use violence in his confrontations, he can hold his own in a battle and will use force if it’s absolutely necessary to protect his friends.
Although some may see Epsilon’s methods as naive in this scene, I think he certainly has a strong point. Conflict won’t resolve anything so long as either side believes one or the other has bad intentions. While he may not have all the answers, Epsilon’s actions here indicate that he is tired of seeing violence against both humans and robots, wishing to find a way to resolve the rooted issue of hate. It’s why he’s stopping Hercules from exacting revenge on Pluto for killing Brando: it’s to avoid more casualties in the process.
Epsilon’s presence and pacifist position in the manga contrasts some of the hard decisions Hercules, Brando, Gesicht, and Mont Blanc made during the war. Their original purpose for getting involved was to rescue the abused robots that were being destroyed in the Central Asian country. While they viewed their actions as justified at first, the toll of the conflict eventually jaded them. Epsilon adopted a different approach by helping those who were caught in the middle and trying to understand the stories of people affected on the other side. As such, he’s one of the first few characters to realize that Pluto’s serial murders are somehow connected to the Central Asian War.
Epsilon’s concerns about robots and humans getting too close is made evident in the next subplot involving Atom’s adopted sister, Uran, and a mysterious amnesiac man she meets under a bridge. At this point in the story, no one knows the true identity of Pluto and many of his murders have been done off-panel and after the act was initiated. Despite the stranger danger of Uran meeting this mysterious man, she nonetheless offers a helping hand to slowly regain his memories.
Uran does this by getting to know the stranger over a short period of time, while learning about his sensitive personality and artistic talent for drawing flowers. On an artistic level, this is where Urasawa goes beyond our expectations by putting a magnificent two page colour spread of a field of flowers. The image greatly compliments the manga’s black and white artwork in the third volume, making the field of flowers really stand out visually. As we’ll learn later on, the stranger’s penchant for drawing flowers stands in stark contrast to his inner violence and hatred.
The overall conflict of man and machine is made more apparent when the stranger suddenly regains his memories. He is revealed to be Pluto himself, albeit with a different body after a quick mind transfer. This happened shortly after his battle with Brando, when Pluto sent his brain waves to hijack the body of a random robot construction worker. When Pluto (in the hijacked body) sees Atom come to Uran’s rescue, it triggers his trauma and his stern conviction to cause harm to the seven great robots.
Pluto returns to his original body after his creator, Professor Abullah, reactivates him from a lake. It’s here that we see Pluto’s menacing physique emerge from the dark waters. The last page of the third volume shows a giant Pluto with his pointy devil horns, yelling in anger during his reawakening. It’s one of my personal favorite panels from the manga series so far and is a cathartic and visceral first depiction of the villain.
The reveal is made more impactful because we’ve had the chance to know a bit more about his personality and psyche beforehand. From what the manga has shown so far, Pluto has two sides to his character: a kind, peaceful man who loves colourful flowers on one side; and a violent, obsessive serial killer bent on exacting a vendetta on the other. It’s this dichotomy that sums up the basic theme of Pluto’s third volume: two sides of war and peace often coexist, and the refusal to find a peaceful resolution can only result in further destruction and damnation.
Pluto Vol #3
By Naoki Urasawa
William Moo is a freelance writer and video content producer. You can find his YouTube channel, which features video essays and commentary on Japanese animation, here, or follow him on Twitter here!
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!