Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Hard-Boiled Absurd and other stories

After something like two years of having them licensed, Viz finally releases the first volumes of Naoki Urasawa's darlings of the scanlation circuit, Pluto and 20th Century Boys. I couldn't really get into his equally-praised Monster, but I did want to give him another try. I would call the experiment a success.

Pluto is basically a cover version of an Astro Boy story that I'm only vaguely familiar with via the (awesome) Game Boy Advance Astro Boy game's Tezuka mash-up storyline. So basically I'm coming into this cold, aside from the massive hype from seemingly everyone who's ever read it.

It's basically a detective story, with robots in. It's not a deconstruction of the original's shiny retrofuture, exactly, but it's making the setting's fantastic elements feel so mundane that I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. It reminds me a lot of Asimov's Robot stories, which I suppose were always an influence on Astro Boy to begin with. Not really sure what to think of it overall... I definitely appreciate it, but I'm not sure how much I like it, you know?

In contrast, 20th Century Boys is much, much earthier, which makes its own unrealistic elements all the more effective. I got much more into this than Pluto for some reason, which was pretty much the exact opposite way I expected. I may just be predisposed to let it past my barriers, since the story is all about adults looking back on their youth and wondering how they got here from there, and I uh let's just move on.

Anyway, Pluto meshes more with the somewhat detached and languid feel I recall from the first couple volumes of Monster, whereas I suppose less might actually happen in 20th Cen, larded with flashbacks as it is, but it absolutely nails a sense of foreboding, and the pacing is just killer, even on a panel-to-panel basis. Pluto may be about a detective, but 20th Cen is an actual mystery (plus, Friend's symbol is an amazing piece of graphic design that gets goofier and creepier every time it appears). I look forward to seeing where both of them go.

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