oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
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(OT: May be (even more) out of touch than usual next week, as will be in Hong Kong and Shanghai, possibly without internet.)

This is Urasawa Naoki's remix of "The Greatest Robot on Earth" arc of Tezuka Osamu's Astro Boy. It's the future, and robots and humans live together, although robots are still constrained by the Three Laws of Robotics, and there's a growing anti-robot movement among humans. The POV character is a robot detective named Gesicht rather than Astro Boy.

There have been a series of murders, linked by each victim appearing with horns or antlers and each victim being one of the seven great robots or a human connected to robot politics. Much like Urasawa's other thriller series (Monster and 20th Century Boys), the pieces so far are very disconnected. Many of the chapters bring in more and more secondary characters and more and more pieces of the puzzle, and while it feels like we're not very far in solving the murders, Urasawa's presenting a lot of neat worldbuilding.

Many of the questions raised are about robot rights and if robots are human; Astro Boy, his sister Uran, and Gesicht can pass as human, which disturbs many people. There's a character who consistently confuses robot-detection machines, since he was heavily injured at one point and is now a cyborg. Robots can die, and one scene in the first volume has a robot grieving, and yet, people count robot deaths more lightly than human deaths.

I'm fairly sure many of these issues will be explored even more fully in later volumes; Urasawa's doing a lot of set-up so far, and if Pluto follows his other thriller series, pieces won't start falling in place until much later on. That said, the world he embellishes is so fascinating that I don't mind reading the worldbuilding, and as usual, I particularly love his secondary characters and how well he sketches them out in just a few pages or chapters. (My favorite was the piece on North 2, war, mass murders, and music.)

On the other hand, the parallels drawn between robot discrimination and other forms of discrimination—particularly racism, given that one robot hate group wears KKK-esque hoods—disturbs me. I'm tired of SF/F parallels to racism that create an entirely different group of beings to discriminate against, be they robots, clones, aliens, elves, or whatnot, when actual POC aren't included. Butler's Oankali series works because it explores fear of the other both in terms of aliens AND in terms of human cultures and races and gender; other series and works don't cut it because they pass off talk of overcoming differences without including actual diversity in their casts. I'm really hoping that Urasawa will include more non-Japanese POC later on in the series (amazingly, POC exist in Germany! I'm betting they still do in the future!).

Other than that, I'm enjoying the series a lot so far and looking forward to Urasawa pulling in more and more plot twists as it continues.

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Mon, Aug. 18th, 2008 08:31 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] confluence.myopenid.com (from livejournal.com)
I'm reading the English scanlations. I don't want to give too much away, but later on the war with Persia (?) becomes a more important part of the story, and several characters from that country are introduced.

The war with Persia seems quite clearly to be an allegory to the Iraq war (there are certain details which I'm sure are supposed to be analogous). I think that the portrayal is mostly sympathetic towards the Persians.

I can't remember if the comic has prominently addressed the racial aspects of the conflict specifically. I will pay closer attention from now on.

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