June’s Final Denouement: Not-America, you are the villain!

SPOILERS FOR PLUTO


I finished Pluto rather recently and subsequently listened to a number of podcasts about the series. The series has a number of twists and turns in its narrative as well as a bevy of themes and symbolism to discuss if you so desire. As Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki made the story their own they modernized it in many ways while also maintaining many of the messages of old. One of the things that everyone seems to recognize but I haven’t heard as much discussion on is the new and very clear anti-American view presented in the thinly veiled guise of Thracia that wasn’t in the original story.

From their current and uncooperative world policies, especially concerning the Middle East, to the fabrication of “Robots of Mass Destruction” to justify the invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of Persia to the final realization that the president of Thracia is being puppetted by a much more sinister figure (in this case the main computer of Thracia) the parallels to accusations leveled at the United States are obvious. Even the computer’s name, Dr. Roosevelt, clearly harkens back to American’s past leaders and policies. And then as the series comes to a close I was struck by the realization that everything that occurred could be traced back to the machinations of the central computer of Thracia. It causes the circumstances for the birth of Pluto, predicts peoples’ actions, and manipulates information to push its genocide of humans or at least destruction of enough people for the robots to dominate the planet. It isn’t a leap to tie a superior race attitude like that of Dr. Roosevelt to how many people feel about Americans. Truly in the end, America is the villain of Pluto which is quite a new statement.

The real wild card for me was who is Brau-1589 supposed to represent, if anyone. Though as the Thracia computer sees them as similar perhaps it is a bit of redemption for Americans. Or Brau-1589 could represent the Japanese with the knowledge that both sides of a war commit atrocities. Brau-1589 is a killer as well but takes down a greater evil. However since the circumstances of Brau-1589’s murder of a human are left unknown speculation is further complicated. It ends at such a fascinating point it almost seems like there should be more.

15 thoughts on “June’s Final Denouement: Not-America, you are the villain!

  1. Lothos says:

    Brau-1589 iz ze Germans. Did some really bad stuff in the past (WW1 WW2), it was left crippled but alive after its defeat (WW1 especially, also WW2). It now sees that what it was doing was wrong, but is still a bit F’d in the head (Germans are still a bit crazy, but in a different way. Yes I know I’m being incredibly racist but any talk of trying to summarize a nation’s people will result in that).

    I think you can try to pin just about any first-world country on Brau-1589 (minus America of course). A country which has committed some attrocities in the past, but realizes that it wasn’t right and has done things to try to redeem itself.

    Japan could be a good example, and as this obviously was mostly intended for a Japanese audience I think that’s a fair assessment. They’re the only country in the world to have experienced nuclear war first hand through a result of their actions (debatable). This gives them a unique perspective on things, much how Brau-1589’s perspective on things was very different from the general robot.

  2. Mitch H. says:

    Perhaps Urusawa was trying to make up for his scaldingly anti-Communist & almost Bermanesque euro-manga Monster by spreading the rage around. All I know is that I dropped Pluto around volume six or so and haven’t felt the need to finish out the run.

  3. Anon says:

    Calling Pluto Anti-American is a bit misleading. It certainly is critical of American foreign policy, but I don’t think that translates to being Anti-American. I think Urasawa chose the most recent major war to draw parallels with as a way to ensure the pacifist themes of the original story resonated.

    His treatment of Americans in 20th Century Boys and Billy Bat do not indicate he is Anti-American in any broad sense.

    • lothos says:

      I totally agree. I don’t think Urasawa has a problem with Americans so to speak, but more of a problem with our foreign policies and other political actions. Which I think is a sentiment felt by a lot of the world and certainly many American citizens as well.

      I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say Pluto was anti-American. Perhaps more anti-capitalist. Or anti-imperialist. Neither of which are only echoed in American sentiments.

  4. Darnell says:

    Yeah, the way the story jumped on the anti-Iraq bandwagon in the most superficial, Cindy Sheehan/Bush-hater way sucked away all my enthusiasm for the series almost from the get-go, just because it was such an anti-intellectual, simplistic storytelling gimmick unnecessarily intruding on the story. The trite, childlike way the rampant “robot racism” was handled also made it hard to respect the author, who seemed way out of his depth in these areas. I call Emperor’s New Clothes on the whole series: Everyone loves it and somehow calls it “deep” (when it’s anything but), but all I see are formulaic techniques and slavishly serviced themes, that while often effective, are just the opposite of the “ground-breaking” description reviewers seem to love using.

    • Anon says:

      Well, first, the robot hate group and the Iraq war allegory aren’t in any way central to the story of Pluto. I think you’re reading the parallels far too deeply and seriously. It was a choice to create resonance, not an attempt at a political treatise on an actual war or political leader as evidenced by the fact that the President has no particular resemblance with Bush, and the war itself outside of its cause is distinct in a number of ways from the Iraq war.

      Please indicate clearly the Bush hating. What concrete examples can you give that it was critical of anything other than misleading reason for entering the war and aggressive foreign policy?

      And the robot hate group was not handled in a trite or simplistic way. I think Adolf’s characterization as well as his father and brother would have dispelled this. What was so childish about the depiction? Racial extremists like that exist. Surely you’re not about to deny that.

  5. Mitch H. says:

    The robot hate group? Was the Klu Klux Klan in central Germany. He didn’t even bother varying the details – it was straight-up bedsheets-Klan drag. You don’t get more trite or simplistic than that.

    And yeah, the politics was badly broken allegory for the Iraq-neocon thing. Which demonstrates Tolkien’s contempt for allegory, btw – it distorts storytelling and produces nonsensical “broken aesops”. Especially when you start indulging in Fantasy Racism plots.

    • Anon says:

      The Klan took those outfits from prior European tradition, specifically the Roman Catholic Nazareno. What’s the problem here exactly anyway? The outfits are pretty secondary and are mostly just a nod. They’re political extremists in action as well. I really don’t follow you on this one.

      Broken Aesops only occur when your read too deeply into superficial resemblance like you are doing. Once again, I’d like to ask for specific examples that indicate that Urasawa was trying to perform an actual critique of the Iraq War and U.S. Foreign policy in any concrete sense rather than creating resonance with a modern audience.

  6. Krill says:

    The Ku Klux Klan uniforms were in keeping with the semi cartoony feel of the series (you know, like how Urasawa kept North #2’s ridiculous six arms of death). Considering the Neo-Nazi group in Monster didn’t shave their heads or even put swastikas everywhere (or even anywhere, I don’t recall seeing one) I think we can agree that Urasawa is perfectly capable subtlety.

  7. Mitch H. says:

    Broken Aesops only occur when your read too deeply into superficial resemblance like you are doing.

    Dude, if you’re going to go all deconstructionist on me, then there’s nothing to say. Stop killing authors, academia!

    But I think I’m in agreement with Krill. Urusawa’s perfectly capable of being subtle if he wants to be, both Monster and, to a lesser extent, 20th Century Boys demonstrates that.

    Although I have a nasty suspicion that the only reason that Pluto cheeses me off & 20th Century Boys entertains me is that I just don’t have the intimate, native political knowledge to get the swipes in the latter. I mean, aside from all the historical mangaka gags and cult-parties, those are pretty clear.

  8. Anon says:

    You don’t even know what deconstruction is, and I have no idea why you are convinced that my claim you’re reading too deeply into Urasawa’s intentions means I’m some kind of advocate of the death of the author. The very fact that I think there’s some true or false regarding Urasawa’s intentions in making the parallel implies the opposite.

    But I’m going to drop it now that you’ve pulled a straw man just as simplistic and ridiculous as you claim Urasawa to have done (though far more inaccurate) by making me out to be a deconstructionist academic.

  9. Frank says:

    I liked Pluto, but there was one thing that kind of bothered me about it. I don’t mind the criticism of Pres. Bush and US military intervention, but I what he did with the Saddam analogue was surprising. If I recall correctly, Darius just wanted to make his country green and productive through technology, but is stopped by the Thracian invasion. It’s like Urasawa was saying Saddam actually this well-intentioned guy who just wanted what was best for Iraq and ignoring the genuine atrocities he was responsible for. The invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but I think that point could have been made without whitewashing the true nature of Saddam’s rule. Or am I just misinterpreting things? Did anyone else notice this?

    • reversethieves says:

      You know I hadn’t thought of that, but I see what you mean. The mixture of fiction and fact and the opinions on U.S. policy does make it seem like an odd thing to do.

      -Narutaki

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