If you’re an anime and manga fan, even if you don’t know his name, you’ve likely at least heard of the works of Naoki Urasawa. It’s impossible not to, with numerous seminal titles under his belt like the psychological thriller Monster, and the mysterious sci-fi 20th Century Boys. While several of his series have received anime adaptations, arguably the most important of all, Pluto, remained as a manga for the longest time. But after many years, the iconic series has taken animated form thanks to Netflix, and it might just be the most important anime of the year. In other words, you really shouldn’t skip it.
You’ll probably need some added context to understand why Pluto feels so important, and interesting, as a manga. The murder mystery comic is actually based on Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, of all things, an incredibly popular series in Japan you unfortunately probably remember as getting a very mediocre Western CGI film. As Polygon’s Joshua Rivera quite rightly points out, Astro Boy is something of a Mickey Mouse figure in Japan, and we all know Disney’s favourite mouse isn’t a particularly serious figure.
Which obviously makes Pluto a bit of an oddity; a thoroughly welcome one, as I love nothing more than taking established worlds and putting a fresh spin on them (ironically, with the parallel of Mickey Mouse in mind, I am a Kingdom Hearts fan, so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise). So not only does Pluto have a titan of manga like Urasawa at the helm, but a whole legacy of comic work that many will be intimately familiar with.
It’s not just that Pluto took an established world and put a slightly darker veil over it that makes it worth checking out though. It’s also the fact that the Pluto anime is just wildly good. The common runtime for an episode of anime is around 25 minutes, credits included, but unusually this adaptation goes for hour length episodes, something that works quite well for the series.
I love being able to enjoy bite sized pieces of animation, but there’s something about an hour of well made television that just hits different. The narrative can unfold in such a different and methodical way, something the first episode handles greatly. We’re introduced to this sci-fi vision of the future with Gesicht, a detective that works for Europol, tasked with the murder of a beloved robot and a robot rights scholar.
But with the first episode being so long, we really get to spend a good amount of time with Gesicht, as well as other characters like North Number 2, a robot made to fight in war who simply wants to learn the piano. Sure, you could probably divide the two stories here into separate episodes, but having the context of both fresh in your mind works wonders for the rest of the show’s flow.
Not to mention the animation. Characters look like they’re ripped straight from Urasawa’s pages, a rare thing in anime as it’s often easier to refine certain designs to make them easier to animate. For the most part the animation is simple, but high in quality, though you will find pockets of movement that is something you can only find in animation.
There’s been a lot of good animation this year, from Across the Spider-Verse, to Jujutsu Kaisen, to Fionna and Cake and Scavengers Reign. There just really isn’t a piece that feels as important as Pluto. Like many Netflix shows, though, the marketing has been noticeably absent, so please, just give it a shot. I promise it will be worth it.