In recent years I’ve been watching less and less Anime, and of the series I’ve watched on Netflix only a handful were good enough to finish, let alone write a review about. But I just recently finished watching what I now consider one of my top five favorite anime on Netflix: Pluto.
Pluto is a new anime series that just came out a few months ago, and is based on the manga of the same name published 2003-2009. This happens to be made by Naoki Urasawa (浦沢 直樹) who wrote my favorite manga of all time, “20th Century Boys” (reviewed here). I had actually read Pluto quite a long time ago, but I forgot much of the story so it was sort of like I was watching it for the first time.
Pluto is essentially a science fiction mystery that revolves on the question on to what degree advanced AI can approach human behavior, in terms of things like feeling emotions and such. The basic story is about a killer who is targeting the top seven robots in the world, which are amazing each in their own respect. Artificial intelligence has been an interest of mine since I was young (Data is my favorite Star Trek character), so this story was right up my alley.
As with most of my reviews, I am not going to go too deeply into the story and will avoid major spoilers. I’ll just say that it involves a lot of twists and turns as the “true” form of a certain individual or robot, and the plot eventually becomes very epic and far-reaching, ending with what I felt was an extremely exciting and satisfying resolution. Some of the plot twists felt a bit contrived, and sometimes I felt the themes were spoon-fed to the viewer, but “20th Century Boys” shares some of this style so I was somewhat used to it.
In to addition to being a pretty great story, the production of this anime was especially superb. The character designs were basically the same as the manga (some of the facial designs felt a bit dated, but in a good way). Clearly a high-budget production, the backgrounds and visual effects were stunning, and mostly avoided my pet-peeve of awkward integration between hand-drawn art and CG that I’ve seen in several other Netflix anime. The voice-acting was professional, though the only performance I felt that was really outstanding was that of Atom, where he put some heartfelt emotion into a few scenes. (Random language note: One of the main characters is named “Gesicht”, which happens to mean “face” in German.)
The music was also impressive, with the type of soundtrack that jumps out at you here and there instead of just being forgettable background music. There was one episode that focused on a character related to music, and that had a great emotional impact for me. I’m not that picky about sound effects but some of the explosions really caught my attention for their realism and impact.
Even though Pluto is broken up into eight episodes, the pacing seemed very different from your average anime, feeling more like one long movie as opposed to episodes that are…well, episodic and try to string you along without necessarily progressing the plot in a meaningful way.
For those studying Japanese, even though there are some technical terms, for the most part the Japanese was pretty easy to understand––though I admit I am biased since I had previously read the manga which might have made things easier for me to follow. Characters enunciate quite clearly and there are alot of simple lines, making this good for intermediate or even beginning learners. Also I don’t remember any characters who spoke noticeable regional dialects.
Pluto is a rare combination of a great story, an excellent director, and sufficient budget to bring everything together, resulting in something that I would say is arguably a masterpiece, at least compared to a typical anime series or movie. The other nice thing about this work is that the core themes are easily understood by your average viewer, and even someone who doesn’t normally watch anime is likely to be able to follow along and enjoy themselves.
Despite several similarities with “20th Century Boys”, in terms of the original manga Pluto delivers a great story in a relatively compact form (8 tankoubon), whereas “20th Century Boys” is considerably more drawn out (22 tankoubon). On the other hand, the great sense of boys-growing-up nostalgia in “20th Century Boys” isn’t present in Pluto. (“20th Century Boys” never had an anime adaptation for some reason, only a 3-part live action adaptation.)
If you’re looking for more excellent Anime on Netflix, here is another series I recommend.