Page 45 Review by Stephen
Finally after Jonathan's well informed monopoly on this series I can have my own say, for it's one of the unequivocal highlights of any month for me.
In a world where artificial intelligences - and the robotic bodies they're housed in - have reached a level whereby it's impossible to distinguish which individuals are human and which are above hatred, frustration and fear, scientists are being picked off at an alarming rate, their corpses desecrated each time by a pair of antler horns. At first it looked like it was their support for robotic rights which made them the target; then it was suggested that - against all possibility - the assassin might be a robot itself. Finally the victims have been revealed to have more in common even than that: each was a member of the Bora group of robot specialists sent in to Persia in order to ascertain whether the kingdom had robots of mass destruction. They found no evidence at all, just a hell of a lot of discarded artificial arms. Regardless, the United States Of Thracia invaded whilst the seven greatest robots in the world had their own role to play. And the carnage that each one of them witnessed...
Now these seven great robots are also being destroyed one by one. By the time this volume opens three are already dead, eviscerated by a seemingly unstoppable force wrapped inside a hurricane, roaring with the blackest of bile like hell on fucking earth. The only ones left are pacifist Epsilon, tournament fighter Hercules, Inspector Gesicht assigned to solve the case, and The Mighty Atom (AKA Astro Boy), the beautiful little boy with the cutest overbite and the absolute pinnacle of artificial intelligence. If you all placed bets on who dies next, not a one of you would get it right.
Where do I start?
Ursawa has take a single story out of Tezuka's long run on ASTRO BOY and created around it the most intricate science-fiction thriller with much to say about racism, modern geopolitics, unemployment and the nature of humanity. And oh, the humanity! With the most careful control Urusawa can bring tears to your eyes, here when kindly Professor Ochanomizu - in spite of his grandson's unblinking faith and hours of personal endeavour - fails to fix an early-model dog that's simply had its day and needs to be put to rest:
"There, there.... Still trying to get up and play, aren't you? You've done enough... It's all right... It's all right... You can rest now..."
Earlier models of robot still are used as servants, and the previous volume drew poignant parallels with the callous way black housemaids were talked over in overtly racist terms by their employers as if they weren't even there. But what stumped me last episode was the effect robotic workers had had on some segments of the population being rendered unemployed. See, my argument - and I stick by it - is that immigration has never been the main source of unemployment: historically and even today it is mechanisation which has made most front-line workers redundant. I do mean 'redundant'. Here however, it is these very machines with which we sympathise which have taken the place of human workers so, yeah, that's given me pause for thought.
The art employed here is a far cry from what is perceived to be "the manga style" being closer to John Buscema with more bulbous noses, and the cityscapes are breathtaking in their grandeur and detail. Even The Atom's features are played down, and the only shouting occurs when you really would shout, not when you're simply asking asking for an ice cream. Hence when mouths are truly agape you really do start to worry...