March 14, 2016

Pluto, Volume 4

Act 24 - The Professor's Day Off

Professor Ochanomizu has the day off, so he's spending it in the park. His escort is a police robot. Idle conversation doesn't really work, since the robot is only focused on protecting the professor. Later, Ochanomizu finds a damaged robot dog. It's a very old model, but he decides to try and fix it anyway. After searching for and failing to find replacement components, he decides to use newer parts instead. Unfortunately, it doesn't succeed, and the dog fails to properly reactivate.

Ochanomizu is heavily distraught as he's watching the dog struggle to survive. The symbolism of this event really tells a lot about his character. In the middle of his repairs, he's even contacted by the defense ministry to give approval to build robots as soldiers, which he vehemently rejects. It's quite a good scene.

The police robot informs Ochanomizu that the dog's owner has shown up, and is invited inside. However, the owner (a robot himself) reveals himself to be Goji, a key figure in constructing the Persian Kingdom's robot army used in the war. Goji demands that the professor summon Atom to a set of coordinates, at which the professor refuses. As incentive, Goji states that a stationary tornado has just touched down in Japan, where Ochanomizu's grandson is located...

Act 25 - A Fine Day for a Tornado

Goji and the professor continue to discuss robots' ability to kill. The professor is adamant that robots cannot kill people, it is against their programming. Goji argues that robots are now nearly indistinguishable from humans, is it possible they could also want revenge for wrongdoing done against them?

Goji also asks the professor what the Bora Survey group found in Persia when they went to investigate. The professor admits they found no weapons of mass destruction, so Thracia's declaration of war was unfounded. He asks if that's what the recent killings are all about: revenge. Goji just laughs and repeats that Atom needs to be summoned.

At that moment, Atom crashes through the ceiling, being summoned by the police, who are aware of the professor's current situation. Goji runs, but is caught by the police. However, his AI is missing, and all there are a bunch of cockroaches all over his body. Atom makes sure the professor is okay, then rushes to his grandson's aid in Japan, where he reveals Uran went already to check out the tornado situation.

Act 26 - The Confrontation

Ochanomizu informs the police that Goji is behind everything, and demands to talk to whomever is leading the investigation. Coincidentally, it's Inspector Gesicht...

Uran reaches Japan, where much of the house has been destroyed by the tornado. Everyone is okay, and Atom informs her that's he's almost there. Upon arriving, the entire oceans rears up as a wall with a demonic face. Atom charges in, and there is a huge surge of power. When the water recedes, Atom is lying lifeless on the ground.

Act 27 - A Different Dream

Gesicht awakens from a nightmare which he cannot remember. Across the street, Adolf Haas has a rocket launcher aimed, but is unable to fire. He is still out for revenge for Gesicht killing his brother. However, the KR wants Adolf out of the way, and state that Gesicht is crucial to their plan's success.

The next morning, Gesicht meets with professor Hoffman to discuss his new nightmare. Hoffman dismisses it, but secretly wants to tell Gesicht that he is merely a pawn in a larger game. He tells Gesicht to have fun on his vacation.

Meanwhile, Adolf, while visiting his brother's grave, is practically killed when his car inexplicably explodes. At the same time, Gesicht receives the news of Atom's death. He has a vision where Atom accuses him of being the same as Pluto, and asking if Gesicht is the one who killed him. Gesicht collapses.

Act 28 - Emergency Call

Gesicht awakens in Hoffman's lab. He insists he is fine and heads out due to an emergency call from police headquarters.

Meanwhile, Adolf is being interrogated by police about his car explosion. They ask if anyone is out to get him, maybe because of his brother. Adolf denies all accusations, never mentioning the KR or any of its members. He returns to his office and checks his messages. One of them is a hidden figure who informs Adolf that he is a KR assassination target. He realizes there could be another bomb in his office and sprints out, only to be stopped by none other than Gesicht, who states he has been assigned to protect him from here on out.

Act 29 - Whispering Shadows

Gesicht monitors all of Adolf's activity, checking doors, sampling food, and the like to make sure he won't be killed. It wreaks havoc on Adolf, since he still holds Gesicht responsible for his brother's death. At Adolf's office, he shows Gesicht video obtained by his company at one of Persia's maximum security prisons. After cleaning up the footage (somebody initially tried to erase it), it's revealed to be Darius XIV, the Surpreme Leader of the former Kingdom of Persia. The footage is Darius repeating a list of names. Gesicht realizes the names being listed are those who are being systematically murdered, and one of them is Hoffman...

Act 30 - Three Scientists at Kimberley

Hoffman is abducted by a shadowy individual, who actually turns out to be Epsilon, aiming to protect him.

Back at Adolf's office, a tiny bomb shoots through the window and nearly destroys everything. But thanks to Gesicht's quick reflexes, he manages to contain the blast. That's the last straw for Adolf. He states he'll tell the police everything he knows, as long as they can keep him and his family safe.

Meanwhile, Epison takes Hoffman to a secluded location to meet with Hercules. Hoffman tells them both about a meeting that occurred years ago at Kimberley. Three scientists, all at the top of their field, met to discuss ways to save the Earth from various environmental hazards, as well as improving the quality of life for all humanity. The three were Professor Hoffman, Professor Newton-Howard (who had just recently been murdered), and Professor Tenma.

Tenma, who would not share his research, warns the others that creating a perfect robot AI would mean that a robot would be able to encompass suffering, hatred, and the capacity to make mistakes. He tells them to stop trying to make robots like humans, because something terrible would happen.

Act 31 - The Greatest Robot on Earth

Professor Hoffman reveals that after that meeting, Tenma all but disappeared. Hercules asks if perhaps later, Tenma did indeed create his ideal robot. Hoffman reluctantly says yes.

Meanwhile, Gesicht is taking Adolf to a safe house. On the way, Adolf runs into a standard cleaning robot, who suddenly tells him if he wants to save his family, he has to kill Gesicht. He loses it and starts destroying the robot. Gesicht busts in and shows absolute rage at what Adolf is doing. Adolf asks if that rage is what Gesicht felt when he killed his brother.


This volume was intense. Many things are slowly being revealed, and it's interesting to try and piece together who is really behind certain events, and what the true motivations really are. It's only the halfway point, though, so there's much more time for twists and unexpectedness.

Again, it's great storytelling. Saying a lot without a bunch of text can be hard. Urasawa does a great job with it. The old-model dog repair scene was excellent. It was very emotionally powerful. I am looking forward to seeing how all these characters and their stories are connected. On to Volume 5!

March 5, 2016

Videogames: In the Beginning

Videogames: In The Beginning is the story of home video games told by the man who created them. Ralph H. Baer was an electronics whiz and inventive pioneer. He asserts that he is the sole inventor of video games used in our homes. What started as a small side project eventually turned into the mega billion dollar industry we see today.

But please know what to expect if you decide to read this book. It is the story of the man during his time spent with his inventions. It is by no means an anthology of games of that era. Baer only talks about his personal experiences, tinkering, and triumphs. If he wasn't there, he won't talk about it. This leads to an extremely informative piece about the man and his personal work, but nothing else. There's a lot about the Magnavox Odyssey, but virtually nothing about other 1970s or 1980s consoles, of which there are many. The only time he discusses Atari is to bash Nolan Bushnell. Nintendo is mentioned in passing maybe once. Arcade games are addressed, but aren't really important unless it was one he was personally working on. Baer wasn't at other companies or development teams, so they are of no concern to this book. He can be quite dismissive at points, often pointing to the fact that he holds the patents, so there can be no further argument. Again, do not expect a history of early video games in general. Expect a history of what Baer did and thought. The book title is slightly misleading.

He is a very organized man, to put it lightly. He kept documentation, meticulously filed, of practically every semi-significant event that happened during his career. Countless times throughout the book, he will present scans, schematics, documents, letters, memos, pictures, and the like of every topic he discusses. This is a huge feat in itself, since many of these events occurred 50+ years ago. It's a great supplement to the story of his working life. There's also a lot of technical talk interspersed throughout the book. Baer is really writing this book for himself. If you want to read it, feel free, but know that it's really not geared for "how many copies can it sell?" Baer wants his story told his way. He wants all the information out there, direct from the source. And there is so much detail.

The man was extremely successful throughout his career. He held many patents that basically gave him and the company he worked for total control over any home video game that hit the market. He came up with the ideas before anyone else (according to him), and has all the documentation to prove his claim. This helped immensely in court cases fighting for ownership of ideas, licenses, and royalties. Even if some ideas weren't used at the time, he still held the patents and would often collect later. He was innovative alone, but also knew who to talk to if he was having trouble getting his ideas to work the way he wanted. If someone else helped him develop something, he won't throw them under the bus. He was definitely a pioneer for the video game industry.

However, Baer definitely has an ego. A huge ego. At times he'll try to downplay his contributions, but a short time later will express annoyance that people are not giving him credit where he feels it's due. He invented a lot of stuff, and is proud of his ideas. I completely understand that. Why shouldn't he take pride in his accomplishments? However, for nearly every invention he talks about, there are at least one of the following things that apply (according to him):

1. It was ten years ahead of its time
2. It worked remarkably well
3. Every single person who saw it was incredibly impressed
4. The reason it didn't take off was because of some corporate moron(s)

This song and dance is fine for the first couple of inventions he talks about, but when I'm still reading the same things fifty inventions later, it's exhausting. And it's not like he wasn't successfully financially or in being recognized for his achievements. He wasn't a minimum-wage drifter struggling to make ends meet. He was Chief Engineer for Equipment Design at a large electronics defense contractor. Video games started as a tiny side project. Many times he talks about how his early success and "internal credit" gave him complete freedom to do whatever he wanted with corporate resources, while at the same time collecting two/three substantial paychecks. The "woe is me" speech doesn't really work when in the next paragraph you state your first royalty check for video games was $500,000 and the company you work for pulled in over $100 million from lawsuits based on your work. He received the National Medal of Technology, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and has a permanent display at the Smithsonian among other museums around the world. I think he made out pretty well.

Since this is a book written by Baer about Baer, I don't doubt that there are exaggerations. I also don't doubt that some events are retold with a spin in his favor. He does not hold back for anyone or anything. It really gets spiteful at some points. He wants the world to know what he thinks about how his ideas turned out. He's not too worried about sparing feelings or making friends. If he thinks someone was a total asshole twenty years ago, he'll tell you about it. And unfortunately, the very beginning the book is not a good set-up for the rest. Baer expresses his irritation of not being recognized enough, even throwing personal insults at people he doesn't even know. I almost didn't continue, because it was nothing less than a tirade against the internet. In a place where it has never been easier to spread misinformation without any repercussions, he is yelling at the internet to change its tune.

The book itself is a large paperback with blocks of text broken up by pages of schematics or pictures. The layout isn't the greatest, but it gets the job done. The chronology is a little off too. Baer will often jump back fifteen years to talk about something he forgot to mention earlier. There's also a lot of tangential thoughts that just kind of enter whenever they feel like it. It works at the end of the day, but with a little more editing the book could have been much more professional.

Bottom line? It's a great book if you're interested in what Baer accomplished in those early years. If you want to see actual diagrams and have detailed explanations of exactly what he was inventing, then pick it up. You'll never find anything better. If you're looking for a full, unbiased history of early home video games, the absolutely skip this one.