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Friday, December 15, 2017

Selah's Manic Manga Reviews: 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa

Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys, Vol. 1: Friends
February 17, 2009
216 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC; 1 edition
Genres: Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller
20th Century Boys is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. It was originally serialized in Big Comic Spirits from 1999 to 2006, with the 249 chapters published into 22 tankōbon volumes by Shogakukan.

There are times you just want a really good story that will take you on a wild ride. It helps if it also ends up being really, really well done. Today we’re talking about one of my other favorite series, 20th Centure Boys.

This is another series that is just…like I can’t even cover half of it without explicitly giving parts away. There’s so much to it, I’m kind of in awe of the author. This is what would happen if the Losers club in It met a cult met post-apoc met a lot of really good music. Like I cannot tell you how jealous I am of this.

First thing to note: this series does flashback a lot. Other thing to note: it does it very well, so you just need to hang on.

The basic gist is that Kenji and his friends have formed a club in their secret base, a grass hut that they built in a meadow. They meet there a lot in the summers of 69-70. Like all kids do, they make up adventures about how they’re going to save the world, to the point where they write down their stories in a book called The Book of Prophecy with their own secret symbol.
Fast forward to their thirties, and nothing has gone the way they planned. They all have grown up, some have families, some have great jobs, some have less than stellar jobs, one (Otcho), has gone missing. Kenji, himself has turned his father’s liquor store into a convenience store and is raising his niece, who was suddenly dropped off to him and his mother one night by his sister, who has also disappeared.

And then The Friends spring up. It’s a slow burn, but little by little Kenji starts recognizing things that he and his friends invented in their childhood stories…but The Friends are trying to do them for real to bring about the end of the world. So which one of them is actually The Friend and leader of the cult?

The thing with this series, is it keeps on going. Flash forward again after Kenji and his friends take on the cult, and you get a whole other adventure, this time with his niece Kanna center stage, trying to figure out where her uncle is and what’s going on with the world. And then you keep jumping back and forth to try to figure out how the past has impacted the future.

It sounds confusing – I actually looked the whole plot up on wiki after the first couple volumes because I was on the fence, but I’m so glad I kept going. In the actual series, it’s all explained and it all makes sense. This is really one of those series where you have to just keep going – not that it’s ever bad. It isn’t. You’re just going to feel thrown for a loop a couple times, but then when things come together, it’s amazing.
The Good: I just really love the concept of this. Plus, it never tries to like take the methods The Friends use too seriously. It’s stated numerous times that it’s unbelievable because those are things a kid would think up…because that’s exactly what happened. Would such a tactic play out in real life? Eh, I don’t know about that, but I do think the reactions to things happening are dead on. Just completely dead on. This is probably one of the more accurate looks at a post apocalyptic society that I’ve seen, partially because it’s only really focused on Japan (with some asides in the US, London, the Vatican, and Hong Kong, but those are brief). It also really tries to utilize each member of the cast. At one point I was a little concerned that Otcho was almost too strong of a character because he’s So. Damn. Cool. And I questioned the sanity of taking your main character out of the bulk of the series…but when the lead comes back, it’s in a way that I completely wouldn’t have thought to do. And it’s amazing. I also really like how Kanna is depicted – it’s a version of the teen girl trying to save the world that doesn’t make me want to punch myself in the face. All of the characters get a decent amount of screen time and all get a good amount to do. A lot of side characters come back in deft ways, and it really shows how random, typical people are impacted by events like germ warfare and like an actual giant robot trying to destroy cities. The Friends are suitably creepy and there’s a lot of intrigue trying to figure out who The Friend is and what’s going on with his followers, too. 

I also just really like how music is incorporated into things – especially the title song. As a big T Rex fan, it just made me so happy to hear this in my head at certain sequences. There’s also a great sequence repeated at times (initially while the kids are daydreaming about saving the world) about figures coming in to being thanked by the UN for saving the world and you can just hear this in your head in the background. And I don’t know if it’s subtle genius or accident, but if you pay attention to the first few lines, you’ll know exactly where that sequence goes when it’s not a daydream.

The Bad: The only thing I can really say is at times the pacing feels a little slow, but honestly, I think that’s because there’s a lot going on. If you’re like me and don’t care about spoilers, the synopsis online actually really doesn’t do it justice. Like reading it, you’d think it’s complete whackadoo, but this is a tight, tight series and the pieces make sense once you’re reading them. Some people may not want to invest the time/effort to read this long of a series, but it is completely worth it.

The Ick: Nah, nothing to really speak of. It treats things seriously but there’s no huge on screen violence and there’s no real sex or anything, either.

If you like conspiracy theory and end of the world meets coming of age, this is definitely for you. Seriously, while there are three movies devoted to this, I could see a longer-form version on like Netflix or another platform, easily, as long as it was firmly kept set in Japan and people didn’t try to really mess with it. It’s perfect for something like that.

Note – This series is kind of a misnomer because the full ending is completed with the two volume 21st Century Boys, which I haven’t gotten to read yet. However, those two books more or less explain the why to things and close up loopholes – you do get something of an ending with the main 22 book arc. My review/rating thus far is only on the first 22 books – I’ll probably update once I read the rest.

5 sheep

About Selah Janel:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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