21st Century Boys 2

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2013 – 24 volumes
this is the second and final volume of the coda series to 20th Century Boys, for all intents and purposes volume 24

This is mostly going to be short and cryptic, since I don’t want to spoil anything. Needless to say, I enjoyed every page of this strange series, much more than I thought I would. It’s my favorite by Urasawa, which is saying something. I liked Pluto when I read it, but it seems a bit dark and slow lately, and I never really cared for Monster. But 20th Century Boys was different. It was ten times stranger than both of those series combined, yet without getting so out-of-hand that it was difficult to follow from volume to volume, let alone with a month or so between readings of said volumes. The character map in the front always made it easy to remember what was going on, and with who. And man. A lot of parts were just shocking, or triumphant, or awesome, or all of those combined. Usually something about every volume threw me for a loop. Reading this series was a ride, and it made me happy to pick up the volumes and keep up during a time when I haven’t been reading as much manga. Easily recommended to anyone looking for a good comic story. It’s a bit long for some, but it really is worth it. Great stuff.

I was so sad when my prediction didn’t pan out. Honestly, it would violate the theme of the series. But come on. It would have been so awesome.

There is a subplot about a last-minute bomb being a threat. Honestly, at this point I was done with the Friend’s surprises, but what the hell. One last time isn’t going to hurt anything. This sort of combines all the best points about the previous scares, including the fact that Kenji has to travel back into the past to find out what’s going on, the grass hideout, and a giant robot. The latter is always a treat in this series.

Extraneous bad guys are also still milling around. One of my favorites was an absolutely creepy nurse that was stalking Takasu. That nurse will give me nightmares for a long time.

I was wondering if it would end with a scene similar to the cryptic first few pages. It totally did. I love when that happens.

Also, the Friend’s identity still doesn’t matter. I also adored that about the series.

Oh, Kenji. Always the hero.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


21st Century Boys 1

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2012 – 2 volumes
this is the last two volumes of 20th Century Boys

So… I read this a couple weeks ago, then re-read it again for pleasure and to brace myself for the 2nd volume, which would be the real end of the series.

The thing that struck me the most when I first started reading this was that everyone seemed so unconcerned with the true identity of the Friend. Or, the second Friend, I suppose. They pull his mask off to reveal that he’s had plastic surgery, then nobody knows or remembers who he is. I loved that anticlimax, especially after so much work went into hiding the identity throughout the course of the series.

Then… I started taking the last parts into consideration. That there were two kids in masks. That someone vanished occasionally in the past. That one person claims not to be who anyone thinks. Normally, I would scoff and not care at this point, both because 20th Century Boys has been doing this the whole time, and also because the series is over and it doesn’t matter. But this is the only time it does matter, actually. And I also looked at the cover to volume two. I’m… a little concerned. It can’t be, can it? That would be one of the wildest flips of all time. Also, it would break my heart.

The rest of this… I was a bit ambivalent. After the epic concert last volume that simply ended with Kanna in Kenji’s arms, loose ends and all, I thought that was an appropriate way to end the series. I didn’t really care about the identity of the 2nd Friend, or why Kenji wasn’t playing the right song, or about explaining the weirdness. Then this volume kept the story going, with one last page of the New Book of Prophecy sending everyone scrambling to find one last booby trap. We’d been through all this before. I wasn’t sure I wanted more. But if my suspicions are correct, all of that stuff will make sense and wrap up in a fairly interesting way. I’m not too sure where the… control part is going, but I am very interested in what a copy of a copy can do, and how that may make the original feel.

In other words, this is sort of a coda for the series, and I’m shocked to find that it truly is keeping me guessing all the way to the end. Way to go, Naoki Urasawa.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


20th Century Boys 22

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2012 – 24 volumes

WHAT.

Just. What.

I don’t even.

I… can’t really say anything about it, because I absolutely don’t want to spoil what goes on here. But for a series that made for such a crazy ride as 20th Century Boys, I was expecting only the most insane of conclusions. There was so much craziness going on. Disease. The eradication of humanity. UFOs. Vaccinations. Murder. Psychic power. Childhood vendettas.

Ah, that last one. That was glorious. I mean, I guess we know who the friend is, right? I think? Maybe we don’t. When the big reveal came, and it was a fringe member of Kenji’s group, I was a little disappointed. So maybe it was revealed to be a different fringe member, I don’t know, it’s not a detail I focused on. But there’s a flashback in this volume. He saw Kenji do something. He saw Kenji be a villain.

He demands an apology.

I LOVED THAT.

I also love that the people demand a concert, that Kenji’s music brought everyone together, that it moved them in a way that an offer of survival could not.

There was definitely a lot to like about this volume.

But it had the most normal freaking ending I’ve ever seen. Everything simply finishes, and that’s it. It does exactly what it ought to at this point, which is never something 20th Century Boys has done.

Perhaps the insanity came all the way back around to normal, and I just don’t realize it. I was disappointed everything was so normal. But man, there was still so much awesome stuff going on.

Mainly, at the very end, where Kenji said no. That’s what I’ll always remember about 20th Century Boys. Seriously, Kenji is so awesome.

So I think I’ve gushed vaguely for long enough. You just have to read it. Absolutely. It is fantastic, if you’re looking for an action/adventure manga, or a good comic, or anything at all, really. I’m sure that the number of characters will lose people, but I found it easier to keep track of everyone, even while reading a volume every two months, than reading volumes of Monster consecutively. And there are those who will think that this is just a smidge too crazy for their tastes, and I can’t blame them.

But seriously. This series rocks so hard. I’m waiting for 21st Century Boys to wrap up all the loose ends, and then I’m going to start over from the beginning knowing what I know. It’s so fantastic.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


20th Century Boys 21

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2012 – 23 volumes

Really, I should save the last couple volumes of this and read them together. I’m going to be left in a similar situation to the one I’m in now. I tore through these, and they’re packed with equal parts action and cryptic hints. I can see this is all going somewhere, and it will be somewhere fantastic. After all, part of the plot here is that the Friend has UFOs going all over the city splashing citizens with red paint that looks like blood. And this becomes routine. But the problem is that I still have absolutely no clue where or how this will conclude. There’s… not really a fight that’s going to happen. I can see that. I don’t even know if things will be solved with a conversation from Kenji. It doesn’t seem like he’s the type that will just kill the Friend for all the awful things he’s done.

So… what? How? What does the comeback of the bowling boom have to do with any of this? What about T.Rex? And those last pages!

Those last pages.

I really can’t offer any additional insight or commentary on this. Kanna and Kenji are still separated, and still fighting the good fight. As is the Pope. We are still getting plentiful flashbacks, though I’m not quite sure where those are going.

But really, all the crazy stuff that’s happened before is turning into something here. Really, it’s been an amazingly cohesive story the whole time. And now it’s going to end with something great. I literally cannot wait.

But. Those last pages. What was he thinking?


20th Century Boys 20

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2012 – 22 volumes

THIS VOLUME. I should have known the ending would be ridiculously epic. It’s just hard to imagine, because I have no idea where it’s going. My best and most recent prediction was that Yabuki Joe was going to lead the people in some sort of rock revolution, except that doesn’t appear to be the case. This volume re-introduces a lot of characters that have long been out of the picture, and even one whose been a major player without ever having been in the story. That’s quite interesting. But all these people have their own plots to foil the Friend, who is set up to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth because he’s bored. The Friend’s plan has something to do with making it look like a flying saucer is destroying humanity, and somehow giving people a fake option to settle on Mars enters into the picture. The counter-measures range from simple grenades to violent internal revolutions to… well, a repeat. A fantastic repeat.

There were a couple show-stoppers here, though. One of them was seeing Kanna and the Friend meet face to face for the first time. I’m not really going to say anything about this. Parts of it were confusing. The ending was baffling. But all of it had me flipping the pages as fast as I possibly could. Again, one of the absolute best things about 20th Century Boys is that it keeps me guessing, something which few manga can do now. I had no idea where any of this was going.

The other was when Maruo ran an errand to find a long-lost… brother in the struggle, so to speak. The story leading up to how this person was found is fantastic. The place where this person is being held is fantastic. And this person’s story fills in a lot of gaps. Well, some gaps. There are still a lot of strange things about 20th Century Boys, but I wonder how logical the explanations can be for some of them.

Two other very small shocks in this volume, though, then I’m finished.

The first was when Otcho and Yukiji walk in on Manjome. That was crazy. Just… crazy. There are a lot of things that come as unexpected here, but that was literally from left field. It will haunt me.

The second was… the 20th Century Boy. That was also incredibly creepy. He’s always creepy, but that was especially so.

I am so excited to figure out what that’s about. To be fair, I’ve been waiting for the story to tie back in to the first few pages of volume 1 for some time. I’m pretty sure this is it. It will have to be, because there are only two volumes left to… resolve all this. I don’t know how that will be possible. Perhaps that’s why we need the 2-volume epilogue of 21st Century Boys.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


20th Century Boys 19

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2011 – 22 volumes

Well! It looks like 21st Century Boys will be a separate series. I had been including it in the volume counts with these, but I guess it counts separately.

I love Yabuki Joe. He’s completely unconcerned with everything. He’s… sort of a hero? But not really? More of a rallying point. The same thing can be said about the Friend. I also love that the rallying point is music, as if an adolescent dream of being a rock star is being fulfilled. An interesting counter-measure to the Friend’s madness, since his world domination ploy was also based around the fantasies of children. Also also interesting, as much as Yabuki Joe is using his music for good, he states in this volume that it’s not going to save the world. Even though… it kind of is. So, in that, he’s unlike the friend with his childhood dream. Perhaps the fact he’s still succeeding at being a popular musician is some sort of commentary on the dangerous weakness in crowd mentality? Hmm.

I guess I either didn’t realize or forgot that the currency in this post-apocalyptic world was the buddy. If you’re buying a forged permit, it’s going to cost you a lot of buddies. I can’t make this stuff up.

Basically, in this volume, Yabuki Joe and Chono (whose name I can’t read without thinking of the French artist CHOMO, a hermit that lived in Fontainebleau forest for 50 years) reach a checkpoint that they need to cross to get into the Kanto region and Tokyo. The problem is that you need a legit pass to get through the checkpoint, and on the non-Kanto side, there’s a booming business in forgeries that will get you shot in the head should you present them to the checkpoint guards. But Yabuki Joe convinces the lost half of the Ujiko Ujio artist duo to draw permits for every person in the border town. Madness ensues. Chono is caught for a bounty. Yabuki Joe faces off against the ruler of the checkpoint forest, a man who is obsessed with the idea of being a bad guy and who, long ago, chose Kenji to be his good guy nemesis. Well, now there’s only Yabuki Joe.

Guys. The end of this book is absolutely EPIC. The identity of the Friend is once again in question. The identity of the leader of the checkpoint is also in question, though I wonder if he actually is anyone important. Probably. He’ll be something insane, like Kanna’s father. Yabuki Joe, though. Yabuki Joe steals the scene. He tells all.

So… I’m just gonna go ahead and read volume 20 now.


20th Century Boys 18

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2011 – 24 volumes

Oh, Yabuki Joe. You’ve got to get up.

I love every single volume of this series. I probably start every review that way, but it’s absolutely true. There hasn’t been a single volume of 20th Century Boys that hasn’t offered a completely unique reading experience. It sounds like trite overpraise when I say it, but it’s rare that I can’t see where a story is going a mile away. 20th Century Boys is all sorts of absolute insanity, and it is dead serious about it. I literally have no idea what’s going to happen next, and somehow, all the crazy is absolutely acceptable in context. Sometimes it throws me an intentional curveball, too.

There’s one truly epic scene in this volume. Yabuki Joe manages to enter the base where Chono is stationed. He and a group of other officers are ordered to shoot “the alien” on sight. When they swarm him, Yabuki Joe simply strolls out of the house he was in and begins singing a nonsense song with his guitar. The officers are at a standstill, utterly entranced. Nobody knows what to make of this. One of the officers does manage to follow orders, and shoots him. Yabuki Joe falls, then calls Officer Chono over to cheer him on with “Get up, Joe!” (a line from Joe of Tomorrow, which is where the alias Yabuki Joe comes from). He then stands up, wanders over to the officer that shot him, and faces him down, insisting that you can’t shoot a man who is singing a song. This scene is really intense and triumphant, and because Yabuki Joe says it, every officer there believes it.

Officer Chono uses this excuse later when his superior officer shows up to shoot Yabuki Joe. He then starts singing so that the officer doesn’t shoot him. Later, when Yabuki Joe rides off on a motorcycle, Chono thanks him for that particular bit of wisdom. Yabuki Joe turns to him in disbelief, explaining that he was indeed shot, and you can shoot a man singing a song if you damn well please. Then he leaves.

This is why 20th Century Boys is great. It may have several triumphant moments buried in absolute and utter nonsense. There’s a lot of other totally awesome things going on in that scene, too. But the best is the line about how you can’t shoot a man singing a song. And then it turns around and just throws that away completely.

Yabuki Joe is a newcomer to the story, but his coming has been foreshadowed for several volumes, and we’re only now getting to see his face. We still don’t know very much about him, or what exactly he’s doing, but he has a huge crazy following, and seems completely unconcerned with all the Friend stuff going on. I am curious to see how he’ll waltz in and change the world with his concerts. I’d love to see that work in a world where kid logic rules and military tactics fail.

There’s more about Kanna’s group, and her split from Yoshitsune. Otcho meets back up with her and talks some sense into her.

More interesting, though, is the ever-present flashback. This time, we see history through the eyes of Manjome Inshu. How he met the Friend, and his role in everything that the Friend has been so far. Interestingly, in his previous life he was what Otcho calls a “snake oil salesman,” and I like how his skills come in handy, or not, as the case may be.

I’ve got two more volumes to read, and there are two more volumes to the conclusion (then another two volume follow-up, which I assume will be published here as well). I cannot wait. I have absolutely no idea how all this could end.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


20th Century Boys 17

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2011 – 24 volumes

I’ve fallen a few volumes behind on this series, which is shameful. It’s such a compelling story. I also like that it’s slowly drifted into post-apocalypse territory, but is free of the usual manga stereotypes I associate with these types of stories. Then again, being like other series is not something 20th Century Boys has ever done.

This is a relatively quiet volume, mostly about the living conditions under the new Friends regime again, though the story is building up to some action. What kind of action, I’m not sure. The narrative locates both Kanna and Otcho, though they are not yet together. We learn of an August date for action against the Friends, though it looks like it might be a hopeless exercise. Sanae and her brother Katsuo are still fleeing the government as political dissidents, which is hilarious to me since they are children being chased by a Defense Force wearing gas masks and singing about space aliens. But the Defense Force is no joke, and part of the story is also about how they kill in cold blood. A couple parts of the story are about that, in fact. While this sounds like run-of-the-mill action fodder in theory, the scenes where the Defense Force executes “criminals” are most heartbreaking. Urasawa has done a fine job of writing a modern totalitarian-style environment that doesn’t feel futuristic at all. Somehow, actually, it feels quite old-fashioned, since feudal lord systems also seem to be in place. It’s interesting, though I’m not sure how much more of it we’re going to see.

We also learn about Otcho’s years outside Tokyo, and how the “quarantined” citizens that were exiled after the virus outbreak live. Most of these people were arbitrarily shipped out to the country, and none of them are actually infected. Nonetheless, what looks like a group of people trying to cope and do the best they can among one another turns ugly whenever a vaccine shows up in a town. This neighbor-against-neighbor desperation violence even upsets the stoic Otcho.

The end of the volume, though. I’m not sure how, but frequently these books save the best for last. Koizumi reappears, and she re-discovers her boy band crush from the pre-Friend days. He’s singing a song. A song that he didn’t write, but claims someone taught him one night at the intersection in Nishi-Nippori. You know. A crossroads. The stranger’s name? Akuma.

Excellent. The story hams this up just about as much as it possibly can, and I love every page of it. I suspect this particular plot point won’t actually be relevant for some time. But the song in question is an anthem for the resistance, even without the presence of the original performer.

What I like best about this series, though, is that it isn’t really overly-complicated. I didn’t really care for Monster much because, though I read the whole thing straight through when all the volumes were out, I still had trouble keeping track of all the side-characters and subplots, and that was so important to that series. There’s a lot of stuff going on in 20th Century Boys, but it doesn’t overwhelm. Most of it is fairly organic, and isn’t that far removed from the most major events in the series. Every single detail doesn’t stick in my memory, but all of it relates back to something big I do remember, and it falls into place after that.

Part of it, too, might just be that all the stuff going on is so crazy in the context of a relatively serious and grounded storyline. There’s nothing that unusual about the dystopian society or the dissidents in 20th Century Boys. What is noteworthy is that the organization is called the Friends, and that they rose to power based on a children’s game of make-believe from the 70s. 20th Century Boys makes you believe that the Friends really could have come into power by building a crappy giant robot that they rampaged through the city with. And it’s more than believable when the Friend “comes back to life” and saves the Pope. It’s the over-the-top details like those in the serious and well-written context that makes 20th Century Boys special.


20th Century Boys 16

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2011 – 24 volumes

I think one of my favorite things about this series is the little kid logic. The main plot is all about little kid logic, adults that grew up while clinging to ridiculous and childish plans, and, as revealed in this volume, spiteful childhood vendettas. And yet, it takes the little kid logic very seriously in a non-ironic way, and the fate of the world literally rests on this little kid logic. I love it. I love every volume, but this volume in particular helped shed a lot of light on this facet of 20th Century Boys.

The first half of this volume is all about Fukube, and we see many of the main events from Kenji & company’s childhood from his perspective. As expected, he’s a demented little kid, and also a little sad and lonely. Most disturbing are the ways he manipulates people as a child. Sadakiyo especially, but Yamane, too. I love these flashbacks. Not only are they a nice break from the very serious present storyline (they’re usually very lighthearted, and even this disturbing Fukube flashback was less serious than… you know, resurrection), I also like that not much has changed over the last 40 or so years.

We see how Fukube met Manjome for the first time. He has a business card that identifies him as Chuck Manjome, which has forever linked him with another person in my mind. I’m not sure why his business card gave his name as Chuck. Elsewhere, he is Manjome Inshu.

The second half of the book is about Otcho and a couple of kids. About the last thing I want, at this point, are new characters, but I’m quite fond of these little Hulkamaniacs. Wrestling is discussed several times (the children think that Otcho is a professional wrestler, for some reason), and everybody seems to remember different details about these celebrities. I’m not sure of the significance, unless the unreliability of human memory is about to come up as a plot point.

Three years have passed in the main storyline since the game-changing events last volume. Otcho has been separated from Yoshitsune, Kanna, and the others, and he’s trying to follow a lead in order to meet up with them. For some reason, the children are with him. While he doesn’t meet up with the others by the end of the volume, Kamisama makes another appearance, and that’s never a bad thing. He gets upset when the younger child confuses corned beef with a steak.

After I was so upset with the end notes spoiling the next volume teaser in volume 15, that scene didn’t even remotely come to pass in this volume. What. Hopefully we’ll see that character in volume 17. Or better yet, maybe that was just messing with us, and we won’t see him until the end, and he won’t play any role at all. That would be awesome.

But yes. This volume is one of my favorites, simply because of the Fukube flashback. It’s hard to top the rather epic storyline from last volume, and while all of it is good, this is more my flavor. But 20th Century Boys has yet to disappoint in any way, and I’m hoping it maintains this wonderful quality all the way through the end.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


20th Century Boys 15

Naoki Urasawa – Viz – 2011 – 23 volumes

I knew it. I think we all did. It went down a little differently than I thought it would, and I thought the Pope would play a different role. What happens in the story is much more fantastic than what I expected. As everybody says: deified. My only question is if… what I’m talking about is the same as before. Somehow, I suspect that is not the case. I am curious.

Unfortunately, the translation notes ruined the surprise at the end of the volume for me. We see an unusual two-page preview for volume 16, featuring a character strolling down an empty street. I wasn’t sure what the significance was until the translation notes identified the character. Then I freaked out. Again, this… particular thing isn’t that hard to pick up on, and I’ve been expecting it since the post-1999 story started. But I’ve been curious how this will be re-introduced into the story. All sorts of things can happen from this point.

Anyway. Enough of the veiled spoiler-free commentary. There’s plenty to like here, even without major bombshells from the story. The volume starts with a new character, an Italian priest named Luciano who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to John Belushi. In his youth, he was a drunk counterfeiter, until another priest and future mentor crossed his path. Luciano stumbles across the Friend’s New Book of Prophecy, and while at first he laughs it off as nonsense, he realizes that many of the items in it are true, and he begins to fear that the Pope will be assassinated when he visits Japan for the World’s Fair. He tries to warn the Cardinals, but this only triggers a very obvious cover-up operation, so Luciano flees Italy for Japan to try and save the Pope. He doesn’t speak a word of Japanese, but somehow he finds Kanna and the Kenji Faction and warns them with enough time to take action.

Father Luciano, awesome as he is, bothers me. One of the weaknesses of both this story and Monster is that they have far too many characters, each with their own section of story to tell. It’s less of a problem in 20th Century Boys, but Father Luciano is a great example. I doubt this man will be a major player ever again. He does illustrate the global influence of the Friends Organization, but did we really need to introduce and spend half a volume with a new character to learn that? And that a man that doesn’t speak a word of Japanese happens to find Kanna and her crew, along with a Priest that happens to speak Italian and is sympathetic to Luciano’s cause, along with being a former gang member himself, seems a smidge unlikely to me, even for 20th Century Boys. Having said that, I still think Luciano’s a great character, and the fact he looks like John Belushi and doesn’t speak Japanese will definitely make me remember him if he does reappear later. His tattoos are also pretty memorable, and very elaborate for a priest. The man running around in America right now? Any of Kenji’s classmates that aren’t Yoshitsune or Otcho? Random police officers and gang members? Not so much.

I loved the way Otcho and the anti-Friend group took action when they learned about the plans to assassinate the Pope. Seeing them getting the mobs to work together, and watching many different small groups comb for assassins in an enormous crowd around the Pope was pretty fantastic. But even this was overridden by the pair of bombshells dropped at the end of the volume. The 13th Assassin really does a number on the story when he finally does appear, and Urasawa really knows how to make the most of a ridiculously dramatic moment.

Even though I do hate it when authors involve too many extraneous characters in a story, I do like Father Luciano, I like the conspiracy that the Friends Organization seems to have cooked up against the Pope, and I adore what happens at the end of the volume. This has been the best volume of the series yet, and given the peek we see into volume 16, it’s only getting better from here.


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