Manga-ka: Naoki Urusawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2009
Synopsis: “With the Friend’s identity still a mystery, the countdown to the apocalypse continues, day by day – for on December 31, 2000, humanity will meet its final hour. Hoping to get as many people who knew about their group’s emblem involved in their clandestine efforts, Kenji’s crew reaches out to their childhood antagonists: the twins Yanbo and Mabo. Back when they were kids, Yanbo and Mabo terrorized Kenji and company to no end. As adults, and with a crisis looming, will the evilest brothers in history now fight on the side of good?”
Hiding out in the sewer with a handful of explosives, a city on their tail and a world-ending conspiracy just around the corner, Kenji’s humble army is small but dedicated to stopping those who have tainted their childhood memories on a dangerously global scale. The end of the 20th century is upon them, but the final prophecy is as well, and the group knows full well that the world may never be same when the 21st century hits – if they live to see it. Warning: Review contains potential spoilers.
The book’s first few chapters follows the rag-tag group of childhood friends as the spy, sneak and plan best they can to find information about the conspirators and attempt to decipher the last few pages of the prophecy. Kenji’s army is nearly complete as far as those connected to his past are concerned but he’ll still need everyone he can to take on the faceless ‘Friend’, even if it means reaching out to old enemies as well – in this case their brutal childhood bullies, Yanbo and Mabo. The return of the two isn’t a surprise in the story after so much relevance in flashbacks but their actual reappearance serves as an interesting surprise in more ways than one, leaving me torn between wanting to see more of them out of curiousity or less of them out of being admittedly unnerved.
What’s more, also finally making its well-foreshadowed appearance is the easily stereotyped giant robot terrorizing Japan. However by playing off the vacuity of the visible situation, and the built-up tension by the events leading up to it, the brief appearance of the machine is truly a daunting coming of events. I can’t imagine the terror that the world would be gripped with if such an event was ever to occur, though a multiple-page overlap of newscasts from across the globe does a good job giving readers a more personal perspective of the attack.
Soon after this the book wastes no time in grounding readers in another flash forward, except for the first time we’re whipped into a year of the future that hasn’t yet occurred for us (unlike the 70s-90s of earlier volumes). Here we predominantly follow the now-teenage Kanna – an independent, spirited and outright impressive young woman who lives her life as she sees fit while struggling to hold onto any part of her Uncle Kenji’s ideals that she can. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable female character to follow and her re-introduction, and continuously evolving relevance, is nothing short of exciting.
Never one to leave you without something to ponder or stew, the end of the book delivers a well-prepared punch that even reader assumptions don’t fully prepare you for. Though each consecutive volume grips me even more than the last, I keep wondering how this is going to last another 15+ volumes. Though sceptical, I remain ever eager to find out.
20th Century Boys is truly an ambitious and thus-far successful piece of work by sheer grip-factor alone and one that I would suggest, if not for how much I wish to share this story with the world, we should be fighting each other over owning for fear that one day everyone will notice how great it is and scramble as feverishly as fans do to pick up the newest volume.