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Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 01 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

March 6, 2009 by  



“The long awaited, award-winning manga series from Naoki Urasawa (Creator of ‘MONSTER’, ‘Pineapple ARMY, ‘YAWARA! A Fashionable Judo Girl’, ‘Master Keaton’ and more), ’20TH CENTURY BOYS’ is now out in America featuring a gripping, suspenseful storyline and detailed artwork.  I can’t wait for the second volume!”

(C) Image courtesy of 20 SEIKI SHONEN 1 by Naoki URASAWA/Studio Nuts.  All Rights Reserved.

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MANGA TITLE: 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 01

STORY AND ART BY: Naoki Urasawa (浦沢直樹)

FIRST PUBLISHED IN JAPAN: Shogakukan, Inc.

PUBLISHED IN USA BY: VIZ Media, LLC

RATED: T for Older Teen

Humanity, having faced extinction at the end of the 20th Century, would not have entered the new millennium if it weren’t for them.  In 1969, during their youth, they created a symbol.  In 1997, as the coming disaster slowly starts to unfold, that symbol returns.  This is the story of a gang of boys who try to save the world.

Failed rock musician Kenji’s memories of his past come rushing back when one of his childhood friends mysteriously commits suicide.  Could this new death be related to the rise of a bizarre cult that’s been implicated in several other murders and disappearances?  Determined to dig depper, Kenji reunites with some of  his old buddies in the hope of learning the truth behind it all.

Naoki Urasawa is well-known in the manga industry.  Having created excellent titles such as “Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl”, “Pineapple ARMY”, “Master Keaton” and “Monster”, his manga series “20th CENTURY BOYS” was the winner of the 2001 Kodansha Manga Award, Winner of the 2003 Shogakukan Manga Award and Urasawa was the recipient of the “Excellence Price at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival”.

The manga has been made into a live film, with the first film having been released as a part of a trilogy with a budget of 6 billion yen and will feature a cast of 300 people, it’s natural to say that the manga series “20th CENTURY BOYS” will definitely be a bonafide classic.  And now the manga series has been released by Viz Media.

The manga series goes back and forth from present time to 1969 and 1997 as we are introduced to a group of friends as children and adults:

Kenji Endo: The main protagonist of the book.  An owner of a convenience store raising his missing sister’s baby daughter Kanna.

Maruo: Kenji’s chubby friend (as a child and as an adult) who owns a fancy goods shop in the neighborhood.  One of Kenji’s close friends.

Yoshitsune: Another close friend of Kenji.  Known in adulthood with his eyeglasses.

Keroyon: A Childhood friend known as Froggy.  Lives in Kenji’s neighborhood and the first of the friends to get married.

Mon-Chan: A childhood friend who now works overseas.

Donkey: A  childhood friend of the gang but all reunite when they see tragic news on the newspaper.

Yukiji: The strongest girl in class (a tomboy) who is now a customs officer and works at the airport with her sniffer dog.

Chapter 1 – Friends – The manga series starts off with the present time.  The United Nations Headquarters discussing of how a terrible crisis took place against humanity and a group saved humans from extinction.  Then we see a woman wakened by some large sound and when she looks out the window, we see a huge vignette of what appears to be a large robot.

The story then shifts to 1997 where Kenji is visited by two police officers at this convenience store “King Mart” and it is learned that a professor named Shikishima (a client that Kenji delivers liquor to) and his family have disappeared.  Kenji’s a little ticked because that means he won’t get paid for his last delivery he brought to their home.

But while visiting the home to pick up the empty liquor bottles, he sees a symbol of a hand pointing North and an eye symbol in the middle and he tries to remember it.

The story then shifts to 1969.  Kenji and his friends Maruo, Yoshitsune and Mon-chan create a headquarters in the middle of a field where Mon-chan creates a symbol for the gang to use.  Whoever uses the symbol is a real friend and not an enemy.

The story then shifts to a group of people are waiting for their “friend” and watch as he levitates.  Below this person levitating is the symbol.

Returning back to 1997, the police find a body of a student named Kaneda Seitaro, a graduate student at Ochanomizu Institute of Technology.  His body is missing all of its blood.

Chapter 2 – Karaoke: 1997. The guys are adults and it’s the wedding day of Keroyon.  With everyone united, Kenji draws the symbol and asks his friends if they remember what it was.  Meanwhile, the police find out that the missing Shikishima family, the professor missing is an advisor to the student that was found dead.

Chapter 3 – The Boy Who Bought a Guitar: We learn more about Kenji of how he wanted to be a rock star and how he got his guitar, jumpin to 1979 as he was still playing the guitar but not sure what he wanted to do with his life and then to 1997 of how his life is now.

Meanwhile, you see this mysterious figure that has the symbol by him telling a packed audience at the Budokan that the world is about to face its final hour.

Chapter 4 – Snot Rag: Kenji and Maruo are shocked to read in the newspaper that their friend Donkey commited suicide.  The guys then remember how they met Donkey, always had snot flowing down his nose and carried a snot rag but most of all how he would run without any shoes on and quite quickly he ran barefooted.  But most of all, how he saved their lives which eventually is how he became part of their group.

The story then goes back to 1997 in which before his funeral, he receives a letter from donkey  (written before his death) which asked him if he remembered the symbol.

Chapter 5: Night in the Science Lab – Kenji and all friends unite again at Donkey’s funeral but Kenji does’t believe that Donkey killed himself.  The friends talk about their experiences with him and Keroyon and Mon-chan discuss a time when they were younger, how they went to the school one night and had to turn off an aquarium pump but since it was dark, they were afraid of stories that the school was haunted during the night.

But since Donkey didn’t believe in ghost, Donkey went up to the class himself and turned it off.  But something happened that one night, he saw something and jumped out of the 2nd story window and ran away from the school.

Chapter 6:  Flag on the Moon – We see some weird guy talking to the mysterious figure (with the symbol behind him) but then starts talking about Armstrong and Aldrin having to walk on the moon but Collins was the only one who didn’t since he had to stay in orbit and starts to cry.

Flashback to 1969, it was the night that the US would have astronauts walk on the moon.  All the kids stayed up late watching the television waiting for something to happen.  Donkey went to Kenji’s place that night and although everyone who fell asleep didn’t see anything, Donkey watched it all and it inspired him to want to go to the moon.    Meanwhile as Donkey is all excited, a mystery boy goes up to the gang and talks about how he feels sorry about Michael Collins.

1997, Kenji visits Donkey’s wife and asks her if there was anything strange that happened before his death and shows her the letter he wrote.  The wife talked about a student who had problems and gave Kenji a name…Masao but also told him about a bad friend who gave him strange ideas.

Kenji is not convince that Donkey would kill himself, especially since he had big dreams to go to the moon.

Chapter 7 – Softball: Kenji starts to do his investigation of who this Masao is.  While investigating, he sees a group playing softball and one of the teams wearing a t-shirt with the symbol on it.

Meanwhile the mysterious figure tells his group that two people must be “rejected”.

Chapter 8 – Digging a Hole: Kenji goes to meet Tamura Masao at his home.  The guy is erratic but when Kenji shows him the symbol of what it stands for, Masao tells him that he is one step away from true friendship.

Kenji reunites with his buddies and they all go to their old headquarters on the field they played as children.

They buried something near a tree and the guys start digging for it.  Meanwhile, Tamura Masao does the unthinkable.

Chapter 9 – Message: The group dig out the box which has the symbol and look inside.  All that’s inside are toys, food, a nudie poster and drawings of a big giant robot rummaging through the city and a big flag which has the symbol on it.

Chaper 10 – Yukiji: Yukiji as an adult and now working at customs with her sniffer dog at the airport and complaining how the dog never listens to her.  Her friend is talking about her law firm and how parents and friends are concerned of people who may be joining some cult and Yukiji looks at the symbol of the cult (which is the same symbol of the gang when they were younger).

Meanwhile, while all friends are together, Kenji wants to know among their group, who else could have known about their secret symbol when they were children.

Overall, the first volume of “20th CENTURY BOYS” was an enjoyable read.  One of the major enjoyments of the manga is the artwork.  From the detail of the outdoor settings and indoor settings.  Detail in the backgrounds and emotions from each character.

Granted, there are a good number of characters introduced in the first volume but it definitely helps that the storyline for several chapters focuses on character development.

“20TH CENTURY BOYS” Vol. 01 was a pretty enjoyable read.  I really enjoyed the detail of the artwork and the various timelines, it’s definitely complex to plan but so far every chapter has been quite enjoyable and intriguing.

As with any manga series, typically the first volume is used for character development.  At first, I have to admit that it was almost like watching a series of “LOST” with the storyline jumping around time periods and it was a bit confusing at first.  But as the story started to progress, everything started to become clear.

At first, because of the young characters, it seemed as if the storyline was going to be about youth and something fun but once you start seeing death and people missing or dying, a cult and crazy lunatics murdering, you start to realize that perhaps “20TH CENTURY BOYS” is setting things up as the series will more than likely become a deep storyline.

Knowing how suspenseful Urasawa’s work can get, especially with “MONSTER”, I’m pretty excited to finally start reading this manga and seeing how it progresses over time.  Afterall, this manga has won numerous awards and it has been made to a live action film.  So, I’m definitely sticking with it.

“20th CENTURY BOYS” features a fun but somewhat dark storyline and wonderful artwork, I definitely look forward to see what Urasawa has in store for Vol. 02.

Overally, “20th CENTURY BOYS” is a manga definitely worth checking out!

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