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Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 02 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

May 7, 2009 by  



“A magnificent manga series from Naoki Urasawa (Creator of ‘MONSTER’, ‘Pineapple ARMY, ‘YAWARA! A Fashionable Judo Girl’, ‘Master Keaton’ and more).  ’20TH CENTURY BOYS’ features a gripping, suspenseful storyline and detailed artwork.  The second volume ramps things up with Kenji’s encounter with Yukiji and more back story on the disappearance of Kenji’s sister Kiriko.  Highly recommended!”

(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. 02

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

The Friend, an enigmatic cult leader who plans to destroy the world, declares, “The Cosmos has begun choosing those who are true friends.”  Meanwhile, horrifying incidents are taking place: the emergence of a mysterious virus, the revelations of a man on the run… Kenji tries to find out who this Friend is, but the answer is still far ahead.  The footsteps of doom slowly creep closer and a shadow falls over the city…

Yukiji remembers who came up with their group’s enigmatic symbol: Otcho.  She also discovers that, nine years earlier, Otcho had been working in Thailand but mysteriously vanished.  Could Otcho be the mysterious Friend?  Also, a legendary detective is hot on the trail of the Shikishima kidnappers, but the clues he uncovers lead him dangerously close to the Friends cult.  Is his life now in danger as well?

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 follows a group of friends when they were younger, when they were young adults and the present time as 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.

In volume 1, Kenji does is own investigation of the symbol from his childhood and how it is showing up at the homes or belongings of people that have gone missing.   Of course, it’s not easy as his family sold their convience store to a chain and in order to live in the premises above the store, they need to make sure they managed the store well.  But life is a bit tough as Kenji has to raise his niece Kanna after his sister Kiriko asks him to take care of her and since that day, he has not heard from her.  So, Kenji has to manage the store and his baby niece at the same time.

With the death of his childhood friend, Donkey, Kenji does not believe he committed suicide.  To make things more suspicious, he receives a letter from Donkey before his death with the original symbol of their club.  Kenji is convinced that Donkey must have been killed.

Kenji gets his friends together, who are in town for Donkey’s funeral, to think about the symbol and how it relates to their past.  The friends reminisce of how Donkey was full of life and had high dreams of going to space.  He was someone with plenty of ambition and was a good friend.

Volume 1 ended with Kenji, Maruo and Yoshitsune who are walking home, they accidentally run into one of their old school friends, Yukiji, a customs officer who has a friend, that is representing the parents of young people who have joined with this cult following a leader known as “The Friend”.

Here is a brief summary of each chapter of volume 2:

Chapter 1:  Amiability – Kenji and friends see their old friend Yukiji.  Suddenly Kenji reminisces of how when they were younger, Yukiji would be the only person willing to take on the twin bullies, Yanbo and Mabo.  Yukiji is shocked of all the rumors they have heard of her and is a bit disgusted that if she hangs out with them, she will never find a normal boyfriend.  Meanwhile, Yukiji’s friend, Setsuko Ichihara, an attorney who represents the parents whose children have been caught up with the cult tries to find more information of who the leader is and more.

Chapter 2: Otcho – Yukiji shows up to King Mart to visit Kenji and tries to help him with his questions about the symbol.  She tells him that the person who is reponsible for the club coming up with the symbol was a boy named Otcho.  She also wants Kenji to meet up with her attorney friend, Setsuko.

Chapter 3: Cho-san – This chapter focuses on the police investigator Cho-san.  An older investigator who is set to retire within the next week but feels that the deaths of the professors and the common occurence of the symbol may be something bigger than they expect.  So, he tells Yama-san, an investigator in the force to continue his investigation after he retires.  Meanwhile, Cho-san who has been investigating the murders feel that Kenji, the convenience story owner may have a lead and a connection to “The Friend”.

Chapter 4: Yama-san – Cho-san discusses his investigation to Yama-san but what Cho-san is discussing may be too much that he will be able to handle as an investigator.

Chapter 5: Humanity’s Final Hour – Yukiji visits Kenji again to discuss Ocho.  And how Ocho lived in Thailand but he went missing.  Meanwhile, “The Friend” reveals that he wants world domination.

Chapter 6: Kamisama – We are introduced to a homeless man named Kamisama.  A man who has a lot of knowledge and is able to predict the future based on his dreams.  He suddenly has a dream which leads him into King Mart and knows something about Kenji’s purpose in the world especially his niece Kanna.

Chapter 7: Kiriko’s Desk Drawer – Kenji does an investigation of how his sister, Kiriko, could have left her daughter.  As he looks through her desk, Kenji discovers and odd letter but most of all, a card with the symbol of his old club but also used as the symbol of “The Friend”.

Chapter 8: Kiriko’s Boyfriend –  Kenji thinks about his sister and the guys she dated. Meanwhile, Kenji remembers how his sister always took care of him and he learns from his mother why.  Meanwhile, the owner of King Mart wants Kenji to put Kanna into daycare since it’s not right to take care of a baby while working.  So, he tells Kenji that he has to make a decision, keep the baby or there contract to live in the same building will be nullified.

Chapter 9: The Man Behind – More on the past between Kenji and his older sister Kiriko.  Also, we learn about Kiriko’s boyfriend and his relationship to “The Friend”.  We get a glimpse of doom in 2000 which was preceded by a mystery virus in 1997.

Chapter 10: The Prophet – A man who is wounded and on the ground tells a group of homeless that he needs to speak to “The Great Kenji”, the homeless man Kamisama knows he is talking about the Kenji that works at the Kings Mart.   Kamisama and a friend try to get Kenji to meet with the wounded man.

Chapter 11: Open Your Eyes!! – Kenji who goes to meet the dying man and is told about the future, deadly plans of “The Friend”.  After Kenji gets details from the dying man, he realizes that these plans were discussed when they were children and they were coming up with ideas  of being good guys while Otcho was wanting to be part of the League of Evil.  And that “The Friend” has started his plans with germ warfare and only one person can stop him and that is Kenji.

I was amazed of how the storyline of “20th Century Boys” started to ramp up and all these loose ends from the first volume had major reveals and connections to the murders and this sinister group run by “The Friend”.   Volume 2 featured a lot on character development of Kenji’s sister Kiriko but also his childhood friend Yukiji but now discovering that he is the only one that can take on “The Friend”.

It sounds quite superhero-ish especially when Kenji is a person that lacks motivation, no real plan in life and if anything, he just lives for the now, working at a convenience store.

So, to hear about this twist in the storyline makes things quite exciting.  It was revealed in the first chapter that Kenji and his friends are heroes for saving the world but how the series has become suspenseful and a story that is just well-written, I’m really enjoying this series tremendously.

Naoki Urasawa is literally a master of suspense and with his two graphic novels “20th CENTURY BOYS” and “PLUTO” currently being released right now by Viz, what better time than now for people to experience two well-written, suspenseful and magnificent manga series.

“20th CENTURY BOYS” volume 2 is highly recommended!

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