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Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 04 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

August 27, 2009 by  



“The fourth volume of ‘Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys’ gets even darker and a bit more violent this time around.  But the volume gives us a glimpse of how dangerous ‘The Friend’ has become and their far-reaching influence into society.  Another fantastic volume in the popular manga series!”

(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. 04

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

Kenji wrote “The Book of Prophecy” in his boyhood.  Now this childish fantasy has become the scenario for the Friend’s fiendish plot to destroy mankind.  Kenji goes underground and waits for a chance to fight back.

Meanwhile, the evil organization is closing in on a man called Shogun in the ganglands of Bangkok.  The mystery grows deeper, the fear more intense, as we near the final battle at the turn of the century…is there really any way to save the world from annihilation.

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 the fourth volume of the popular manga series has been released by Viz Media.

Naoki Urasawa’s “20th CENTURY BOYS” follows a group of friends when they were as children and the present time as adults.  When these friends were children, they played a group of super heroes who would take down evildoers.  But first, they needed to come up with their own storylines of the bad things the evil side would do and how they, as superheroes would have to conquer evil.

This plot of what the evil group would do was written down in a little guide which they called “The Prophecy”.  As for the group, they devised a symbol of their group. But now many years later, this symbol has re-emerged as the symbol of a religious cult who may be behind terrorist activities.

Volume 4 now shifts a few years to the future, as Kenji tries to recruit the key people needed to fight “The Friend”.

“20th CENTURY BOYS” features the following characters:

Kenji Endo: The main protagonist of the book.   Raising his missing sister’s young daughter Kana and once worked as a convenience store clerk and also once pursued life as a guitarist. As the primary person as a child who help develop the plan of superheroes vs. villains, he is now looked as the person to counter the evil created by “The Friend”.

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

Yoshitsune: Another close friend of Kenji and always down on himself.  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 who died and reunited the friends many years later.  But with mysterious notes written to Kenji, Kenji has realized that his old friend was murdered by the group led by “The Friend”.

Yukiji: The strongest girl in class (a tomboy) who is now a customs officer and works at the airport with her sniffer dog.  Can’t stand how Kenji had become a slacker and always had to defend him when he was a child.

Otcho: One of the leaders of Kenji’s group of friends who went missing overseas when he was working for a corporation.

The first three volumes of “Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS”, has established the characters as children, as teenagers and now as adults.  “The Friend” which was seen as a religious cult in the past, has now infiltrated the infrastructure of politics and the group are now in a position of power.  With Kenji confronting “The Friend” is volume 3 for the first time, the lines were drawn.  Good vs. evil and “The Friend” has done all he can to have his cult kidnap Kenji’s niece, Kana and nearly murdering Kenji and his mother in the process.

The series now shifts several years into the future and focuses on a mysterious man named Shogun living in Bangkok.  Having been trained by a monk to see life in a whole new perspective, Shogun is revealed to be one of the kids that was part of Kenji’s club and was responsible for having create the logo of “The Friend”.

Here is a brief summary of each chapter of volume 4 (spoiler-less summaries):

Chapter 1:  FDP – While in Bangkok, the man known as “Shogun” receives a warning from an undercover cop.

Chapter 2: Flight – Shogun tries to rescue a woman who is in need of help.  Meanwhile, a glimpse into the past of Shogun.

Chapter 3: Connection – Shogun receives a phone call from an old friend, meanwhile Shogun’s true identity is revealed.

Chapter 4: Love and Peace – A flashback when Kenji and Otcho were children.

Chapter 5: Rainbow Kid – Otcho wants some payback and needs to look for those responsible for the death of a friend.

Chapter 6:  Light – We get a glimpse into the past adult life of Otcho and the painful live he has lived.

Chapter 7: Blowup –  Otcho finds a person willing to team up with him and destroy a major facility.

Chapter 8: Secret Headquarters – Kenji and Otcho finally meet up with each other and we learn what Kenji has been up to in the past few years.

Chapter 9: Robot Conference – “The Friend” and his people have kidnapped a scientist who can create their biggest weapon ever.

Chapter 10: King of the Underground – Kenji searches for the daughter of the kidnapped scientist.

Chapter 11: The Darkness Beyond – “The Friend” leaves Kenji a threatening message.

Volume 4 focuses on the character Otcho, the friend of Kenji that has been missing for many years.  We only have heard and seen his name briefly in past chapters but now, we get to know more about him as a child, as a young adult and the man known as “Shogun”.  With Otcho’s involvement with the children’s superhero vs. villains games in the past, Kenji knows that he is the strongest friend to help him and does all he can to find him.

The volume does show us how violent the people who work for “The Friend” really are and needless to say, this volume does feature a bit more action, suspense and violence than previous volumes.  A storyline to help show us of how cruel this cult, which has permeated into the Japanese government and the overall system of society and possibly worldwide.

Naoki Urasawa’s goal for this volume is to literally show how quickly “The Friend” and his cult has expanded and how powerful they have gotten.  And needless to say, as a reader, it was great to see this character development of one of Kenji’s friends but to really see the amount of violence these people will inflict, in order to get their way.  The storyline gets a bit darker in this volume but for the most part, “Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS” vol. 04 is another wonderful installment of the popular series.  It literally leaves you craving for the next volume.

Overall, another spectacular volume of Naoki Urasawa’s “20th CENTURY BOYS”.  If you haven’t started already, if you are looking for a deep, well-drawn, well-written manga series, this series is highly recommended!

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