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Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 05 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

November 14, 2009 by  



Gripping and addictive!  The fifth volume of “20th Century Boys” features the group reuniting and preparing for the war against the Friend and also a flash forward storyline featuring a teenage Kanna.  If you enjoy or are curious about Naoki Urasawa’s work, you definitely have to check this series out!  Highly recommended!

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

MANGA TITLE: 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 05

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 giant robot has already been built and now awaits the Great Awakening… With the Friend’s identity still a mystery, the countdown to the apocalypse continues, day by day, minute by minute – 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?

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 fifth 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 5 takes place before December 31, 2000. When Kenji and his friends were young, they created a group where they would play heroes who would take on “The League of Evil”.  In the book, they Kenji and friends set scenarios for the League of Evil such as the group would use deadly biological weapons to attack San Francisco and London, germ warfare used in Osaka, Haneda Airport would be attacked and destroyed and on December 31, 2000, a huge giant atomic robot would scatter deadly microbes and wreak havoc and destruction.  And these kids as heroes would take on the League of Evil.

The problem is that someone took the prophecy literally and has created a group called The Friends and are enacting everything from “The Prophecy” which led to many friends and many people being killed.  Since Kenji and friends created “The Prophecy”, they know that as adults, they are the heroes that must take on the Friends (who are the League of Evil) who are disguised as a savior of society.

So, Kenji and his many of his friends from his childhood must reunite quickly as the prophecy tells him that there must be nine members.  With terrorist attacks by the Friend being blamed on Kenji and his supporters, and December 31st looming near, the war between the two sides has now begun!

“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 and low self-confidence.

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.  In the future, she has become the guardian of Kanna and has raised her.

Kanna Endo: The daughter of Kenji’s missing sister.  She is now a young girl who loves her uncle Kenji (who literally raised her along with his mother).  Older Kanna is featured or the first time in vol. 5.

Otcho: One of the leaders of Kenji’s group of friends who went missing overseas when he was working for a corporation.  Now a fighting machine who is an expert at guns.

Yanbo and Mabo: The two big, twin bullies who would try to hurt Kenji and his friends.

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 fourth volume featured Kenji recruiting some of his old friends such as Shogun and now with Kenji managing to recruit some of his friends, he needs two more.  The only two that comes to mind is his enemies when he was a child, the bullies Yanbo and Mabo.  But are they like the way there were when they were children or are they much better now as adults?  With time approaching for December 31, 2000 and the giant robot attack which would kill many and cause massive destruction, Kenji and friends must act fast in recruiting their members.

Here is a brief summary of each chapter of volume 5 (spoiler-less summaries):

Chapter 1:  Call to Arms – Kenji’s friends decide to join him but who decides to join and who doesn’t?

Chapter 2: Not Alone – As Kenji is desperate to get two more members, he must decide whether or not he should let his childhood enemies join.  Yoshitsune tries to recruit them but can the two be trusted?

Chapter 3: Uncle Kenji – With the prophecy of the giant robot attack coming soon, Kenji has to make a tough decision.

Chapter 4: The Book of Prophecy – With the Friend and his minions being quiet for months, was Kenji wrong about the prophecy?

Chapter 5: December 31 – The Giant Robot unleashed.

Chapter 6:  Final Round – People all over the world are dying.  How will Kenji and friends stop the Giant Robot and the Friend’s attack?

Chapter 7: Reunion –  Flash forward a decade later and Kanna Endo is looking for a new place to live.

Chapter 8: Memorial – Kanna goes to remember someone close to her.

Chapter 9: Detective Chono – The grandson of Cho-san (the original detective from earlier in the series who was investigating the Friends) is now a detective and confronts Kanna.

Chapter 10: Chocho – Chono and Kanna have a heart-to-heart talk.

Chapter 11: The Ambitious Duo – Kanna’s guardian, Yukiji and Kanna get into a heated discussion.  Meanwhile, we learn what has happened to the Friends.

Volume 5, takes a step back from the violence that was shown in the last volume.  For the first half, we see Kenji trying to recruit his friends and the second half a decade or more later with Kanna now an older teenager.   For the most part, these are character driven chapters as the book tries to reintroduce Kenji’s friends into the mix but also show how his group has been used by the Friends power in making him look like a terrorist.    There is a bit of violence as we see the Friends initiate their December 31st attack as was mentioned on the prophecy.

And interesting how the earlier chapters go back-and-forth with the past and present.  This time it goes from the present to the future and if anything, giving us a glimpse that things may have not gone too well for Kenji and friends.  If anything, no one knows what has happened yet as this volume does a major switch to older Kanna and thus teasing the reader of the bloody war but also a teaser of what happens in the future.  Needless to say, I was captivated by the storyline once again and it goes to show how Naoki Urasawa is just wonderful as a writer and an artist and knows how to capture your attention.

Needless to say, readers are being setup for something huge and I definitely can’t wait for the next volume.  Overall, a gripping and exhilarating fifth 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 manga series is highly recommended!

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