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Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 16 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

September 13, 2011 by  



Every hero and every villain has their own personal backstory of how they became evil or what led them to that direction.  Volume 16 is that certain volume that looks into the past of Fukube Hattori, a young boy who would end up becoming “The Friend”.  What led him to that direction?  Many answers are revealed in this latest volume but also introducing even more mysteries as well.  Overall, if you have been following this fantastic manga series, vol. 16 is highly recommended!

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Image courtesy of © 2003 Naoki URASAWA/Studio Nuts. All Rights Reserved.

MANGA TITLE: 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 16

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

Available on August 16, 2011

Contrary to what his actions as an adult have led Kenji and his pals to believe, back when they were children, Fukube really wanted to be their friend. Fukube even went so far as to let them read all the latest manga magazines he diligently purchased in the hope of winning their friendship. Despite all this, Fukube still felt like an outsider. Fostering a sense of superiority toward all the other children around him, how did Fukube’s actions as a little boy serve as an indication of the kind of man he would eventually become?

Next, the clock is rolled forward to the third year of the Friendship Era, a frightening time in which the virus has decimated most of the world’s population, and the vaccine is available only to a lucky few. Tokyo has been quarantined behind a giant wall that is patrolled by both the Global Defense Forces and the Friend’s secret police, and yet while life on the inside is made to resemble Kenji’s childhood from the 1960s, the world beyond the wall is a desolate wasteland. Two young siblings come to the aid of an injured man who has managed to break through the barricade, and his name is Otcho!

Every villain or antagonist has their story.  What made them that way.  What made them pursue a life of evil.

While the Friend is looked at as a savior to humanity, for those who survived in Kenji’s group, it is known that the Friend is not a true friend to humanity, he wants to bring death to it.

With volume 16 of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, we finally learn the history and background of The Friend, what took place when a young Donkey went up to the classroom and jumped stories high to escape, but who influenced the Friend to be what he is today.

And Naoki Urasawa’s wonderful series continues with this latest volume filled with some surprises.

But some of you may be wondering…who is Naoki Urasawa?

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 manga classic.

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 storyline and scenarios of the bad things the evil side would do and how they, as superheroes would have to conquer the evil bad guys.

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.

Kenji and friends tried their best to stop the Friends but something happened on December 31, 2000 and fourteen years later, Kenji and friends are seen as the terrorists and the Friends have now further permeated into society worldwide.

What we know of December 31, 2000… Many lives were lost and although Kenji and his friends did what they can to stop the Friend’s giant robot from killing people in the city. They were blamed for it and since then have been reviled as the terrorists who massacred innocent people (when it was actually “the Friends” who were responsible).

And 15 years later, the Friends have used the massacre to grow their cult and to take control of society, politics, law enforcement and have their foot in the door worldwide.

But for friends of Kenji who survived that fatal day, they will continue to do what they can to defeat their friends in the honor of their friend Kenji and save the world. The last volume featured Kanna, who is now a teenager who will never forget her uncle and is investigating any details or leads to her uncle Kenji but also her mother and possible father.

In Naoki Urasawa’s “20th CENTURY BOYS” volume 15, we saw a mysterious man (or men) in gas masks walking with a suitcase. Can these people be responsible for the virus attacks that are killing people all over the world?  Also, there is a man riding a moped with a guitar on his back? Could it be Kenji? But isn’t Kenji dead? Hmm…

While the 16th volume doesn’t kick off right after what took place in volume 15, it does explore the psyche of the Friend and getting to know the person behind the mask and what took place when they were younger, the discovery of the prophecy but also fast forwarding to Year 3 of the Friendship Era (not known how much time has past) but we seen an older Otcho and what had taken place in Japan since then.

“20th CENTURY BOYS” features the following characters:

Kanna Endo: The daughter of Kenji’s missing sister. She is now a 17-year-old teenager who tries to keep her missing uncle Kenji in her memories by listening to his music (rather loudly) and works at a restaurant and is very protective over her friends and her living area. Has street smarts and adopted her guardian, Yukiji’s fighting spirit and not afraid of anything.

Yukiji: The only member of Kenji’s group who wasn’t part of the New Year’s Eve devastation as Kenji left young Kanna with her to raise in case if something went bad. Yukiji is the guardian of Kanna.

Chono Shohei – A freshman detective following his grandfather’s footsteps of being a great detective and to have the name “Cho-san”. Is always interested in Kanna but she and him are like fire and water and as he tries to get along with her, he now believes in Kanna that there is corruption in the police.

Mariah – A transvestite friend of Kanna who is trying to help her.

Ujiko Ujio – Manga artists who are neighbors of Kanna.

Kakuta – A manga artist who was friends with Ujiko and Ujio who has been given prison time for his manga work which goes against the rules by “the Friends”.

Kamisama – The homeless man who had visions of what Kenji should be doing and would relay it to him but 14 years later, somehow he has become a millionaire.

Kyoko Koizumi – A high school student who selects Japan’s notorious terrorist Kenji Endo as the historic figure for her homework. She finds herself in Friend Land.

Otcho – One of Kenji’s friends who escaped from prison to reunite and help Kanna.

Yoshitsune – A friend of Kenji who used his position as a cleaner at Friend Land to spy on the Friends.

Mon-Chan – One of Kenji’s friends who died while trying to gather information on the Friend’s conspiracy.

Keroyon – Also known as “Froggy”, one of Kenji’s friends who got married and is now living in the USA.

Sadakiyo – A childhood acquaintance of Kenji who always wore a mask. At first he is thought of as the Friend but he is a guy who is the director of the Friend museum and works with them.

Manjome Inshu – Top cadre of the Friends organization and head of the Friendship and Democracy Party.

Director Takasu – A Dream Navigator at Friend Land.

Here is a brief summary of each chapter of volume 16 (spoiler-less summaries):

  • Chapter 1: End of the Rainbow – How a young Hattori Fukube became the Friend.
  • Chapter 2: A Real Friend – How the young Friend learned about deception.
  • Chapter 3: Beyond the Looking Glass – Who is the faceless person…
  • Chapter 4: The Truth of Hanging Hill – The Friend tries to pull of a prank…
  • Chapter 5: A Real Ghost – Does a real ghost exist on Hanging Hill?
  • Chapter 6: Superhuman – The Friend shows off his mysterious abilities.
  • Chapter 7: Friendship Era – How much Japan has changed during the Friendship Era.
  • Chapter 8: Pole Vaulter – Two children try to help out Otcho.
  • Chapter 9: Modern History – One child wonders if Otcho is Hulk Hogan but what happens when Otcho hears a voice coming from a television set during the mandatory TV shut-off.
  • Chapter 10: Kids’ Talk – The kids try to sneak Otcho into Shinjuku.
  • Chapter 11: Toy Chest– The Friends soldiers try to capture Otcho and the children.

Every hero and every villain has their backstory.

Volume 16 is the backstory of The Friend and how a young Fukube Hattori, who tried to fit in with Kenji and his group, was never included with their group of friends but how deep inside, for some reason, he had a dark side to him.

With every revelation, there is something new being introduced to add to the twist.  We know of the Friend’s ability to bend spoons and we have seen his ability to come back alive (which is shown again in this volume but the Friend at a younger age).  But what many may be wondering is how the Friend was able to get those abilities.

And thus lies the mystery…who is the faceless ghost that is seen throughout this volume?  A figment of the Friend’s imagination or did the Friend really come into contact with something supernatural?

We also get the big reveal of what happened to Donkey when he went back to the lab and saw something that scared him.  We also find out why a few people ended up joining the Friend while they were younger and the plans they had in making the Prophecy a reality for 2000.

But fast forward to a new Japan under the rule of The Friend, self-imposed government rules on the people, a wall built to separate Japanese who are loyal to the Friends and those who may not be loyal on the other side.

What has happened to Japan in the past few years?  We get a glimpse of a Japan that is no longer the same and an older Otcho is trying to survive in this new era.

Could it be that the Friend is planning something more devious…perhaps the extinction of humankind?

Suffice to say, Naoki Urasawa’s “20th Century Boys” just gets better and better and as we now are nearing the final stretch of the series, one can only wonder what Naoki Urasawa has planned. And I’m guessing that we are going to see a lot of deaths and possible demise of several main characters.

Featuring wonderful illustration and awesome storytelling, which Naoki Ursawa is known for, “Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys Vol. 16” is awesome! While it doesn’t continue where the last volume left off in storyline, it does give use the back story of the Friend but also how Japan has changed completely since the Friend began ruling the country.

As always, Naoki Urasawa knows how to grab the attention of the reader. His artwork and how he is able to capture the sense of action and emotion through the pages is magnificent and so far, this series has been engrossing and highly enjoyable thus far.

If you have been following this series this long, you’re probably as addicted as I am and can’t wait until the next volume.

Overall, “Naoki Urasawa’s 20th CENTURY BOYS vol. 16” is highly recommended!

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