Naoki Urasawa’s 21st CENTURY BOYS vol. 1 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

March 9, 2013 by  

Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpiece…”20th Century Boys” now concludes with “21st Century Boys” with a two volume finale.  The Friend may not be around but his supporters are willing to continue with destroying humanity by unleashing an anti-proton bomb.  Can Kenji and friends stop them!  Find out in volume 1 of Naoki Urasawa’s “21st Century Boys”!

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


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



RATED: T for Older Teen

RELEASE DATE:  January 15, 2013

War is over. The Friend is dead. Mankind no longer faces the threat of extinction. Peace has finally come to Tokyo… or has it? The mystery still remains. Nobody knows who the Friend was and where he came from. The only clue is hidden deep within the memories – the memories of the hero Kenji. It is time to open Pandora’s Box to discover what is left at the bottom.

At the conclusion of “20th Century Boys” Vol. 22, we watched as Kenji confronted The Friend.  Leaving a cliffhanger of someone to live or die.

And now, the story returns in Naoki Urasawa’s “21st Century Boys” vol. 1, a two-part volume that concludes the series.

Can Kenji save the world?

What is “20th Century Boys”?

Before “21st Century Boys”, there was the 22-volume manga series “20th Century Boys”.

The masterpiece manga series created by Naoki Urasawa. 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. And now the 22nd 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 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 over 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.

We learned that Kenji’s young niece 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.

As Kanna and Otcho have pretty much decided that they are going to go to war and try to kill the Friend, they reunite with their old friends. Who will fight with them and who won’t? Meanwhile, Maruo goes to visit one of the gang’s old friends and in the process, to find out if Kiriko Endo is alive and what she has been doing all this time.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a shift of allegiance in the FDP and Manjome, Takasu, Yanbo & Mabo are up to something devious and much more worse than what took place on Dec 31, 2000.

It had been hinted that the Friend will try to kill humanity, but no one knew how.

We have seen him gain control through fear by spreading the virus and killing people, but of course, the blame going against terrorism. But now, the Friend is causing mass hysteria when UFO’s fly over the city and pretending they will be attacking civilization.

Under the guise of sending people to Mars, mass hysteria breaks out as everyone who wants to survive is hoping to get on the list. But Kanna and Kenji’s friends no better. This is a plot to annihilate humanity and the only way to save them is to get them to a safe point. But what massive structure can hold a lot of people and protect them from the UFO’s?

And here we are now with volume 22 as mass hysteria has broken out after the Friend has announced that he was responsible for the massacre back in 2000 and that he was responsible for the virus attacks all over the world.

While many are living in pain and desperation in Japan, the song of Kenji is being played all over Tokyo. And with Kanna and friends doing all they can to bring everyone to safety, they try to tell everyone that Kenji will be performing live in front of everyone, in order to get them to safety.

Meanwhile, the Friend has launched three UFO’s to drop the virus on people at the Expo. As the Maruo Twins now trying to assist by stopping the the UFO’s, some from Kenji’s past decide to make the fatal decision of trying to stop the UFO’s themselves before anyone else is killed.

Meanwhile Dr. Endo Kiriko tries to prepare a vaccination, the hitman known as Number 13 makes his return and The Friend offers his challenge to Kenji, setting up the battle between these two men, that many have been waiting for.

Which leads us to “21st Century Boys”

In the first volume of “21st Century Boys”, one of the UFO’s with poison crashes down near the EXPO site and among the casualties are Number 13, the man with the mask revealed to be Sadakiyo and dressed as the Friend was Fukube.    But Fukube was killed earlier, which means the man posing as a Friend had plastic surgery.

With the threat of the Friend now over, many feel they can now relax and that Japan and the world can gain some normalcy.

The UN forces arrive in Japan and Kenji reunites with his old friends, but when he meets with the general headquarters of the UN Forces, a copy of the new “Book of Prophecy” has been found and it is revealed that the Friend had access to an anti-proton bomb and a big chance is that his supporters will follow his instructions and destroy the world.

With a new threat that may destroy the world, the race is on to find the detonator for the bomb.  But to do that, Kenji must use the virtual reality system created by the Friend and go back to the past and find out to find the bomb.

And while inside the virtual reality, Kenji runs into a man who is deceased in the real world, but is alive in the virtual world… Manjome Inshu, the Friend’s longtime right-hand man.

Meanwhile, we get a glimpse to how a person like the Friend came to be like he was and somehow Kenji is connected to it.

“21st CENTURY BOYS” features the following characters:

Kenji:  The leader of the group as children and the protagonist who fought against the Friend who tried to kill everyone back in 2000.  But because Kenji was thought to have died, he was branded as a terrorist responsible for the deaths.  Having been gone for over 15-years, his music is being played on the radio but with a slight change.  It was revealed that Kenji is alive and now is planning to end things with the Friend.

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. In the Friend Era, she is known as the “White Queen”.

Chono Shohei – A freshman detective following his grandfather’s footsteps of being a great detective and to have the name “Cho-san”. In the Friend Era, he has abandoned his job to join forces with Kenji Endo and now is a wanted man.

Kamisama – The homeless man who had visions of what Kenji should be doing and would relay it to him but 14 years later, he has become millionaire and now tries to keep some of Kenji’s friends safe through his bowling building.

Kyoko Koizumi – A high school student who has helped the Kenji faction and is now working for a music company searching for talent during the Friend Era.

Otcho – One of Kenji’s friends who escaped from prison to reunite and help Kanna. He and Kanna want to stop the Friend immediately.

Yukiji – The only female member from the original Kenji faction, Yukiji raised Kanna after Kenji disappeared and looks at Kanna like her own daughter and will do all she can to protect her, as she had promised to Kenji.

Yoshitsune – The young and shy Yoshitsune has grown up to become the leader of the underground dissident organization.

Maruo – A friend of Kenji who now works at a music company and has used his position to help the Kenji faction.

I have to admit that I was surprised that there was a “21st Century Boys”, last year I was expecting a final volume 23 of “20th Century Boys” but instead we get a new title and conclusion that is to last two volumes.

According to what I have read in Japanese blogs, Urasawa suffered from two dislocated shoulders and had to take a year off from the manga series.  But I’m quite grateful that after a year of recuperating, he was able to come back to finishing the series.

For this first volume, I think it’s a given that Kenji would return and there would be this finale confrontation between Kenji and the Friend.  There was no real battle per se, but with the Friend dead and his people apprehended, everything was thought to be safe until it was revealed that his supporters were going to unleash a anti-proton bomb on the world.

So, once again Kenji and friends try to save the world. But there is one problem.

While the UN Forces have arrived to bring stability to the area, the UN Forces still don’t trust the Genji Faction because Kanna is the daughter of the Friend and because her mother (Kenji’s sister) is responsible for creating the virus and the antidote.

But to find this remote detonating device, Kenji has to go back to the past and confront the person that can help him, his younger self from the early ’70s.

Meanwhile, Kanna deals with guilt of putting people into harms way, while Chono finds out who killed his uncle.

Naoki Urasawa’s “20th CENTURY BOYS” just gets better and better and part one of “21st Century Boys” was an interesting followup after Urasawa’s time of recuperation.  This interesting conclusion tries to come full circle as the storylines involving Kenji and his friends as children in the virtual world and Kenji and his friends as adults are now are trying to achieve the greater good.

But it’s also showing how a person who has experienced intense bullying can have a hatred towards humanity.  But if one can be friends and accept the other as an equal, perhaps these individuals can be saved.  Possibly.

Featuring wonderful illustration and awesome storytelling, which Naoki Ursawa is known for, “Naoki Urasawa’s 21st CENTURY BOYS” Vol. 1 is another excellent volume for the series and an important volume, as it shows us how Kenji and friends must do all they can to stop this robot from destroying the world.

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, it’s really a no-brainer, “Naoki Urasawa’s 21st CENTURY BOYS” vol. 1 is highly recommended.

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