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Naoki Urasawa’s 21st CENTURY BOYS vol. 2 (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

March 9, 2013 by  



Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpiece “20th Century Boys” now concludes with the second volume of “21st Century Boys”. And now, once again Kenji finds himself in a predicament to stop the end of humanity by confronting a deadly robot.    Exciting, captivating and brilliant, Naoki Urasawa’s long storyline of “20th Century Boys” has now come to a close with volume 2 of “21st Century Boys”.  The entire series is highly recommended!

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

MANGA TITLE: 21st CENTURY BOYS vol. 2

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

RELEASE DATE: March 19, 2013

The climax of our story is finally at hand! Mankind faces a crisis, and Kenji is hustling to save the world and the people he loves. But he also must solve the mystery of the Friend. Who is he and why did he become evil? The answer is tied to a memory Kenji has from when he was a twentieth century boy.

Just when the threat of the Friend was thought to be over, a new Book of Prophecy is found by the UN Forces and one of the final orders given to the supporters of the Friend was to launch an anti-proton bomb to destroy humanity.

As the UN Forces suspect that Kenji’s friends especially Kanna are working for the Friend, Kanna tells them that she knows where the detonator for the anti-proton bomb is.  But as the UN Forces are not willing to listen, Kenji’s friends take things into their own hands and go against the UN Forces, allowing Maruo and Kanna to escape to find the detonator.

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.

But there is one thing that is happening in the virtual world that can’t be explained…Kanna is able to communicate with younger Kenji in the virtual world and that Sadakiyo informed her that the remote device is in the old clubhouse of where younger Kenji and friends used to hang out.

As Kanna and Yukiji go to find the device in the real world, in truth, the device is wired to detonate if pressed.

And now a giant robot has returned to Tokyo out of nowhere, to press the detonation device.  Almost like a replay of 2000, can Kenji and friends stop this robot before it’s too late?

“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.

The final conclusion and everything comes back full circle as we see Kenji trying to save the world, once again.

But also major revelations are revealed that perhaps Kenji probably has some connection to the Friend (or the one who became the Friend #2) in some way.

Without getting into the storyline of what happens or why nor get into debates of why the story concluded the way it did, my feeling is that the year that Urasawa had after suffering two dislocated shoulders, taking the year break and then coming back, there probably was a lot of things in his mind and things that probably were left unresolved.

In some ways, “21st Century Boys” reminds me a lot of the American drama series “Lost”.  Many theories, many flashbacks, many twists and turns but eventually while answering one question or several lingering questions, there are some out there that have yet to be answered and it makes you wonder if they were never answered because Urasawa wanted to leave it to the readers or perhaps, he knew he had to end things and not drag the story out any longer.

I do feel that prior to his injury, “20th Century Boys” was a title that was fascinating, exciting and absolutely captivating.  The two volumes of “21st Century Boys” are also intriguing and well-capture your attention but make you wonder, what happened to this person or that person and somehow, you feel the final pages concludes the story but makes you feel it could have been better.  But it still makes you feel content, but I suppose I was hoping for a bit of better closure.

But this was an eight year run for Naoki Urasawa and I feel the ending became more philosophical about negative actions towards an individual during their younger years can really affect them in the worst possible way, especially once they get older.

And unfortunately, without spoiling the conclusion, it’s all I can even mention.

Naoki Urasawa’s “21st Century Boys” was a very good conclusion but I can’t help but feel that things were rushed in terms of the story.  Unfortunately, when you are in a groove of working on something and then there is a disruption in your work flow, it makes me wonder if the one year of recuperating effected the storyline, especially since he was working on another fantastic series titled “Pluto” (based on Osamu Tezuka’s “Astro Boy”).

As usual, volume 2 of “21st Century Boys” featured wonderful illustration and even after a year break and working on another series, there is no decrease in quality of his artwork.  The series still looks incredible.  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 stuck with the entire run of “20th Century Boys” and also began reading volume 1 of “21st Century Boys”, the conclusion is worth reading and worth owning.  But almost like an exciting roller coaster ride, once you approach the end for your coaster to slow down and get to the exit area, you have a sense that you want that excitement once again, but you know the ride is over and it’s time to move on or take on another Urasawa manga series.

Overall, Naoki Urasawa has captivated readers for eight long years.  Many characters, many twists and turns but also a lot of heartbreak.  But for both “20th Century Boys” and “21st Century Boys”, no matter how difficult things got, you have to hold on to hope and it’s what made this manga series so fascinating from beginning to end.  Seeing so much bad, but eventually hoping for that light at the end of the tunnel and for that, Urasawa did deliver.

Exciting, captivating and brilliant, Naoki Urasawa’s long storyline of “20th Century Boys” has now come to a close with volume 2 of “21st Century Boys”.

The entire series is highly recommended!

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