Monday, December 17, 2012

I Reads You Review: 20TH CENTURY BOYS, Volume 21

Creators: Naoki Urasawa with Takashi Nagasaki and Akemi Wegmüller (English adaptation)
Publishing Information: VIZ Media, paperback, B&W, 208 pages, $12.99 (US), $14.99 CAN, £8.99 UK
Ordering Numbers: ISBN: 978-1-4215-3539-5

Rating: “T+ for Older Teens”

There once was a boy who imagined the end of the world. That is the spine of the story in 20th Century Boys, a science fiction adventure series from famed manga creator, Naoki Urasawa. The story begins with Kenji Endo, a hardworking and honorable young man.

He operates his family’s small business (a convenience store). He is also a single parent to Kanna, the child abandoned by his sister, Kiriko. In 1997, Kenji discovers a series of ominous incidents that follow “The Book of Prophecy,” a ridiculous scenario Kenji and his friend made up as children in the early 1970s.

A bizarre religious cult called the Friends and their leader, the “Friend,” are behind a plot that leads to December 31, 2000. Called “Bloody New Year’s Eve,” this day sees the world brought to the brink of destruction. The Friend is called the hero who saved the world. Kenji, who tried to stop the Friend’s destruction, is branded a terrorist.

Fourteen years later, Neo Tokyo is a thriving, multiethnic metropolis, but another crisis occurs when the Friend is assassinated in 2015 by a member of his own organization. He comes back to life in time to save the Pope and also order the dispersal of a killer virus that changes the world.

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Vol. 21 (entitled Arrival of the Space Aliens) opens in Year Three of the Friendship Era. Word of Kenji Endo’s return spreads slowly, but steadily in the barrens outside Tokyo, but a DJ learns that not everyone wants to hear the good news. Father Nitani, head of the Kabuki-cho Catholic Church, patiently waits to meet with his old friend, the Pope, but he’ll need a food delivery boy to deliver some good news for him.

Meanwhile, Takasu marvels at the special package that she is carrying for the friend. Kanna, Kenji’s niece, makes a startling discovery about the old Expo venue. In a flashback, we see the battle to save Kenji and his friends’ secret hideout. Finally, the Friend makes a very special announcement.

20th Century Boys is a battle of good versus evil or even crazy versus brave. As such, it is a riveting suspense thriller built on countless subplots and plot threads that spread out in all literary directions. All, however, eventually come back to the center – the battle against the Friend’s conspiracy, as told in “The New Book of Prophecy.”

The book also delves into cults, as well as the cult of personality. Sometimes, a charismatic person can spread his mental illness to his followers. These acolytes can find themselves doing nonsensical things in spite of what they know to be correct, or at least to be the better choice. It makes for unsettling reading, this comic book depiction in such clear terms and in stark visual storytelling.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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