Bringing things up to date – 20th Century Boys (v.1 -3)

Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoko Urasawa
Rating: 5/5

It’s 1969. The Beatles perform their last live “concert” on the rooftop of the Apple Corp building in London, The Rolling Stones were all the rage, 500,000 people gathered on a dairy farm for the first Woodstock Music Festival, and in the comfort of a hidden den made from long grass, nine Japanese school friends innocently penned their ideas of a fictional doomsday scenario, of which they would be the saviours, to the sound of rock and roll on the radio. Who would have imagined that nearly 30 years later, the disaster they thought up as children would begin to unfold.

Kenji Endo runs a convenience store in the “King Mart” franchise with his mum, a far cry from his rock and roll dreams, whilst simultaneously raising his missing sister’s baby. As the main contributor the doomsday scenario, Kenji is forced to piece together the mystery as he recognises the symbol of their childhood “club”, and strange events drive a number of old friends to ask Kenji what he knows about a strange cult run by an anonymous leader going by the name “Friend”, but the conspiracy runs deeper than they could imagine.

20th Century Boys, a title inspired by the T. Rex song of the same name, is the story of Kenji’s plight to protect the world’s future, with the help of distant memories of his past (told through flashbacks).

Author Naoki Urasawa is no stranger to the manga world, with 13 titles to his name, and many prestigious awards to go with them – 20th Century Boys itself swooped four, including the Kodansha Manga Award and the Shogakukan Manga Award – And it appears that he’s used all of his experience on this series, widely regarded as his best work to date.

Urasawa’s art is nothing particularly special, and if you’re looking for buxom babes and beautiful boys, then you’re looking in the wrong place, but he succeeds where it is important. With subtle detailing, and expressions, Urasawa is able to show the solemn apathy that Kenji has developed with age, and the progression of his friend’s too.

But 20th Century Boys’ success is strongly founded in the story, with occasional pop culture reference to heighten the realism, and deep narratives that slowly link into the jigsaw the reader is bombarded with drama, suspense and can’t help but sympathise with the imperfect characters, as all the while, the tension builds and builds.

Seinen manga receive only a fraction of the publicity they deserve in this country, with manga perhaps viewed as a childish “phase” that some people go through and grow out of, but it’s stories like 20th Century Boys, and writers like Naoki Urasawa that show the potential of manga storytelling, and the ability to appeal to a different audience.

So if you’re getting bored of the ninjas, the pirates, the demons, pretty school girls, and emotionally constipated teenagers, and willing to dig into something a little deeper, and a little darker, then I heartily recommend 20th Century Boys as the place to start your investigation. You never know, you might find yourself a new “Friend”.

Buy It: Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3; Volume 4; Volume 5.

See all 20th Century Boys products

You may like: Monster, Pluto

Additional: Has been adapted into a trilogy of live action films.

8 Responses to “Bringing things up to date – 20th Century Boys (v.1 -3)”

    I think it’s a little unfair to call the art pedestrian. It’s not stunning, maybe, but it’s a fairly recognisable style that adds a lot of gravitas to the story itself. I haven’t seen the films, are they worth checking out?

    • t0mnomnom says:

      True, it does add to the atmosphere, but the problem comes when I start trying to look at the art too closely. ><

      The films stray away from the manga as they go on, the actors have a tendency to over-exaggerate reactions, and the ending felt like a bit of a kop out…As such I liked the start of the series much more than the end! 😛

      I'd say it's probably worth watching at least the first film, though you'd struggle to get a copy of that on its own now! So if you did feel the urge to watch it, you may aswell watch the second 2 aswell…And if you share my opinion, then at least you have something to moan to people about! ;P


        Hmmm, I have a big list of films anyway so I don’t know if I’ll get around to these with such a poor review! XD I find that live action adaptations tend to lose the spark that manga or anime have originally. Even in a series like this where it’s not all pirates and ninjas, the art stops it being complete social realism, and is definitely a part of the atmosphere.
        (My name should work as not linking to a dead blog anymore)

    • t0mnomnom says:

      Haha. I found your blog another way! O:)

      I think some of the mannerisms used in manga and anime don’t translate well to live action anyway. But even then, as you said, removing them or toning them down just takes away from the atmosphere. I guess it’s a tough balance to perfect!


        I think I agree with Alan Moore of Watchmen in that actually, these things are made in such a medium because that is how they were meant to be told. Obviously some shows will translate well to film, but I think that a lot of manga and anime are meant to be viewed that way, to have the mannerisms of ‘cartoons’ as it were.
        It’s not even that you can’t do it scene by scene, but just that particular forms of montage as used in comic books and manga differ from cinematic montage.

    • t0mnomnom says:

      I think that sums it up very well. Agreed! 🙂

  2. pyonono says:

    Reblogged this on pyonono and commented:
    I had a blast reading this series. I wasn’t expecting it to be so…riveting.
    The art isn’t what I’m used to and the plot didn’t appeal much to me at first because it seemed confusing when I read about the manga on Wikipedia.

    Each character is well developed throughout the series and I can’t even hate on any of the antagonists. In other mangas, side characters normally annoy me because they seem so irrelevant but in this series, all side characters add a distinct feel to the story and without them, it really just wouldn’t be the same. There are only two things I gripe about in this series:
    1. Katsumata’s story
    2. Kanna’s character

    • Tom Ormsby says:

      I think I agree with you on the most part. Certainly one of Urasawa’s greatest strengths lies in creating deep, unique characters. I personally love how characters that seem to have very little bearing on the story, such as Kami-sama. In the initial passing of his character, I didn’t expect him to have a large influence on the story, and that he was only really being used as a minor plot device…but he turns out to be a fairly big driving force behind the first story arc, and becomes relevant later too.

      As for Kanna’s character. I find her without a doubt the most annoying of all the characters. It seems a shame as she is a large focus of the story, but then again that’s perhaps how she lost some of the qualities that made the others endearing. Too much focus on her being important…

      I’m not so sure of my opinions on Katsumata’s story, what particular gripes did you have with it? 🙂

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