Bringing things up to date – 20th Century Boys (v.1 -3)
Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoko Urasawa
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”.
You may like: Monster, Pluto
Additional: Has been adapted into a trilogy of live action films.