You know, with so much superhero movie news coming out lately, it’s sometimes nice to relax and think about other stuff. Like say, that time you made up your own plan to take over the world only for it to come true twenty years later. Or maybe that just happened to me and the guys in 20th Century Boys?
20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa, is a manga about a group of childhood friends who reunite after one of them die, only to slowly realize that their friend’s death may part of a much larger conspiracy involving the enigmatic cult leader “Friend.” What follows is story taking place in three different times (technically four), but each echoing within across one another. Kenji Endo stars in the first half, and his niece Kanna leads the second.
Although the series is a complex and multilayered mystery-thriller, a lot of the themes have to do with growing up and how the past never really stays in the past. So many of the characters in the story are affected by their previous decisions and selves, to the extent that the main antagonist is working off a plan the heroes came up with!
While it’s fun to slowly untangle the twists and turns of the story, the real hook to 20th Century Boys is the character work. You get to see each of the protagonists in three stages of their lives, their childhoods, mid-twenties, and early forties. What Urasawa accomplishes brilliantly is making each character act age specific while still retaining their core self. The optimistic Kenji of 7 may not be identical to the calm weirdo of 40, but you can still call them the same guy. You become invested in these characters because you feel that you’ve seen them grow up right before your eyes.
The only part where the manga may tumble a little is with the reveal of “Friend.” But to be fair, after building him up so much, any revelation concerning his secret identity would have been a letdown. It may have been better to just keep the mystery unresolved.
What’s really great about 20th Century Boys is that it feels really universal. This story works in any setting and with any culture. You could have replaced the manga references to comic references and set it in North Dakota, and it still would have worked. The manga has already been made into a live-action trilogy in Japan, but I hope and prey they being over an adaptation here in the states. Or even an anime. WHY ISN’T THIS AN ANIME!
I’m trying to be a vague as possible with 20th Century Boys because it’s a must read. I’d say it easily goes on Funny Book’s Top 3 recommended reading. Only behind All-Star Superman and Saga.