Bento Bako Lite: 20th Century Boys 17, March Story 3
Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 17 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2004 by Shogakukan in Japan, October 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama
In my review of the previous volume, I expressed confusion over the sudden passage of time between it and volume 15. This volume clears that up a bit better through some flashbacks with Otcho that occur during the three year time span. Things pick up pretty much right where volume 16 left off, with Otcho, Sanae, and Katsuo having escaped safely into an old bowling alley. Kamisama gives them some good information, and then leads them to a secret entrance in the sewers that will take them straight to the Kabuki-cho Church and Father Nitani. Unfortunately, Otcho is too large to fit into the passage, so the children must continue on their own, following directions Kamisama left along the path so he wouldn’t get lost. Otcho entrusts them with getting in touch with Father Nitani, and off they go into the Shinjuku underground all on their own. They come across an injured man inside an old subway car who claims to be a member of the Genji Faction, and is being hunted by the Global Defense Force – an armed forces unit set up by the Friendship Party to fight alien invaders. Yep. The man decides to give himself up to save the children, but entrusts them with a message to carry back to his friends – there’s a spy in the Genji Faction, and one within the Ice Queen’s organization, and the Friends know all about the upcoming uprising. With grim determination, Sanae decides to find the Ice Queen, and sends Katsuo on to the church by himself. A nervous Sanae follows the instructions given to her by the man in the subway, proves her determination, and finally comes face to face with the Ice Queen – Kanna. An exhausted looking Kanna listens to Sanae’s story, and then calmly deals with the spy right in front of her. Kanna, however, has no intention of calling off the uprising, as she knows the event is the only thing that has been holding everyone together, and to call things off would destroy their spirits. Rewind three (or so) years, when the virus was just beginning to ravage the country and destroy people’s lives. Massive relocations are enacted to quarantine communities where the virus has been found. Finding themselves in little more than refugee camps, a group of men escape their quarantine locations and meet up on the road. Otcho is among them. The men support each other on their journey, and develop close bonds during the time they are traveling together. Everything is going rather well…until a man in a gas mask arrives with a vial of vaccine for one of the men. In desperation, the men immediately turn violent on each other, leaving Otcho to continue the journey on his own. However, not much farther down the road, Otcho comes upon a village whose citizens are fighting savagely over a set of vaccines. It’s here that Otcho learns about a black market thriving on the sale of vaccines, and accidentally finds himself in the middle of such a “transaction.” Back in the present, we finally learn what has happened to Chono, a former cop (if I remember right) and friend of Kanna’s. Now he’s working security at a checkpoint in the north (north of what, I’m not sure…north of Tokyo maybe?) meant to watch for and stop alien invaders. They’ve seen nothing for two years, yet everyone (but Chono) is convinced that a space alien attack could come at any moment. In their area of the country, their boss eats all sorts of delicacies, while the common people struggle to get by with the heavy rice taxes. Chono’s supervisor ruthlessly adheres to the law, and shoots anyone who attempts to obstruct it. On a trip into the local village, Chono discovers the villagers gathered around a radio, struggling to find and hear a new song to learn; these songs raise their spirits and give them hope for the future. Back in the city, Koizumi Kyoko comes across the lead guitarist of her favorite band from three years ago. She takes the musician, reduced to playing songs on the sidewalk, to meet with Maruo (one of Kenji’s childhood friends and the manager for the famous singer Haru Namio). Maruo questions the man about his song, and he eventually confesses that he learned it from a man three years ago that he met in a random intersection after a concert. The man who wrote that song has just arrived at the northern checkpoint.
Lots of despair and hopelessness in this volume. Things are looking very bleak indeed. Despair is not only a main theme of this volume, it’s in the title of one of the chapters. People are dying, the government seems to be ignoring the plight of those with the virus, and space aliens could attack at any moment (not really). Actually, the government’s stance on the virus is to quarantine any and all communities where the virus has appeared, regardless of actual infection levels; and the only people who are eligible for a vaccine are those who attended the Expo’s opening ceremony three years ago. Friend is clearly playing games with people’s lives, but the big questions is just how long that game will last. Kamisama has some telling words, when he mentions to Otcho that kids’ games never end, because they eventually lose interest. The Book of Prophecy and the New Book of Prophecy, which history has been following since Bloody New Year’s, are, after all, the product of imaginative children who wrote them years ago. Part of the frustration of the main characters is that they know everything going on is the product of a child’s unhappy youth, and they know what’s coming from having read Friend’s New Book of Prophecy, but so far they haven’t been able to stop any of his plans. In fact, things seem only to be getting worse and worse. Fortunately, although many people have been convinced that Friend is their savior, there are still plenty of people who believe that something is seriously wrong with the world, just like Sanae. Hopefully like Sanae, many of them will have the courage to try and make a difference. I certainly don’t think Sanae’s role in the story if over, and I’d love to see her become a sort of symbol for the future generation that will inherit the world. I’d also like to see Chono get back in the game, and maybe he will along with the reappearance of a certain someone thought long dead.
Title: March Story
Author: Kim Hyung-min (story), Yang Kyung-il (art)
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 3 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2008 by Shogakukan in Japan, October 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, drama, horror
Ciste Vihad March travels the land exorcising Ill from people and objects. Unlike most Ciste Vihad, March prefers exorcising Ill rather than destroying them (though it helps that she is the only Ciste Vihad capable of doing so), and is able to exorcise an Ill from a person if they have not yet drawn blood. Ills are demonic-like spirits that are drawn to strong human emotions like anger, despair, and jealousy. Though some don’t mean any harm, many can become extremely violent, and even the ones that seem harmless can do great damage. Giving March her power is an Ill that resides inside her. The Ill made a pact with March and the Ciste Vihad Jake to remain dormant inside of March until she falls in love; but the moment March gives in to feelings of love, the Ill will devour her. For this reason, March pretends to be a boy.
The volume opens with a rather silly story about a human-like female beaver who is searching for the perfect wife for the human son she raised since she found him abandoned as a baby years ago. She loves her son a tad too much, which is evident when she kidnaps March, whom she is somehow able to tell is female, and whisks her away to train her to be the perfect bride. As collateral, she also kidnaps Rodin, and hides him away so she can get March to do as she asks. The beaver, who is clearly an Ill, gives March lessons in cooking, cleaning, and other wifely arts, and even dresses her up in an extravagant dress, the likes of which March has never worn before. When the son finds out what is going on, he seeks out Jake’s help, and she facilitates an exchange that also teaches the beaver a little something about the value of family and what it means for children to grow up. Unfortunately, this is not before Rodin spots March all dolled up and goes gaga over her, without knowing who the beautiful girl actually is; which means March now knows that Rodin finds her pretty. Keeping with the solid pacing in this series of personal anecdotes and stories of troubled Ill, things switch gears to a tale of pirates and ghost captains. A tap dancing spirit has been seen attacking pirate ships at sea, often destroying the crew and the ship. Jake, March, and Rodin have been invited by young Lawrence (the noble boy from volume 2) to a pirate-themed masquerade cruise (I bet you can already see where this is going). A seemingly crazy old man tricks Rodin into giving him his ticket and boards the ship with the intent of taking it over so he can hunt pirates. It turns out that pirates killed his best friend, an old ship’s captain who…guess what…love to tap dance. When the ghost-like captain attacks the ship, March attempts to protect the passengers and defeat the Ill, but it’s the old man who is able to reach his friend and quell his troubled soul. It’s flash back time, as the volume shifts again to talk about a time in Jake’s past. Tired of the smell of blood and steel, Jake leaves her mercenary group and manages to get hired as a maid at the palace of Count Khoum. Despite her massive build, Jake manages to pass herself as a dainty young woman, and quickly learns her duties as a maid. Jake and Count Khoum are the only inhabitants of a palace filled with all manner of treasures, antiques, and glass figurines. Because his home is filled with so many treasures, he is continually plagued by visits from a pair of thieves. As Jake refuses to fight again, the Count scares them off with a massive hammer that he manages to wield despite his trim frame. Everything is going well, and Jake has never been happier…until she accidentally finds herself in a forbidden area of the palace, where a powerful Ill has been locked away. As tends to happen with Ills, tragedy strikes, and Jake is forever changed. Another rather melancholy story follows about an orphaned young lady named Charlene who has fallen in love with a person wearing a cat mask. The sickly noble girl is desperate to find her love, the only person who has ever made her happy since her parents’ deaths, and so holds a festival where everyone is requested to don cat masks, with the one who manages to make her smile being the one she will marry. With obssessed as she is over this mysterious person named Ron, she is unable to see the love in the heart of her childhood friend, Monstoen. When March discovers that Ron is an Ill, the Ill manages to convince her to help him make Charlene happy in exchange for allowing March to exorcise him. Unfortunately, witnessing such a touching love story causes March to think of Rodin, and the Ill inside her body begins to sense the movement of her heart. A humorous bonus story has Belma traveling into the mountains to find the ultimate ingredient to help him make the best tasting meal.
The series continues to move far away from the stark morality tales of the first volume. The theme still exists, but it’s far less blatant. This particular volumes focuses a lot on family and friendship. The beaver Ill is another example of the unimaginable – an Ill that takes in a human child and raises it as its own, showering it with love and affection. True, the Ill goes a bit too far, but she means well, and with a little finagling from Jake, they manage to teach the Ill about family and parenting and avoid having to destroy or exorcise her. I think this is actually the very first time they have simply let an Ill walk away and continue living its life. It’s definitely not what a Ciste Vihad is supposed to do, but March and Jake have run into some very abnormal Ills recently, so it’s understandable that their methods might change. It could be a one time thing, although there is starting to be some continuity between the chapters, like the reappearance of Powell and Merche (the butler and maid from the previous volume), and Lawrence. This volume is a bit lighter than previous volumes, with not as much death, and some happy endings. The darkest story is probably Jake’s bit of back story, because it takes her from a life of death, gives her a glimpse of bright happiness, and then drenches her with blood once more. The others are rather sweet and touching, even the one with the creepy tap dancing sea captain. I’m still enjoying the series, though the second volume has been my favorite so far. The art is still lovely; even the gigantic Jake has moments of sparkling beauty. March Story still isn’t as strong as it could be, but it does have potential, and the creators manage to drag that potential out now and then.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.