Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 20 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2005 by Shogakukan, April 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama, mystery
In Year 3 of the Friendship Era, a group of martial arts students head to the dojo for one last lesson. Their master, Yukiji, has decided that the time for action is fast approaching. Just after she dismisses her students, Kanna, Otcho, and Yoshitsune arrive. She has decided to go with them, but suggests that Kanna visit her mother, Kiriko, first. Ichihara (the lawyer) comes bursting in with the evidence to prove Kiriko’s recent movements. Through stubborn digging and following leads, Ichihara managed to locate the community where Kiriko should be living. Kanna claims she doesn’t have the time for a detour, but is informed that Maruo is already headed in that direction to confirm Kiriko’s status. As Maruo unsuspectingly stumbles into an old soba-loving friend, Kanna and Otcho decide the best course of action is to go and confront Friend immediately. Yukiji gives in and decides to accompany them, but Yoshitsune remains behind in case things go horribly wrong. In Higashi Murayama, Maruo learns the story of Kiriko from Keroyon, who is doing his best to make up for abandoning Kenji on Bloody New Year’s Eve by protecting his friend’s sister. Keroyon takes Maruo to visit Kiriko, who has been working on a way to combat Friend’s deadliest virus yet. Through some chilling flashbacks, Kiriko’s past with the Friend is revealed, including her time as his lover, the birth of Kanna, and the moment she discovered what Fukube was up to and turned her daughter over to Kenji so she could stop him. As Kanna, Otcho, and Yukiji make their way through Friend’s tower, Kiriko begins her last ditch effort to save humanity, a tense twenty-four hours that will decide if humanity will live or die. She tests her newest vaccine on herself as Maruo and Keroyon watch on in horror, helpless. While they wait, Kiriko tells them about Fukube, and how she believes Fukube would never hurt Kanna, no matter what. Unfortunately, the current Friend is not Fukube, as Kiriko confirms everyone’s suspicions, which means that Kanna is in considerable danger. More so when she concocts a plan to ditch Otcho and Yukiji so she can face Friend on her own. The Friend that Kanna meets is an unknown, but he acts every bit like the real Friend, until Kanna’s frustrations explode and he orders her “Rejected.” Through some quick thinking, Kanna manages to escape, though not before Friend gives her a final cryptic message. Meanwhile, Otcho and Yukiji get some unexpected aid (well, sort of) from Takasu (Manjome’s lover and bodyguard), then stumble upon the next big part of Friend’s plan. Before they can process what they’ve found, Mabo, one of the twins who betrayed Kenji’s gang on Bloody New Year’s Eve, shows up and insists that the pair follow him. Claiming to have become fed up with Friend’s actions, he takes them to meet Professor Shikishima, the creator of the Bloody New Year’s Eve robot. At Yanbo and Mabo’s request, he has built a new giant robot to interfere with Friend’s upcoming prophecy. A robot of that size and import can only be piloted by one person, however, and fortunately he’s already on his way.
Who is Friend? Fukube was, presumably, the original friend, but he is undeniably dead. The Friend who was “resurrected” is not Fukube, which has been confirmed by one of the people who knew him best – Endo Kiriko. He acts like Friend, talks like Friend, and appears to believe he’s Friend. He’s also set on continuing the original Friend’s plans for annihilating humanity. He doesn’t, however, share all of Fukube’s values. As Kiriko points out, while Fukube never would have hurt Kanna, his daughter, this Friend has no such qualms. As the pieces of the puzzle are slowly, excruciatingly, being put together, I make my one real complaint about this series – I’m so fucking confused. While I’m a fan of Urasawa’s ingenious plot twists, there does come a point where I’m growing tired of being strung along and I just want answers already. There’s only a couple volumes left, so the answers are coming soon, but now there’s yet another big mystery. The kid in the mask. Urasawa has kept Kenji’s circle of friends pretty clearly lined up, but Fukube’s friends have been continually confusing to recall and straighten out. Particularly since there are times when they traded places as children. And now even more so when Kiriko realizes there were two masked children, not one. Sadakiyo is one of them, but the other, the one who is likely the current Friend, is a mystery. And this one is crazy enough that Fukube’s loyal followers are turning tail or trying to overthrow him, which is saying something, since they tolerated Fukube’s stunts for so long. Urasawa’s presentation of the current Friend, during the confrontation with Kanna, is chilling. There’s a sinister air about him. He’s pretending to be someone else, of course, and even acts like he’s Kanna’s father. What’s really disturbing about him, however, is a child-like quality to his physicality and words. The way he greets Kanna with a hug, the way he tilts his head to the side in contemplation, and gazes at Kanna through his cloth mask. The way Urasawa draws him, it’s as if he’s not wearing a mask at all; his emotions burn through clearly. He’s truly frightening. He also appears to hold a grudge against Kenji, because although Kanna is calling out his lies and tricks, it’s not until she mentions Kenji that he snaps. Things are getting really exciting, though Urasawa is still throwing in twists to shake things up. Which, unfortunately, is getting a little frustrating this late in the game. Still, it’s been a brilliant, engaging series, and I’ve no doubt it will end the same way.
Don’t forget that this week marks the Viz Signature Manga Moveable Feast! Check out Kate’s introduction to the Viz Signature line over at The Manga Critic, and make sure you check in with the robust archive.