Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 22 (final volume before 21st Century Boys), $12.99
Vintage: 2007 by Shogakukan, September 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama, mystery
The clock is ticking, as the time for Friend’s prophesied, self-made apocalypse draws near. With just days until Friend releases his virus upon the citizens of Japan and destroys Earth’s entire population, Kanna and her allies are scrambling to save as many people as they can and put a stop to Friend’s plans. Meanwhile, Friend’s allies are scrambling to make sense of things. With the truth at last revealed, they’re obviously quite confused about what they have been working toward this entire time. Everything they’ve ever believed is a lie, a fabrication, a game invented by a child who refuses to grow up. There is chaos in the streets, as citizens revolt and riot, and then barricade themselves in their homes in hopes of surviving somehow. But there are those who know better, like little Sanae, who handed out tapes of Kenji’s song to everyone in her neighborhood, and holds complete faith that Kanna will come up with a way to save everyone. Misplaced or not, Sanae at least realizes the reality of the situation better than her own parents (and the rest of Tokyo) who think boarded up windows and taped dryer ducts will save them from the deadliest manufactured virus known to man. Everyone is coming together and doing their parts. Otcho is learning to pilot and aim the weapons in the robot built by Yanbo and Mabo, which is perhaps their only chance against the three flying saucers that are set to release the virus over the city. Kanna makes her way to the nearby TV station for an important announcement, hoping to gather everyone at the Expo grounds where she thinks they will all be safe from the virus. There she meets up with Number 13 and Konchi, the latter of whom reveals that Kenji visited him at his radio station and recorded the song that has been playing on the radio and giving hope to everyone who hears it. With her uncle as inspiration, Kanna decides to hold a music festival at the Expo in order to draw everyone from their homes. Yoshitsune and Yukiji prepare to lead their forces against Friendship Tower and overthrow the remaining power there. Which is quickly waning, as members of the FDP are running away or being “Rejected” for betraying the party. Kiriko is making vaccines as quickly as possible, and Maruo and Keroyon are doing their best to hand them out. All of Kenji’s and Kanna’s friends, even those who have been in hiding, are pulling together to do the impossible. Which quickly becomes even more impossible looking when Friend gains control of the massive robot and begins his assault early, pushing everyone’s plans immediately forward with a new sense of urgency. With Kanna collapsing from exhaustion, Friend rampaging through Tokyo with the giant robot like he did fifteen years ago, and the flying saucers launching and headed straight toward Expo Park, things are looking dire indeed.
Well, it’s the conclusion that isn’t quite a conclusion. The threat is over, but there are questions left to be answered. Specifically, who is the Friend? Not the original Friend, who was revealed and died a few volumes back. The one who took his place and has been carrying out his own prophecies without mercy. The one who holds a deeply personal grudge against Kenji from back when they were children. This is a conclusion, just not the conclusion. Friend is defeated, the flying saucers containing the deadly virus are destroyed. Kenji is home, and Kanna has her long lost uncle back. What is interesting about this volume, is the motivation behind this version of Friend. Fukube was pretty unstable himself, but this Friend is stuck in his childhood. There was a certain childishness to Fukube, to be sure, but there were some lines he would not cross, few though they were. This unknown Friend will stop at nothing to fulfill his goals, which appears to be total annihilation. The motivation is a little iffy, though. He’s playing a game, an immense, very real, very dangerous game, to try and draw out Kenji and destroy/discredit him. I think. He does want revenge for a slight in their past. Something that will be cleared up in 21st Century Boys, but is hinted at in this volume. Kenji took a small candy prize from a candy shop without paying for it or providing a winning wrapper to claim it. There has to be more to it, but for now, this Friend apparently wants to destroy everything because Kenji, as a little kid, pretended to be some hero of justice with a stolen toy. It’s more complicated than that, as we’ve already seen in the flashbacks throughout the various volumes. There was some weird rivalry going on between Fukube’s friends and Kenji’s. Enough to generate a couple mass murderers. It seems so simplistic, here at the end; that everything has just been some child’s game. But it’s a child who refused to grow up, and the game won’t end until he does. It’s actually rather perfect, watching the words of a madman take shape slowly over the course of 22 volumes, and watching a group of old friends desperately try to make sense of it. There is no real rhyme or reason, however, which, surprisingly, does not diminish the impact of the previous volumes. This has been one wild and amazing ride from Urasawa.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.