Title: Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 13 (of 22), 12.99
Vintage: 2003 by Shogakukan in Japan, February 15, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama
There are MAJOR spoilers here for anyone not keeping up with the series, concerning the identity of Friend and the truth about Bloody New Year’s Eve. If you haven’t been keeping up…well, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out.
With Friend’s death comes a wave of relief. Kenji’s friends feel they can finally relax and get back to their lives. Otcho is not so optimistic. He believes things are far from over, and that there’s no time to rest. Friend may be dead, but his “Friends” are still alive. That is, until they start dropping like flies. Infighting over who will gain control of the Friendship and Democracy Party results in a purge of undesirable members, and several high ranking members die mysteriously. But that’s only the beginning. A strengthened strain of the killer virus created by Kanna’s mother and used on Bloody New Year’s Eve to kill 150,000 people lies in the hands of the FDP. Friend’s most loyal followers wish to continue fulfilling the New Book of Prophecy, and they don’t waste any time getting started. All over the world, people start dying, bleeding to death, sometimes in a matter of hours from infection, as a virulent disease quickly spreads throughout the masses. According to the New Book of Prophecy, 60 million people will vote unanimously for the world’s President, and only 60 million people are expected to survive the virus. Since she discovered Yamane’s research and creation of the strain in 2003, Kanna’s mother has been working tirelessly to create a nearly impossible vaccine. She has appeared in various places around the world with small vials of her vaccine, without any evidence that it will even work, searching for a way to mass produce it anyway, but she may be out of time. Whole towns are being wiped out by the virus. Cities are being quarantined, cut off from the outside, the people left to fend for themselves. Which heroes will step up and save the world this time? Will those touched by Kenji’s influence come together and fight again?
We learn quite a bit in this volume. Kanna’s mother Kiriko and Doctor Yamane once worked together, Yamane developing new viruses, and Kiriko developing the vaccines, each trying to out do the other. But in 2003, Yamane created something truly monstrous, something Kiriko isn’t sure is even possible to develop a cure for. For twelve years she’s been working on this cure, and secretly distributing it when and where she could, with zero proof that it would be successful. Through a flashback, we learn about another person’s connection to Kenji – famous singer Haru Namio, the mouthpiece for the Friend, was once the drummer in Kenji’s band, and has been secretly working against the Friend all these years. Of course, we now know Friend’s true identity, and in fact, that he never hid it from Kenji’s group to begin with, having given them a clue in the mask he wore every day. Unfortunately, no one made the connection until it was too late. As Kanna struggles with the revelation that her mother created the virus that killed thousands of people on Bloody New Year’s Eve, Otcho assures her that her mother is still out there, trying to make up for her past sins. His words help to calm the guilt-stricken girl, who carries enough on her shoulders already. The group must find out what Friend had planned for the future so they can stop the FDP from carrying it out, and Kanna is going to lead the way.
How did Urasawa become so awesome? The first chapter continues the well-paced tension from the previous volume, switching back and forth between Otcho and Kanna in one location, and Yoshitsune and his group in another, as they piece together the puzzle simultaneously. When they all meet up together, a wave of relief washes over the entire group, and Kanna rejoices in finding so many of her uncle’s friends still alive and together again. In contrast, the FDP is in chaos. Without their leader, no one knows what path they should take. They argue between continuing Friend’s plans, or dissolving the FDP and forgetting about everything. Urasawa keeps the tension going, not giving the reader a chance to relax. There was an immense climax last volume, and the reader, like Kanna and her friends, is fooled for a moment into thinking everything is finally over. Then the momentum immediately picks up again, and we see that another disaster is looming, just pages away. We’re given a brief respite, as Koizumi Kyoko and her friends casually hang out at a cafe. While her friends discuss their boy troubles, Kyoko is transfixed by a news report on the sudden deaths of several FDP members. A million thoughts are swirling in her head while her best friends try to get her attention for their “serious” conversation. Their blissful ignorance is a sharp contrast to the terror slowly growing inside Kyoko. Kenji’s influence continues to be felt throughout the story. A lonely drummer longs to make up for the mistakes of his past, with Kenji’s passion and friendship driving him on. A child draws the attention of Kiriko with Kenji’s music, and her life is saved. And of course, Kanna continues to draw courage from her memories of her uncle. Another stellar volume from Urasawa and Viz Media.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.