Ah, two of my favorite titles today! Join me as I relish in the relaxing and pleasing House of Five Leaves, and the continually exciting 20th Century Boys. Both titles recently received well deserved 2011 Eisner nominations, 20th Century Boys for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, and Best US Edition of International Material – Asia; and House of Five Leaves for Best US Edition of International Material – Asia.
Title: House of Five Leaves
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volume 3 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2007 by Shogakukan in Japan, April 19, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Slice-of-life, historical, drama
When we last left off, Matsukichi, the Five Leaves’ spy, was seemingly captured (well, I think it may have been a preview page). Volume 3 takes a few steps back to show to events leading up to this, first with the chef Ume declaring his intention to leave the gang. Masa informs Yaichi that he will be practicing and training with a fellow swordsman, but Yaichi expresses his suspicions and warns Masa to be careful. Meanwhile, Matsu pays a visit to a man he is indebted to (named Kikuya), and learns that this man is in trouble. A special set of wooden seals was stolen from his house by his rival Ohtsuya, and though he asks Matsu not to get involved, the former thief cannot help but want to aid this man, and sets out to recover the seals on his own. Unfortunately, he is caught and locked up in order to blackmail Kikuya. Masa becomes worried, and with the help of Yagi, gets a job at the Ohtsuya place in order to find Matsu. As Masa pretty much single-handedly rescues Matsu, we learn how Matsu came to join the Five Leaves, and his purpose for pursuing a life of crime (if you recall, it is being slowly revealed that each character has a reason for needing the extra money). As Masa ponders the meaning of loyalty and friendship, he realizes that he is becoming a true member of the Five Leaves. Unfortunately, while Masa did rescue Matsu, he may have also brought an unwanted element into the group. His ronin friend, Yagi, turns out to be the new superintendent of the local police force. As the gang ponders the consequences of Masa’s new acquaintance, Masa’s little sister suddenly appears, on the run from a marriage arranged by their brother. She takes a liking to Otake, and decides to learn a thing or two about being a woman from her. Meanwhile, some things are stirring in town, as someone is on the hunt for the man who sold out the Bakuro gang (who we know from the previous volume was Yaichi). There are also hints that Yagi and Yaichi are connected somehow, which could prove quite dangerous if those involved begin to piece together the past. As the volume wraps up, rumors about a merciless kidnapping gang have begun to spread.
Some of my fellow manga bloggers have grown a little tired of Masa and seeing the story from his point of view. I actually enjoy the leisurely pace, and I find Masa adorable in his way. But for those of you a bit annoyed with his exceedingly nervous and slow personality, you will love Masa stepping forward to rescue Matsu almost entirely on his own, and the way he changes into a responsible, dutiful brother when his younger sister visits. His interaction with his sister in particular is a side of Masa we have not seen before, and indeed is the polar opposite of how he has so far been portrayed. This volume reveals quite a few tidbits to help piece together the pasts of the characters. We learn how both Matsu and Otake joined the Five Leaves, and the reason for their loyalty to Yaichi. There are some great hints at Yaichi’s past, that are also meant to give the reader pause as to what they really mean. They also provide a new reason for why Yagi might be paying attention to Masa. With the appearance of someone looking for revenge against Yaichi, and a rival kidnapping gang with very different methods from the Five Leaves, things are sure to get heated in upcoming volumes.
Title: Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 14 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2003 by Shogakukan in Japan, April 19, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama
When we last left Kanna and the gang, the Friend had just been killed right before (some of) their eyes. The Friendship party was reeling from the loss of their leader, and many of them began dying mysteriously. The Friend’s plans were still in motion, even after his death, as the deadly virus made by Yamane began sweeping across the planet, killing massive amounts of people. Desperate to learn what the Friend was planning, Kanna decided to travel to Friend Land and enter the Virtual World game with Koizumi Kyoko and Yoshitsune. Around the world, people are coming in droves to mourn the Friend’s death. Manjome, the head of the FDP, finds himself lost without the guidance of the Friend, and decides to take one final trip into Friend Land. At Friend Land, Yoshitsune insists on going into the Virtual World with Koizumi, telling Kanna that she is too important to risk on this mission. As the wander Yoshitsune’s home town, they quickly realize that something isn’t right; this version of the town is not the one that Koizumi saw when she was last there. A bowling alley now stands on top of the place where the kids’ secret hideout was located. Confused, Yoshitsune tries desperately to remember what everyone was doing the summer the bowling alley opened. He wonders what would have happened to their future (or past, now) had the bowling alley never been built. He soon realizes that the Friend had purposefully mixed up the dates in the game when Koizumi was there, and that they are now in the real 1971. Now faced with the true timeline, Yoshitsune believes there must be some truth he is meant to see. He runs into Mon-chan and realizes that it’s the night Mon-chan forgot to turn the pump on after cleaning the fish tank in the science lab, a night that changed everything. Meanwhile, Manjome is closing in on Yoshitsune and Koizumi in the game, as he, too, realizes that he is meant to see something on this day in his Friend’s memory. Back in the outside world, several of the characters have spotted a figure who looks like the Friend walking the streets. And at Friend Land, another person is spotted entering the game, tearing through the stages at lightning speed toward Yoshitsune, Koizumi, and Manjome, who have now come together to view the incident in the science lab. Kanna jumps into the game to warn them, and along with Donkey, Yoshitsune, Koizumi, and Manjome, she witnesses the Friend’s secret that was revealed to Donkey that night. When the fourth mysterious player appears, the game collapses, and Yoshitsune and Kanna are locked inside.
This is definitely one of the more confusing volumes of 20th Century Boys I have read. I’m not sure if that’s because I never read the first half of the series, or if someone who has would also find this a confusing volume. There are “revelations,” but they don’t really make any sense to me. I don’t quite understand the significance of what Donkey saw in the science lab. Was it a trick, or was it the truth? The strange sightings across town of someone thought to be dead causes either more confusion, or solves the matter. That little mystery probably won’t be solved for another volume or two, so the significance of the event in Friend Land likely won’t be clear until then, either. We also get some glimpses of the pasts of a couple other characters while in Friend Land; namely Kamisama and Manjome. A nice touch in this volume is the short but tender moment when Kanna finds herself in her uncle’s childhood home and is able to speak with the young Kenji. It’s not really necessary for the story as a whole, but it’s nice to watch Kanna embrace the brief interaction she is given with her now dead uncle. Another nice moment occurs after Yoshitsune and Kanna get trapped in the Virtual Game. To escape, they must both face their inner struggles. Yoshitsune confronts his past self, and Kanna gets a pep talk from Donkey. Both moments are a little bittersweet, but also uplifting in their way as they strengthen the resolve of their respective participants. Another heart-pounding volume from Urasawa.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.