Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 16 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2004 by Shogakukan, August 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction, drama
At the end of the last volume, Friend catapulted himself into divinity and began a new era. Around the world a deadly virus was released to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. In secret, Kanna’s mother, Kiriko, had been working on a vaccine for the virus, but ran out of time before she could manage to send more than just a few vials of the vaccine into the world. Because of the spread of the virus, the government, controlled by Friend, has begun to segregate areas into those ravaged by the virus, and those the virus has not yet touched, cutting people off from their homes and friends with a massive network of walls. The book opens up with a flashback when Friend was a child, detailing his interactions with Kenji and his friends, and the circumstances that led to Friend creating the New Book of Prophecy. What we see is a lonely child, with an arrogant intelligence; a boy who thinks he is better than the others, and can’t understand the emotional immaturity of those around him; a boy who wants attention and adoration, but finds all of that stolen by Kenji. We also discover the truth about a couple events mentioned during the series, including what really happened that night in the science lab in the school building when they were all kids. Back in the present, a boy listens to his grandfather recount stories of fresh beef, which is now unavailable due to fears of the virus’s spread. He sneaks part of his dinner outside to an old shed, where an injured man is hiding out. This man is Otcho, who was shot at while making his way over the wall. The boy has an older sister who refuses to believe the rhetoric spouted by the Friendship party, and even attends a protest calling for the government to tear down the walls splitting the city. She is vastly disappointed when she realizes that the majority of the people at the rally don’t really care about the issue at hand, but are simply looking for an adrenaline rush or an excuse to gather and get drunk. When she discovers Otcho, her mind starts whirling and she launches a barrage of questions at him, though he doesn’t give her much response. Otcho listens to the little girl, who genuinely feels things just aren’t right in the current world climate, and picks up on some important information that may lead him to find the friends he has been split apart from. The kids end up building him up to be some sort of hero in their mind, and after they accidentally hear a call to arms over the TV set after official broadcast hours, they go out of their way to help him get to the Shinjuku Catholic Church in Kabuki-Cho. Things go horribly wrong when they’re stopped by the Confidential Guard (Friend’s elite guard), and the two kids end up more deeply involved than they could have imagined.
Um, OK, I think there was a time jump somewhere? Urasawa has stopped using 21st century dates and has begun using “Year of the Friendship Era” to denote time, starting with “Year 3 of the Friendship Era.” That leads me to believe three years have passed, though I’m not completely certain. A passage of time does make sense, since there have been a lot of changes in the world since volume 15, I’m just sort of amazed that seemingly nothing of great importance happened during those three years. There’s not just a ton of progression this volume. About half the book takes place in the past, though that part does reveal some good information, especially since it’s finally the true representation of the Friend’s memories. Previously, we saw what was supposedly Friend’s memories through the other characters in Friend Land, but it was clear those events were manipulated. The rest of the volume is setting up what is to come. I was a little bothered at first that Otcho involved such young kids in his mess, but he does try to keep them out of it by saying little and attempting to leave on his own. The girl, Sanae, insists on helping him, and to be honest, even given the danger she’s about to walk into, she might be better off. Her ideas will get her in danger even staying at home, and she was bound to wind up in a mess sooner or later. At least now she’ll be with those of like mind who can protect her. Maybe she’ll even be able to make a difference; after all, it’s children like her that are the future of the world…if there will even be a world in the future. The way things are going, there might be nothing left; Friend’s ultimate intentions are unclear, but it is clear that he’s caught in a child-like state of mind, ready to manipulate the entire world into his childhood fantasy. It’s up to Kanna, and Kenji’s friends, if any of them are still alive, to stop him.
Title: House of Five Leaves
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media (Sig IKKI)
Volume: Volume 4 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2006 by Shogakukan in Japan, September 20, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Historical, drama
In the previous volume, a more vicious kidnapping gang in town was making the Five Leaves nervous and making it harder for them to work. The local police force has been more alert as a result, and the new gang is intruding on the Five Leaves’ turf and making them look bad. The Five Leaves work with the utmost secrecy, so even though they have completed many successful jobs, their name and the knowledge of the group has not spread. The new gang, the Night Crows, has no discretion, and no qualms about killing hostages or those they’re making deals with. Their presence is making it harder for the Five Leaves to operate, especially as the Five Leaves are now being seen as the copycats. To add to the annoyance, a young man has been putting himself forward as an intermediary and negotiator, attempting to make a profit by delivering ransoms for those too afraid to do it themselves (basically, afraid the Night Crows will just kill them). This means that the Five Leaves are forced to deal with an unknown element, which does not sit well with Yaichi. Things become complicated when Otake mistakes him for someone they plan to kidnap and he figures out what they’re trying to do. Otake and Matsu bring the boy to Ume’s restaurant, where the boy, Ginta, decides to strike a deal with the Five Leaves – he wants to join the crew. Ginta is the brother of their kidnapping target, but he was given up as a baby, and later adopted by a merchant family. Now he makes his own was as an intermediary for various purposes, and he wants to work with the Five Leaves. Everyone is against it, but they have little choice. They are worried that Ginta will stir things up, but then, Masa has as well, and he’s been welcomed by everyone in the group. Masa, however, has a certain charm to him; Ginta is nosy and annoying, and his arrogant attitude gets on Yaichi’s nerves far more than Masa’s naivety. And, as we know, Yaichi has far more important things to deal with, as members from his old gang have been snooping around trying to track him down, and Yagi, Masa’s friend and the police superintendent, has been snooping around as well. Goinkyo, aware that Yaichi’s past may be catching up to him, warns Masa not to trust Yaichi, but Masa brushes aside the warning and expresses his faith in his gang’s leader.
Some more elements of the past are revealed this volume, including when Yaichi first arrived in town and was taken in by the madame of the Katsuraya brothel, and the truth behind Masa’s disgrace as a samurai. Things are really starting to move in the story, as well. The Night Crows are putting pressure on the Five Leaves, faces from Yaichi’s past are reappearing, and Yagi is preparing to make his move, whatever that might be. Ever since Masa came along, things have been changing within the Five Leaves. Once an extremely private group of people, each member has been opening up to Masa and relating pieces of their stories to him. All but Yaichi, of course, but by piecing together everyone else’s stories, Masa (and we, the readers) has learned more about Yaichi, as well. Ginta, a rather brash young man, is a bit less delicate in his approach, but he’s taken to Masa well, and by the end of the volume the two are living together. It’s possible that Ginta could break the group up entirely with a few careless words or actions, and despite the colored pasts of the original Five Leaves members, he’s probably the least trustworthy of the group and one of the hardest to pin down. I doubt he’s been tossed in haphazardly, however, as that is not Ono’s modus operandi, so I suspect he may have some ties to the group somewhere in his past which could make things quite interesting. I’m really looking forward to watching the story unfold, particularly now that Yaichi has begun to show his true colors.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.