Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 18 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2005 by Shogakukan in Japan, December 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Science fiction
In the previous volume, a young girl named Sanae managed to track down the Ice Queen, leader of the Ice Queen Brigades terrorist group, who was revealed to be Kanna. She tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Kanna to call off the upcoming uprising against Friend, because his people had uncovered the plot. Kanna understood, but did not want to push aside the hard work her men had put in to prepare, or the emotions that drove them to risk their lives. Otcho, feeling guilty about sending Sanae into the lion’s den, is combing the streets to find her. She tiredly wanders into their path, and reveals the Ice Queen’s identity to Otcho, as well as her plans for the uprising. Telling Sanae to go live an ordinary life, he sends her home to her family, but not before she reveals what she knows about a certain song on Kanna’s cassettes of Kenji’s music. A song that’s been playing on the radio, one of Kenji’s old songs, has a different ending than the original, which should be impossible, as he’s supposed to have died 18 years ago. With this news overwhelming his thoughts, Otcho rushes off to find Kanna. Otcho finds Kanna changed, and fitting her new moniker. Fed up with Yoshitsune and the Genji Faction’s slow and plodding progress, Kanna left and formed her own group to take more immediate and aggressive action. Otcho tells Kanna that she’s leading her men to their deaths, and she responds by telling him the story of the fall of the Chinese and Thai mob groups. They tricked Kanna into taking the vaccine against the virus, and then launched a suicide attack on the Friends’ headquarters. Otcho reminds her of the words her uncle used to say – “If you ever feel your life is in danger…just turn around and run like hell.” – hoping that something of Kenji is still alive within her, then drops the big bombshell. Kenji might still be alive. Unfortunately, Kanna doesn’t believe him, so Otcho finds a radio and runs outside, risking his life, to prove it to her. As the infamous song struggles to play, a new hope fills Kanna, and she goes to her men to tell them she’s calling the attack off. With a few parting words, Kanna heads out to find traces of her uncle, to see if he really is still alive. She doesn’t get far, however, as the ground shakes with an explosion, and one of her men comes running after her to tell her they have been attacked by the Global Defense Force. As she surveys the wreckage and debates on her next move with Otcho, members of the Confidential Guard arrive and take her to see none other than Manjome, who has a rather unique proposition to make. Meanwhile, back at the northern gate, chaos has broken out because one of the guards let an “alien invader” through the gate, a mysterious man with a guitar riding a motorcycle. As Chono runs out to see what’s going on, the soldiers are attempting to bring the mystery man out of a local’s home, intending to destroy the “alien.” However, when the man emerges with his guitar and breaks into song, the soldiers are dumbstruck and too afraid to open fire. Chono recognizes both the song and the man’s voice from a tape Kanna once played for him. As the commander raises his gun to shoot, Chono steps in to stop him, but they’re all interrupted when a mob rushes over the fence, apparently having followed Kenji to hear him play. In the village, the citizens are singing the same song as they raid the overseer’s warehouse for food. When Kenji finally leaves, unmoved by the crowd gathered around him, Chono chases after him and they head towards Tokyo.
Lots of revelations in this volume, as the series heads headlong into its conclusion. First, there’s the identity of the mystery traveling musician, which, although it’s never explicitly spelled out, is made perfectly clear in this volume (though it had already been hinted at). Apparently, through who knows what miracle, Kenji never died, but he’s far from the man he used to be. In fact, he seems a little, how should I say…loopy. He’s not all there. He’s got some screws loose. For whatever reason, he remembers his music, or at least the one song that’s been showing up in the last few volumes. His motivations, if he has any, are about as unclear as they can be. It’s not even clear if he knows who he is. It’s not that he seems confused. He doesn’t interact much with anyone right now, but he does have some sort of goal in his mind. He knows where he’s going and how to get there, though I’m not sure if he’s aware of the impact his music is having around Japan. Kanna is eager to find him, but I worry how she’ll react when she finally sees him, especially if he’s so far gone he doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Even the tiny hope she has that he just might be alive is enough to breathe life back into her; if he’s not the Kenji he once was, I can imagine how devastated she would be. She could completely lose it, and a broken Kanna is as good as losing her, which Otcho could never bear. It was good to see some real passion from Otcho this volume, since he mostly just sort of lopes around with the same expression on his face. He doesn’t often open up to his feelings, but when he does, it’s the passion of a man desperate to hold onto the last few precious things he has left in his life, and he’ll do anything to hold onto them. Through Manjome, and a cross section of the story with Maruo and Namio, we find out a lot more about how Fukube became Friend, and in particular the role Manjome played in building his image. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, but Fukube is a master at taking simple tricks and turning them into miracles. His final miracle, however, might be his biggest hoax of all.
For our fourth trip to Kingyo Used Books store we’re treated to an eclectic collection of tales about manga lovers and manga haters. We begin with the story of a young boy named Minoru who, despite his tutor’s best efforts, can’t find a single manga worth reading. His biggest problem is that he’s been raised to cater to those around him rather than think for himself. Shiba reads the kid like an open book, and rather than hand Minoru some random manga, he encourages the boy to search out something for himself. Minoru ends up picking a book called Devilman (by Go Nagai), which manages to both terrify him and breathe new life into him. The next story is a tale of life long friendship between two men who are vastly different, and yet very similar. They bond over a manga called Kibun wa Mou Senso (“In the Mood for War,” by Toshihiko Yahagi and Katsuhiro Otomo). Though they took different paths in life, they somehow managed to inspire each other. Next, casual manga reader and Kingyo regular Sudo has a crush on manga fanatic (and another Kingyo regular) Kinko. However, he has a hard time connecting with her. All Kinko seems to talk about is manga, but Sudo doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to keep up. As he searches for a common language, a way to connect with her, he finds himself going back to a manga from his childhood – Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2. A manga that just so happens to be one of Kinko’s favorites, as well. The next chapter features the handsome men that haunt Kingyo and blab about manga together. Regular visitor Sasayama, who is short, stout, and wears thick glasses, finds himself quite put out by these good looking guys who talk the talk, but are way too good looking to be walking the walk. Shiba notices Sasayama is very fond of shojo manga, of all things, so he gives the troubled man a copy of Kaiki Roman Kessakushu, a horror manga by early shojo creator Masako Watanabe. In that book is a story called “The White Chameleon,” about a chameleon that offers to grant beauty to a girl covered in burn scars, but she comes to a tragic end. Natsuki gets her time to shine in the next chapter, as she attempts to track down her mother for a father after they had an argument. Her mother is at the Katsuichi Nagai Manga Museum, but when Natsuki gets there, she finds her father has already arrived. Nagai himself, or rather his magazine Garo, played a special role in bringing Natsuki’s parents, a manga loving mother and a manga hating father, together. From one odd couple to another, the next chapter combines young Minoru with the height challenged Sasayama, as they attempt to track down the culprit of a series of arsons targeting used books stores. Their investigation leads to them bonding over a children’s manga by Moto Hagio called Tottemo Shiawase Moto-chan (“A Very Happy Moto-chan”). The final chapter features a traveling magician named Akira, whose next gig takes him to a nursing home. Akira is unsure how to cater his performance to an elderly audience, but he comes up with a brilliant idea for his show when he and his driver pass by Kingyo while looking for a place to eat lunch. They find a book called Zettai Anzen Kamisori (“Absolute Safety Razor”), which features a story called “Tanabe no Tsuru” about an 82-year-old woman reincarnated with all of the memories from her past life. The nostalgia of the story causes Akira to leave the store with several bags full of classic manga to use in the final trick of his performance.
Connecting with others through manga is a main theme this volume. Well, it’s usually a theme in every volume, but it stands out more with volume 4. There’s Okadome and Kunimoto’s rocky friendship, Sudo and Kinko, Natsuki’s parents, and Minoru and Sasayama. Each relationship is a mix of two people who manage to get along despite their differences in idealogy, opinion of manga, zeal for manga, or age. Somehow, manga brings them together against the odds. Such relationships are very common in Kingyo Used Books, and it’s one of the things that makes the series a joy to read. People from all walks of life, with all sorts of differing opinions, can connect over some simply bound pieces of paper. Even Minoru, who went through manga after manga without finding anything to like, finally found a story that moved him. There’s a lot of manga out there, covering all sorts of topics, that it’s nearly impossible not to find something that will resonate with you in some way. Part of what I like about Kingyo is that it explores all kinds of manga in its pages, and shows all kinds of people reading it. Even Natsuki’s manga hating father realizes that manga holds value for someone out there, even if he can’t stand it at all. The only thing I don’t like about Kingyo Used Books is that the store doesn’t exist! How I would love to visit and hang out with this delightful cast of characters.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.