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April 1, 2013

Bento Bako Weekly: 21st Century Boys volume 2

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: 21st Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 2 (of 2, final volume), $12.99
Vintage: 2007 by Shogakukan, March 2013 by Viz
Genre: Science fiction

[Volume 1 review.]

The race is on to find the remote control for the anti-proton bomb. If it’s not found in time, the world really will end. Unfortunately, the UN is making it difficult for the different parties to communicate with each other. Because Kanna is known to be Friend’s daughter, and Kenji and his group grew up with Friend, the UN doesn’t trust them. In fact, they’re barely viewed as allies at all, even though they’ve been the ones fighting this fight for years. They’re the only ones who can win this, however, because the UN has no idea what went on in the past, and just how exactly everyone is related to both the real Friend and the current Friend. Everything goes back to the past, in the neighborhood Kenji and his friends grew up in. Everything is tied to a handful of specific occurrences, and for this version of  Friend, everything centers around Kenji. As he is quick to discover while he explores the virtual reality game. In the real world, Kanna has somehow dived into Sadakiyo’s memories and discovered the location of the remote control. When she emerges, she tries to rush off to tell Kenji, but is stopped by UN forces. Chono decides it’s time for desperate measures, and takes a UN officer hostage. Otcho and the others arrive just in time to help them get away, and along with Maruo they head toward Kenji. A desperate Kanna sends a message to her uncle in the virtual world, only to have a message sent right back to her through Manjome. His last act is to make up for his sins by telling Kanna where the real remote is hidden. They aren’t the only ones searching for it, however. Takasu, under heavy security and pregnant with Friend’s child, is being watched by a mysterious woman who turns out to be the daughter of Professor Shikishima. This woman holds the real key to everything, although no one had figured it out yet. In the virtual world game, Kenji is scrambling to follow the clues left behind by Friend (the second one), and discovers, to his horror, that the robot is intended to stomp down on the giant remote control button. He has just sent Kanna to her death. As the robot begins the move, the UN mobilizes its forces, but they dally, not understanding the real threat. From one location, Otcho runs toward Kanna and the robot; from another, Kenji forcefully exits the game and heads in the same direction. Yukiji, Otcho, Kenji, and Kanna all meet up in the field near the secret club house, and get ready to either save the world or watch it end. Yukiji runs off to find the robot’s remote, Kenji to stop the robot, and Otcho stays as back up and to protect Kanna. The fate of the world is in their hands.

Well, that’s the end of 20th Century Boys. Everything’s all tied up with a nice little bow. The world is saved, everyone’s happy, everyone’s united once again, and it’s time to clean up and rebuild. It’s a little too happy, if you ask me, but it’s also nice to see everyone finally together after all that they went through. And it really isn’t a perfect ending. A lot of people did die, a lot of people are still sick, and a lot was destroyed. All because of a children’s game. And, to be perfectly honest, in large part due to a single action by Kenji as a child. He goes back to fix it in the end, but of course it’s just in the virtual world, so it has no real impact other than to help Kenji move past his own failures. The identity of the second Friend is revealed, but I don’t know the significance of the name. I only started reading the series at volume 9, so it’s possible the name was mentioned before I entered the story. This volume is largely just tying things up and bringing an end to Friend’s schemes, as it should. All at the different elements come together and then come to an end. Of note is how relatively useless the UN is. Urasawa isn’t making a mockery of them, however. At least, I didn’t get that impression. The problem is the UN is trying to treat the situation rationally, as they would any terrorist or war-time activity. Unfortunately, Friend isn’t playing by their rules. It’s a child’s game, and only those who were children alongside him understand the rules. What’s happened, is that for all these years, Kenji’s friends have been fighting this war on their own, then the UN comes in and thinks they can solve everything their way, and treats the heroes like the villains (the idea that a foreign power comes in and tries to “fix things” isn’t uncommon though, and of course happened to Japan after WWII). They don’t have all the information; despite Friend being a sort of world leader, I always had the impression that Japan, and especially the Tokyo region, was largely cut off from the rest of the world. Overall, this is a solid end to a solid series. It’s nice to see the old generation (Kenji et al.) and the new (Kanna, Chono, etc.) working together to stop this threat. And in splendid fantasy fashion, a bunch of nobodies become the heroes of the world. Most of whom quietly fade away and keep fighting the good fight in their way. The best part is that this old group of friends has been reunited and is back together again, and that Kanna’s family is back and whole again, as well. It’s nice to see after all the struggling everyone’s been through. Now that the entire series has been released, there’s really no excuse not to pick up every volume and devour it. If you’re a manga fan, you owe it to yourself. If you’re not, you still do. This is a series that should cross over to American comic book readers fairly well. Farewell, 20th Century Boys; it was quite the ride. If you’re looking for more from Urasawa, check out Pluto and Monster, both from Viz Media.


Review copy provided by Viz Media.



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