Since the horror manga in October worked out so well, let’s try another theme thing. Because the world was supposed to end this year, this month we’re going apocalyptic with Naoki Urasawa’s SF opus 20th Century Boys.

Title: 20th Century Boys – Volume 1
Written & Illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
With the Cooperation of Takashi Nagasaki
Translated by Akemi Wegmuller
Published by Shogakukan (Japan) & Viz Media (USA)
US Publication Date: 2009

Available from Amazon.com & RightStuf.com

The Premise

In 1967: Yoshitsune, Mon-Chan, Keroyon, Kenji, Maruo, Donkey, and Otcho are a group of close friends. They build a hide-out in a field, listen to rock music, and read manga. They also come up their own adventures about saving the world from evil forces who seek to destroy it. As their symbol, they come up with an eye in a skyward pointing hand, inside another eye. They bury their banner and other keepsakes in a time capsule to excavate later.

In 1997: The band of friends has now grown to adulthood. Donkey is a science teacher, Keroyon is getting married, Kenji runs his family’s liquor store, which is now part of a chain of convenience stores. Mon-chan works overseas. Yoshitsune is a salary-man, and Maruo runs a store in Kenji’s neighborhood. However, strange doings are afoot – a family that is among Kenji’s repeat customers disappears mysteriously and Donkey commits suicide. While investigating this death, Kenji learns that one of Kenji’s students is in a millennial cult lead by a man known only as Friend. Further, these incidents are connected by a common symbol – the symbol of the cult, and one found at the door of Kenji’s customer’s house – the one Kenji and his friends created as kids.

High Points

The connections between teh friends in the past and The Friends in ’97 is exceptionally creepy.

Low Points

I don’t know, but when I was a kid, I would have thought the whole eye-in-hand-in-eye symbol would have been exceptionally creepy, and would have been a villain organization’s symbol, instead of a hero organization’s symbol. Also, Donkey gets more character development after death then he does before he dies, which is kind of hurts the impact of his death.

Scores

Originality: This feels like what you would get if Stephen King’s It was written by a fan of the action and suspense manga to come out of the Gekiga movement of the ’60s and ’70s, as opposed to horror comics from the ’50s. (So, in other words, if it was written by Naoki Urasawa). 4/6

Artwork: Urasawa’s art style works really well for this manga, with a style that fits the very realistic art style of Gekiga, but informed by how manga art styles have evolved in the past 40+ years. 6/6

Story: The contemporary and historic vignetts fit together very wello, and each is well written on their own. 5/6.

Characterization: Each of the band of friends has a well fleshed out and developed personality, both as adults and as children. 5/6

Emotional Response: The mystery of Friend’s identity is fascinating and has hooked me into the story. However, there elements of the historic parts of the story which I suspect are definitely meant to play off a sense of nostalgia that, as an American child of the late 80s & early 90s, I don’t have. 4/6

Flow: 6/6

Overall: This feels like the kind of series that got me into manga in the first place – tightly plotted with a good sense of suspense and tension. 5/6

In total, 20th Century Boys – volume 1 gets 35/42.