by Naoki Urasawa; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $12.99 US
Ed’s glowing comments on the two previous volumes got me excited about reading this series again, especially after the soft reboot that happens in Book 13. (Warning: there are spoilers here for previous volumes.)
The big bad (who turned out to be a big bust) of the first half (Books 1-12) of the series is gone, but there’s still a global threat for the plucky gang of vigilantes to challenge. While the Friend was globablly beloved before, now, he’s a martyr. As the world mourns, those who remember and revere Kenji are gathering to break into Friend Land to find out more about what really happened to the kids back in 1971.
On a personal note, I’m glad to see more adult female characters introduced at this point. In addition to Kanna’s mother Kiriko (from the last book), who also holds the key to stopping the spread of a killer virus (making her defined by more than just her relationship status as mother and Kenji’s sister), there’s Takasu, a player on the other side. Takasu intrigues me because she’s such a schemer and realist. Her loyalties are not to a particular creed, only to herself, and her pessimistic realism is a refreshing contrast to the “no matter the odds against us, we’ll keep trying” determination of Kenji’s gang. She’s a manipulator, and perhaps I like her because she’s a more usual type of villain than the Friend’s bizarre certainties. The leadership void has been filled by someone unqualified; he’s not strong enough to take the position, but with her pushing him, no one else might see that.
The series seems to have gained new energy with the new, more deadly threat posed by the Friend’s organization, even though it’s not mentioned in this volume. Instead, the characters take a huge detour into the past. However, because of the virtual reality gimmick Naoki Urasawa is using, that history can be (and is) different than the one we’ve seen before. This time around, the kids are distracted, spending time with pinball machines or personal radios instead of their friends. They’re growing apart from each other, setting in motion the separation bridged only years later by Kenji’s desperate mission. We also get more background on other key players, people outside their group, and find out what Donkey saw in the science lab … maybe.
The art remains as cinematic as always, contributing to the perpetual suspense that’s a hallmark of this series. Urasawa never tells you anything directly when he can spin it across chapters, keeping you turning pages faster and faster in a quest to find the answers to the many mysteries he’s set up. Even what you think you know might be wrong, as the characters rewrite their own memories. All I know is, I’m back on board again. (The publisher provided a review copy.)