20th Century Boys Book 15

It stunned me to see that Naoki Urasawa, in volume 15 of his long-running series, was still introducing new characters, but it was so skillfully done, and the new cast member has such potential, that I was intrigued.

Since the conflict this time revolves around the Pope’s upcoming visit to Japan for the Friend’s funeral, it’s natural that the new character is a priest, Brother Luciano. He’s come to the home of his deceased mentor to carry on his work investigating an odd Book of Prophecy. The mentor previously rescued him from life as a gangster and a drunk, creating deep bonds that provide clues as to what actually happened to the older priest. The story of redemption would, in other hands, be trite, but here, it’s told efficiently, with just the right particular images to illustrate Luciano’s past and possible future. He serves as an object lesson that a little knowledge quickly becomes dangerous for the bearer in these circumstances.

I’m of the right generation that a plot to kill a Pope invariably reminds me of Foul Play, but it’s refreshing to see established religion finally make an appearance in 20th Century Boys. The cult that the Friend has formed would normally come in conflict with an established Church, but here Urasawa shows us how the Friends have superseded conventional religion to become a world-wide super-organization. This alternate take on the looming threat serves as a refreshing break from the heavy main plotline while serving as a reminder and introduction to new ramifications of the overall situation. Plus, Urasawa turns the event in an unexpected direction that’s even more surprising than anything the reader could suspect.

We get to see the young detective Chocho again, a favorite character, as Luciano winds up in police custody in Japan. The threads of similarity between him and a previously seen supporting character reveal themselves in surprising ways. In between, there’s an exciting flashback sequence in which a priest tries to get medicine to a remote Chinese village during a rainstorm during the first plague. Urasawa is sure to keep the visuals involving, even while filling in background and reminding us that even the Pope has his own past.

In each recent volume of 20th Century Boys, Urasawa has been surprising me with the direction he takes the ever-growing story. The overreaching structure isn’t forgotten, but by diving into individual stories and the changing facets of how this world affects individual inhabitants, Urasawa justifies his length and structure. Plus, it lets him draw plenty of dramatic reactions and cinematic sequences of suspense that are a pleasure to read and look at multiple times. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


  1. I just caught up with this series’ past 2-3 volumes and am now enjoying it just as much as in the beginning. Urasawa’s ability to completely sidestep the main narrative at any time to introduce new characters or plot threads doesn’t feel like a way to pad the series or avoid the main story because he’s bored. It’s more like an interlude where you can catch your breath and not have to remember the labyrinthine plot so far. He employed the same technique in Monster.

    From the short preview of the next volume at the end it looks like there’s another multi-year time shift coming up. I think he employs these to great effect to propel the story forward when the series is getting a little worn out. The previous shift from the childhood friends’ failed heroics in 1999 to Kanna’s story a decade later reenergized me at a time when I was considering dropping the series. It reminds me a bit of Peter David’s work in that he has had many long runs at Marvel and DC where he’s constantly drastically altering the status quo of the book in new and unexpected directions when the previous setting has become stale.

  2. Interesting phrase, “worn out” — I wasn’t very happy with the first time jump because I wasn’t done with that part of the story yet, and I’m still looking forward to finding out what happened to some of them and how their tale concludes. But I agree, in theory, that the technique can be useful, both for providing new energy and introducing suspense as the reader wonders how they got from then to now.

  3. […] last few pages of Book 15 caused quite the discussion amongst 20th Century Boys fans of my acquaintance, as it showed the […]

  4. […] frustrating is the way that the cliffhanger from Book 15 is still the cliffhanger for this book, in a new form. If Urasawa’s work weren’t so […]

  5. […] Book 15 […]

  6. […] former cast members reappear, including one of my favorites, the former gangster priest we met in Book 15. At first glance, this interlude is frustrating, since it doesn’t directly relate to the core […]

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