published by Viz; $12.99 US
20th Century Boys Book 18
by Naoki Urasawa
Kanna’s rebel group has gone even further underground. Their planned action is known by the ruling class, but Kanna refuses to call off the mission, because dreaming of that achievement is all that keeps her group together. Superhero-ish Otcho (think a grizzled old Japanese version of Wolverine) is trying to find her, busting in doors of places they used to hang out.
I’m unsure what I can or should say about this series at this time. It’s not as though anyone’s going to start reading with the 18th book, since characters long before established are meeting in new combinations and the suspense keeps building and building and building. (Release, please!) Yet it’s a significant series and quite impressive that it’s still going in translation. It amazes me that Urasawa created and maintained it in such depth for so long.
The art is too accomplished for me to praise it sufficiently. 20th Century Boys is like reading a movie, with atmospheric settings and dramatic expressions. The linework is marvelous, and Urasawa takes full advantage of the ability to create whatever place or situation he can imagine, from a post-plague militaristic society to the transformative power of a catchy song or a crazy old man with a guitar mistaken for a space alien.
I have the impression that there are some very subtle messages about responsibility for yourself and others running through this series, but I’d have to reread a lot of the volumes to be sure. It’s referenced in the debate Kanna and Otcho have about how to proceed, and the old man’s contradictory statements about singing, contrasted with the dementedly loyal disc jockey.
I did feel very sorry and sympathetic for Kanna. She’s tired of being responsible for everyone else’s hopes. She’s past feeling, and she’s overwhelmed and cynical at such a young age. Poor thing. It’s not going to get any better for her. But maybe there’s still hope for the future.
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow Book 4
by Shunju Aono
Along similar lines, this series about a middle-aged man who wants to draw manga provides the exhausted breath of a promise of a fresh start… or does Shizuo really just need to find a new way to see himself and gain attention?
When we left off with Book 3, Shizuo’s editor had quit the magazine just before Shizuo was supposed to make his manga debut. His new editor is a younger woman, and she has very different opinions about what she wants to see. He reminds her of a situation she’s not happy with in her own life, and she’s blunt in her unfavorable reactions to his work.
Shizuo starts wishing he was a kid again… until he remembers his life was miserable then, too. At some point, he should figure out that the problem is him, that wishing for things to change or magically be another age isn’t a useful coping mechanism. But he’s still got a good deal of growing up to do. I hope that his new editor pointing out how his manga is just begging for approval of his choices — a trap it’s easy for creators to fall into — will shake him up enough to get better work from him.
Aono’s art resembles the slightly primitive style of a newcomer, reflecting the story content in design. His characters are simple and flat, giving them a more universal role as a representative of their type as well as a particular incarnation.
Saturn Apartments Book 4
by Hisae Iwaoka
After I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, Saturn Apartments seems so delicately drawn, with its fine lines and cluttered detail, well-suited to symbolizing the future, even if it is a down-at-heels, lower-class one. That’s what the two series have in common — the need to work hard to even have a hope of achieving your dream. Sometimes, simply surviving is enough.
Mitsu has more ambition than that, though, working with the experienced Jin to study for the technician test. Mitsu’s got a number of co-workers he learns from, either in terms of dedication to the work or specific skills to assist him in his job. A dangerous situation that puts one cleaner in the hospital reminds us that this grunt work has life-or-death consequences.
Even after the immediate danger is over, there are ramifications to clean up — bills, resentful co-workers who blame those involved, family decisions, long-term fears of what years spent working means to one’s body. How much responsibility do we have for the decisions of those close to us? It’s a difficult question that provides some depth to this slice-of-life science fiction story, combined with a generational transition that shows time passing.
Then Mitsu is given a new worker to train, so he has to take charge of someone; in spite of his unwillingness to confront someone older than he is, he’s needed to prevent the rookie cleaner from making serious mistakes. It’s another example of how he’s growing up.
(All books are priced at $12.99 US and were provided by the publisher for review.)