*21st Century Boys Book 2 — Recommended

And so it ends, after 24 volumes, in one book that sums up the entire series.

As in the previous book, we get a revisitation of a threat from earlier in the series — this time, it’s another giant robot.

But first, we return to where it all began, the kids’ secret clubhouse and the boy who wears a mask. Kenji has used the virtual reality machine to revisit himself as a child, while his friends are fighting UN forces at a hospital to help Kanna find her uncle. They’re all trying to find the remote control for an “anti-proton bomb”, as the last big maguffin.

This volume ends with a bang, as the action is definitely ramped up, plus just about every major character returns in some fashion, if only a cameo. Of particular note is the duo of manga creators, now working with an editor. The three discuss how hard it is to end hero stories in comics, saying

The thing about heroes, they’re only a hero at the moment they win…
… if he stays alive after that, he gets old…
And that’s why the most common ending to hero stories is … the hero walks off into the sunset… or dies…
When you think about it, it’s kinda sad…

Perhaps some of the thoughts of the author? Ultimately, this volume ends with Kenji getting a chance to fix some of the mistakes of his youth, a fantasy that many middle-aged folk share but one that’s almost the opposite of his dream that started the series. When you’re young, you want rock’n’roll to change the world; once you gain some experience and hard-earned wisdom, you just want to make people happier by fixing the small things.

It would be a wonderful weekend project, when you haven’t anything else to do (ha!), to read this entire series all at once, just to better follow the subtle details. Until then, even if you’ve lost track of some of the players, this volume provides a satisfying conclusion. Plus, as with any of the installments, the art is amazing. The cinematic storytelling never feels static, and even when the intellectual part of my brain is thinking “haven’t we seen this before?” or I’m rolling my eyes at the psychic powers, my emotions are involved in how expressive the characters are and the adrenaline of what they’re going through. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

4 Comments

  1. A few years ago, I was snapping up every volume of 21ST CENTURY BOYS as it appeared and couldn’t wait for the next one. Then there was a break in the flow – moving countries will do that – and somehow I never did buy those final two. Joanna, I can see that not only do I now have to but that it would be an excellent idea to, as you suggest, re-read the lot over a long weekend. Urasawa’s story-telling is second to none, in any medium. Quite apart from the fact that NO “minor detail” ever really is – he’s the master of weaving every loose end into the final tapestry – is his grasp of suspense; there were moments when I could barely turn the pages fast enough, I was so desperate to find out “what happened next”. Urasawa seems to regard Osama Tezuka as his inspiration, and I can’t help feeling that, in a particular type of manga, he’s finally fulfilled the promise that Tezuka always saw in the medium.

  2. Apologies – the title in the first line should of course have been *20TH* CENTURY BOYS. That’s the new millenium for you!

  3. I just finished clearing the last few volumes of this series off my to-read pile. It’s been a long haul (4 years?) so I’m not sure how it all holds up as a coherent whole. It did successfully recapture my interest the times that I found it waning via the forward shifts in the timeline. The intermittent introductions of wholly new characters (Cho-san, his grandson, the Italian & Japanese priests) and the subsequent focus on them for chapters at a time were welcome ways to keep the narrative fresh. I drew a complete blank on the callback to the characters in Germany in the final volume, though. I guess that must have been from somewhere in the chapters when Kiriko was travelling the world working on her vaccine.

    My own pet peeve was the incredibly tiresome and very frequent repetition of the communal amnesia the group experienced. Whenever he wanted to introduce a new character, they would all simultaneously suddenly remember this long-forgotten childhood friend they all had, yet had never before mentioned or thought about. Over and over and over again.

    The decision to rename the series for the final two volumes is bizarre. The story is a direct continuation and I’d never recommend anyone to stop or start at that point. It makes me suspect some uncertainty in the publishing plans, as if they ended early and abruptly, changed their mind, then changed their mind again or something.

  4. I’m not sure I would want to read all the books all at once, because I think the recurring structures you point out would get annoying and seem too repetitive. I agree that many of the characters were fresh and interesting, but that just made me want more with them than we got. I’d also have liked to get more into Kenji’s head in the later years. We learn a lot about what he feels early on, but he’s so enigmatic in the late stages of the story — I wanted to know what he thought about it all. That wasn’t the story Urasawa was telling, though.

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