20th Century Boys Volume 3
This is a bit of a departure for the site. Usually, when it comes to manga series, we leave them up to one reviewer or the other instead of switching off. Although Ed’s previously reviewed the first two volumes, I wanted to get in on recommending this astoundingly good series by by Naoki Urasawa.
20th Century Boys volume 3 is where Kenji reaches his turning point. He now understands what’s going on — someone who knew about their childhood games of saving the world is making the disasters they dreamed up come true — and he has the choice of whether to try and stop him. It’s unbelievable, both to him and the reader, and yet, though Naoki Urasawa’s skill, frighteningly plausible.
I’m really impressed by how well this series reads in collection. You can tell that it was originally serialized, because every chapter, you’re skillfully brought immediately up to date with the key items you need to know to be sucked into the latest installment. And each one ends with a powerful image, concept, or cliffhanger, driving you immediately into the next chapter. Yet as a book, it all reads smoothly, ratcheting up the excitement.
As Kenji visits with other childhood friends, attempting to find out more about the mysterious Friend cult leader, it’s interesting to notice how much kids resemble their parents. They’re replicating themselves, making the same mistakes in a new generation. Few remember anything about the games they played when they were young; they’re all caught up in current problems. They may be small, compared to thousands of people dying and the potential destruction of the world, but their concerns are important to their lives, and that’s what they’re focused on.
The art, as always, is masterful. Nothing disturbs the flow of the story, and the perfect moment is shown to capture the feeling of the scene. Urasawa is using some basic concepts, bound to affect the reader deeply — a baby in danger, one man unable to believe he can make a difference, a destiny that’s fear-inducing — but they transcend cliche due to the emotion he invests and conveys.
When Kenji makes his decision, he reaches for his old guitar and begins playing it hard until the strings break. He makes me believe in the idea that rock’n’roll can save the world. It’s an interesting idea for a group-oriented society, since rock is about individualism (although that ends up being ultimately conforming as well). During a Friend gathering, Kenji finds himself disturbed by the uniformity around him, the way they’re all reacting together. He’s a prophet trying to share the truth but ignored as an outsider. The desire to fit in, to belong, both inspired the Friend and drives his followers. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)