20th Century Boys Volume 5
After the time jump shown in the previous book, I shouldn’t be surprised with the major twist in this volume, but I was still stunned when it happened. Being left shocked and confused, though, just puts me in the same place as many of the characters in this sprawling story by Naoki Urasawa.
Kenji and his friends have sent their loved ones away from Tokyo and banded together to battle the evil group of Friends. They’re convinced something will happen on New Year’s Eve 2001, and when the Diet Building (similar to the U.S. Capitol Building) is bombed, it appears that their fears are coming true.
A massive form appears, buildings are destroyed, and key cities worldwide are struck with some kind of instant-killing disease, with people visibly bleeding out. Just as the group sets out to fight, the book jumps ahead to follow Kanna, Kenji’s niece, in the year 2014. The now-seventeen-year-old is doing her best to follow his lead, fighting villainy and keeping his music alive, but we don’t know what happen to Kenji and his devoted followers.
Shades of the famous Legion of Super-Heroes “Five Years Later” moment, where we didn’t find out the true story of what happened to jump the story forward until almost, yes, five years later. I have more faith in Naoki Urasawa, though, for two reasons: The work of a single creator is a different kettle of fish from a collaborative, assembly-line American superhero comic. And this series is already concluded in Japan, after 22 volumes, and if readers were severely disappointed, I’m guessing I would have heard about that. I’m impatient to know what happened to Kenji, but for now, I’ll have to trust the author to include more flashbacks from the now-future tale he’s telling.
Also in this book, the fat twin bullies Yanbo and Mabo make a surprise reappearance. Like many villains, they have no idea why anyone would look back on their horrible actions negatively. Their new lives reveal them to be just as self-centered and obsessed with consumption as before, but in very different ways.
I was touched to note how often ramen appears. One character promises his departing son that they’ll eat ramen, their favorite dish, again together in the future. Kanna risks her life to save a beloved ramen shop where she and her uncle often ate together in the past. It’s a wonderful recognition of one of the country’s favorite dishes as well as capturing how often memories relate to food and eating together. Those moments and short sequences stick with me longer than the main plot (with its ever-increasing cast), and they’re the images I recall best.