If anyone ever cared for my opinion and asked me about which mangas – aka Japanese comic books – are a MUST-READ, I would recommend two of Naoki Urasawa‘s in a heartbeat. One of them is Monster, which I will talk about in another post. The other one is 20th Century Boys.
I am a huge fan of Naoki Urasawa’s illustrations and his characters full of personality and charisma. I am an even bigger fan of the way he writes and paces his stories, slowly at first, and then more and more frantic as the plot develops. Then there is the element of mystery that keeps you on edge all through the narrative until the very end. I thought Agatha Christie was the only one in my heart when it comes to mystery, but I have to say that Naoki Urasawa has found a place next to her.
20th Century Boys follows the lives of four friends and the consequences of their choices and words. It starts in 1969, when Kenji, Otcho, Yoshitsune and Maruo are just kids. They build a secret hideout in an empty lot hoping to keep their secrets away from the adult world and other children, particularly bullies. Their secret base is a world of their own making where they share their hopes and dreams as well as mangas and porno magazines. Kids will be kids after all, and boys will certainly be boys. They even have a secret symbol drawn by Otcho in the figure of an eye inside a clutched hand. Their gang is later on joined by two other kids, Donkey and Yukiji (the only girl in their group). Being the most heroic of the bunch, Kenji picks up a notebook and starts writing and drawing a story about an apocalyptic future where they are the heroes, asking the others to help him with the plot. They call this notebook the Book of Prophecy. This book is obviously inspired by their favourite mangas, with wicked villains and giant robots, where good eventually overcomes evil.
As they grow older, their lives take different courses. Kenji becomes a frustrated guitar player and convenience store owner who lives with his mother and takes care of his baby niece Kanna (Kanna becomes a key character throughout the story). One day he hears on the news that his friend Donkey committed suicide. As he tries to find out more about the matter, his investigations lead him to a cult of a man known as ‘Friend’ who calls himself a prophet. This mysterious man who never shows his true face not only might be involved in Donkey’s death, but also seems to be using the Book of Prophecy to his own evil agenda. Thus Kenji begins to gather all of his old childhood friends to help him solve the mystery and recollect past memories, as he fears that ‘Friend’ might be following the steps of the villain in the Book of Prophecy masquerading himself as the hero.
From then on there are many twists and turns that will keep you jumpy. The big mystery seems to be who ‘Friend’ is. Could he be one of the gang, or someone else entirely? As the events unfold and times passes, you grow quite fond of the characters and hopes that they will end this adventure unscathed. But will they? Well, that is something you have to find out on your own. And I hope you do.