Thursday, February 19, 2009

20th Century Boys, vol. 1

Story and Art by Naoki Urasawa
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: What if you were kept to your childish promises to save the world?

When Kenji was young, he and his neighborhood friends had a secret club, with a headquarters in an empty field and a secret sign. Now that they are all adults, they barely remember any of it though many of them still live in the same neighborhood, taking over the stores their parents once ran. Unknown to them at the beginning of the story there is a cult, using some of the same symbols as their childish club and whose leader seems fixated on the neighborhood events of more than 20 years ago. Kenji is drawn into the mystery when one of the old gang commits suicide after seeing the symbol, something the other members of the gang who reunite for the funeral for the first time in years have a hard time believing. As the story flashes back and forward, we see the characters as children and as adults, we realize that this is now how the characters will fulfill their childish desires to save the world.

Kenji is the motivating force among the characters, the one that notices that something weird going on and drags the other characters toward figuring it out. If there hadn't been a flash forward at the beginning of the volume giving you a hint what was going on had global consequences, the story would feel like it is just a slice of life. But once you know the stakes, everything takes on more meaning, and you can spot the signs in the story. The story also speaks of the balance between adult and juvenile urges, the juvenile urge to be the hero, to have meaning, but the reality of the adult life is that you very rarely have a chance to be one, and most of the time you don't realize that the opportunity is at it hand until it past. This is a story of lost chances, and being able to take them again, and what their cost can be.

20th Century Boys, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


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