Naoki Urasawa’s 21st Century Boys, vol. 1

Wednesday, September 30, 2015  By  Saeyong Kim     No comments

The Friend dies, and his face is revealed. When all is done, the old gang gathers for a peaceful meal and drinks, the first time they have been able to do so in decades. Kenji refuses to join them and stays outside by his tent. Sadakiyo is in intensive care, and Kanna struggles with her past decisions as resistance leader, wondering how well she knows the uncle who has been away for so long. Kenji enters the virtual world to ask questions and tell himself some important things, and UN forces find a huge anti-proton bomb in the Tower of the Sun.

21st Century Boys exists as a coda to the preceding 20th Century Boys, a surreal epic about a cult based on the scribbled imaginings of elementary-school kids that actually takes over the world, and the band of ordinary folks that fights against it. That last sentence utterly fails to express the thrills and craziness of 20th Century Boys, but to write more would be another review. Simply put, 21st Century Boys will never make sense to someone who has not read the main series, as it is concerned with discovering the identity of the Friend and preventing the finale he envisioned from taking place. Indeed, if you add 20th Century Boys to your collection, you may as well order 21st Century Boys while you’re at it, because the two make a pretty cohesive unit; there are questions in the former that are only answered in the latter. I guess that Urasawa wanted to make the statement that 20th Century Boys was meant to end where it did, and what came after is for the benefit of the reader who needs closure.

That said, there is no sense that this volume is a mere gathering of loose threads; the plot is still as tight and fast-paced as in the previous series, and if anything, the ending of 20th Century Boys is rounded out and deepened as characters look back on a lifetime spent in struggle. 20th Century Boys is the only series I’ve read in which the characters age steadily from childhood to their late fifties while remaining continuously engaged in the story arc. When they recall the past, the reader can almost remember their lives with them, which creates an atmosphere of poignancy. Urasawa is very good at facial expressions, and some of the strongest scenes have no dialogue in them at all.

This title is rated T+ (older teens ages 16 and up) by VIZ Media due to mature themes and graphic violence, though this description is more applicable to the previous series, in which there is drug use and mass killing. “Mature themes” probably refers to organized crime, cults, and a plot to destroy all of humanity. The violence isn’t gag-inducing or flamboyant, but realistic according to Urasawa’s style: violent events like car accidents and stabbings occur where the story requires it. Overall, the artwork is solid, in neither superhero nor anime style, but instead realistic and ordinary.

I think that the main series, 20th Century Boys, would be widely attractive to teens and adults for its action-packed storytelling and its genuine characters; 21st Century Boys, an epilogue comprising two volumes, would be much appreciated by this audience.

Naoki Urasawa’s 21st Century Boys, vol. 1
by Naoki Urasawa
ISBN: 9781421543260
VIZ Media, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (Older Teen, 16+)

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