Monday, July 23, 2012

20th Century Boys Vol. 1

by Naoki Urasawa with Takashi Nagasaki

I have been very reluctant to start reading 20th Century Boys, despite the fact that a number of very knowledgeable comics aficionados whose opinions I respect have recommended it, either on-line or in person.  My main reason for avoiding it is because there are something like 23 volumes out there, and I'm not sure I have the will or the money to devote to something that large (why don't they have manga omnibus editions?).  Then I found the first volume at a used bookstore, and decided to give it a try.

Big mistake.  I think I'm hooked.

20th Century Boys is a very different beast than Urasawa's brilliant Pluto series.  It's a sprawling story that can best be described as a mix between Stand By Me and Thirtysomething, with a cult tossed in to keep things interesting.

Urasawa has the story jump from the late 60s to the mid 70s to the present day (circa 1999), as he follows a group of friends through the various stages of their lives.  These friends, in the 60s, were preteen boys who had built themselves a clubhouse in a field of long grass, where they read manga, listened to rock and roll, and made up stories about saving the world.  They created a symbol for their club, and buried a time capsule.  In the 90s, these friends have grown apart in some cases, and stayed close in others.  When one of their number, Keroyon gets married, they get together, and again when the misfit of the group, Donkey, now a teacher, commits suicide.

The main character is Kenji, who runs a convenience store.  He discovers that one of his regular customers has gone missing (without paying him), and on his door he finds a familiar symbol.  Later, when asking questions about Donkey's suicide, he finds that one of his students has been making and selling t-shirts with that same symbol on them.

Very little is explained about the cult that uses this symbol, aside from showing us that its charismatic leader is only known as 'Friend', and that he can apparently levitate.  I guess, with twenty-some volumes to fill, Urasawa is not going to give away too much at the very beginning.  I really enjoyed the characterizations in this book, and was quickly swept up by the plot, which is paced very nicely.  I guess it's time to start hunting down the rest of this series...

1 comment:

Arion said...

I have heard nothing but good things about 20th Century Boys. I need to buy volume 1 and read it.

By the way, I loved your posts about Fairest. I reviewed issue 3 here:

It'd be great if you could stop by and leave me a comment.