The climax of our story is finally at hand! Mankind faces a crisis and Kenji is hustling to save the world and the people he loves. But he also must solve the mystery of the Friend. Who is he and why did he become evil? The answer is tied to a memory Kenji has from when he was a twentieth century boy.
21st Century Boys Volume 2
By Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
In my previous review of volume 1 of 21st Century Boys, I had hopes of the this part would redeem what I thought was a non-ending of the first part, 20th Century Boys. While this volume does tie up many of the loose ends and does finally answer the question “Who is the Friend?”, it still doesn’t satisfy like I had hoped.
The search for the remote to the proton bomb continues, both in reality and in the virtual world. The UN Forces show their distrust of Kanna and the rest of the group, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing the search. Kanna’s powers come into play in discovering the bomb’s button and the location of the remote. Kenji and Yukiji work in tandem to stop the bomb from going off, and then Kenji returns to the virtual reality to tie up some personal loose ends, that if he had done in the real world at the time, might have kept Friend from being created.
The race to stop the proton bomb was actually exciting. Yukiji getting to kick Shikishima’s daughter’s butt with her judo skills was cool, as was Kenji using those same skills to stop the robot from detonating the bomb. Kanna’s supernatural powers do come into play, but at least they are minimal, mostly just communicating with Kenji in the virtual world. I really didn’t find any of the supernatural elements to be compelling, so I’m glad they were kept to a minimum. Once again the twists run wild, but they are believable and kept the action moving.
Going into this final volume, you may start to wonder if everything will be tied up. It takes most of the volume to stop the robot, with Kenji and the gang getting obstacles thrown at them left and right. But some how, Urasawa is able to do it. The major loose ends are tied up, all for the better. Manjome and Sadakiyo got happy send offs. Kanna got her man and her mom, and Otcho returns to be Shogun, fighting human traffickers. But the end that needs most to be tied is Friend’s.
Who was he and did Kenji really know him? The answer relates back to the scene at Jijibaba’s shown in the previous volume. Older Kenji finally realizes the truth, and has younger Kenji do what he didn’t all those years ago. Not that this fixes anything for anyone but Kenji. But it does make him take a look at the choices he’s made and how he can make better ones. He and Yukiji come to an understanding too about their feelings in a way that only Kenji and Yukiji could.
It’s not until the last few pages is Friend’s identity revealed in one of the most anti-climatic ways possible, in a single frame with next to no explanation about who he was. This is where the volume and ultimately the series let me down. The whole series was touted to be about the question “Who is Friend?”, but in the end that question and his motives are left to the reader to figure out. While this is usually fine in a mystery, in order for it to work the author has to leave enough clues to lead the readers to the right answer. Anything else is just a cheap twist, which is ultimately exactly what this series boiled down to.
Overall, 20th Century Boys and 21st Century Boys is a decent enough series. It was enough to get Urasawa not only a nomination, but ultimately an Eisner Award. But I think the execution could have been better. The series went off the rails after volume 15, and while these last two volumes brought it back, it was too little, too late. I would still encourage people to read this series, just be prepared for some bumps in an otherwise smooth road.
Review copy provided by publisher.