After the finish of Monster tongue wagging Naoki Urasawa fans were begging for something new, and earlier this year both Pluto and 20th Century Boys started their runs in English. Urasawa’s popularity is no fluke, and these titles are huge sellers in Japan, as well. In fact, a three-part movie adaptation is happening now in Japan. (Part 3 comes out later this year.)
A series of bizarre deaths reconnects a group of school-age chums from who have been friends since the late 1960s. Half of the book is flashbacks to childhood days as recollections of stories between the reunited friends which often read like scenes from “Stand by Me” or “The Wonder Years”. The boys made a secret clubhouse out of a mound of grass in an empty lot, and there hide from “enemies” like the “evil twins” Yanbo and Mabo. Childhood games are epic in proportions, even if they have no real significance in everyday life, but what makes 20th Century Boys fascinating and mysterious is the symbol the boys created as a sign of their club starts showing up nearly 30 years later around the scenes of odd deaths. Kenji is the first to notice the strange coincidence, but as he tries to convince his buddies we see the symbol being used in some strange and worrisome ways.
This is nothing short if an amazing introduction to an epic and expansive series. What is most incredible is Urasawa’s ability to switch between the past, present, and (in a few pages) the future so seamlessly. Simpler tales in other manga can sometimes seem convoluted, and this is where Urasawa’s true genius as a story-teller comes through. His genius as an artist comes through in many ways, but most obviously in how the characters are so honestly depicted as easy-to-identify in youth and in adulthood. For a manga with so many characters, many times artists seem to depict the only difference in hairstyles and dress. Urasawa is not so lazy, and every character’s depiction is unique and distinct. There is no doubt this will be on favorites lists for 2009 and likely for more years to come.