The following review was written for the new issue of Variant Girl’s E-Zine which won’t be up for another few days. She is letting me post it here first for all of the CCW Blog readers as a “sneak peek” to her new issue. I’ll be letting all you guys and gals know when her new issue is up but until then I hope you enjoy this. Thanks VG.
20th Century Boys Vol. 1 Review
By Jose Melendez
Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media
Price: USA $12.99/CAN $15.00
“Are we, today, the kind of adults we dreamed of becoming back then?
Or would our childhood selves just look at us now and laugh?”
As a child my mind was always focused on the “here and now” or maybe I should say the “there and then.” I was too busy playing with my friends, with my G.I. Joes, with my video games to have time to think about the future. But that’s how it should be, right? Living in the moment is what being a child is all about. I would sometimes set unreasonable goals and aspirations for myself when asked “What would you like to be when you grow up?” But I think the answers I gave to that question, like wanting to be an astronaut or a fighter pilot, were really all about what I daydreamed about doing more so than what I daydreamed about being. The future will always catch up to you one way or another and most times it is not at all what you imagined it being.
Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is a story about the wonderment of being a child and the uncertainties of what the future holds. The narrative is constantly jumping from the past (the late sixties and early seventies) to the present (1997) to the future (sometime in the 21st century) and also to an, as of yet, undisclosed time. As children the main character Kenji along with his friends formed a “gang” complete with a club symbol and hideout. It was a place where they could spend all day reading manga and listening to the radio while building a secret world all for themselves.
Flash to the present where we find Kenji, now in his thirties, has become accustomed to the monotony of daily adult life. He has given up his love of playing the guitar to help run the family business and also cares for his sister’s baby, Kanna, who was unfairly abandoned by her now missing mother. Throughout his day Kenji is seemingly pestered by everyone in his life (his mother, closest friends and even an old school crush) about the need to find a woman and get married before it’s too late. We follow Kenji as he attends an old friend’s wedding, then on to the reception where he leads a toast to the couple and the night finally ends with some unwanted karaoke. Unknown to Kenji is the fact that that day may have been the last monotonous day of his life. The following morning is when everything changes and his life begins to take an unexpected turn when he finds out about the apparent suicide of yet another old friend.
This story is first and foremost a mystery and to go too much more into detail may ruin your experience reading it. Just know that other key plot elements include: a cult whose religious symbol seems somewhat familiar to Kenji and friends, mysterious murders which are occurring around town, the moon landing, a recovered time capsule and an impending world invasion by…I’m not really sure yet. It could be giant robots or it could be aliens or maybe both. To be completely honest I really am dying to find out.
I had no idea what the book was about when I bought it. All I just knew that is by written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa who is the same person responsible for one of my current favorite manga, Monster, and that was enough for me. The story is really quite intriguing in that the past is grounded in actual history whereas elements of science fiction begin to slowly emerge in the present. All of the flashbacks to when the characters were younger do an excellent job of reminding you what being youthful is all about. Having a strong bond with friends, hanging out at their favorite store eating popsicles in the summer and making normal life into an adventure are all things that most of us can find relatable. And because of that we feel a connection to these characters. You know what is more relatable to me though? Thirty-something Kenji‘s story. Even though his life didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped it would he is trying to make the best of it.
Toward the end of this volume the quote from the beginning of this review appears. I have to be honest with you, after reading those lines I kind of welled up a bit. Life rarely turns out the way you thought it would when you were younger and I really don’t know what my childhood self would think of me if we met. Would he indeed laugh at what I had become? And if so, is there still time to make him somewhat proud?