So you read Death Note and you loved the poop out of it. Now you’re thirsty for more and ready to graduate into the big leagues, but reading just some other shonen title isn’t enough for you: you want the real deal — something like Death Note, but on the next level, nine thousand times more intense than Light and his killer notebook could ever hope to be. “When will someone write this?” you beseech the heavens, falling to your knees as it begins to rain violently down upon you. “When will someone deliver a manga that is even more twisted and thought-provoking than the last?”
And then heaven will rumble with a thunderous chuckle at your piteousness, for it is well-aware that you are too busy chasing after current anime fads to take the time to look to the past for the classic manga that fits this bill perfectly. That manga is 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa, the renowned creator of Monster and Pluto. It’s too bad that newer anime fans seem to be afraid of older stuff like its kryptonite or something, and it’s a huge shame that they’re missing out on great anime and manga that isn’t always so shiny-shiny desu (TM), or engineered by science to garner as many followers as possible with the right fanservice and character types. But for those who can appreciate an aesthetic for what it is and journey to the manga of old, they will be in for a real treat… especially when they pick up 20th Century Boys and steamroller all the way through to Volume 16, which comes out this week.
Though it is named after the song, 20th Century Boys is not the rock band manga you’re probably envisioning. Instead, it is a bleak telling of a dystopian future and the events that laid the groundwork for such a dark society to emerge; much like the grim hierarchy that Light set up with the aid of his death note. But unlike Death Note, there’s no Shinigami lurking nearby, casting his shadow over everyone touched by the killer grimoire; instead, it is the machinations of a mere human, whose motives are both grandiose, twisted, and naive. In the Era of Friend, a mysterious, masked individual calling himself Friend plans to eradicate the majority of humanity, leaving behind only the three million he considers to be his true comrades. His methodology is particularly striking to Kenji, who begins to recognize Friend’s contrived apocalypse as the same hypothetical one he and his childhood playmates wrote into a story when they were young. More telling still is the fact that Friend and his followers are united under the emblem that one of Kenji’s friends made up to symbolize their youthful friendship in the early 1970’s. So who is Friend? And how does he know about Kenji and his childhood fantasies of being a hero? Continue reading