"20th Century Boys" by Naoki Urasawsa is a phenomenal manga series comprising of 22 volumes. The story is largely character-driven but there's still a great story to unfold. I would class the manga as 'psychological sci-fi/adventure/suspense/thriller' but as with "FMA" it includes elements belonging to other genres - specifically drama and humour. I'll be reviewing the English translation.
The English translation is well done and includes minimal spelling and grammatical errors. Still wondering if it would've been better for the translators to leave the sound effects untranslated, as the English equivalents don't make much sense.
Not stylish but realistic and incredibly well-drawn. Lots of close-ups of people's faces, allowing for an incredible subtlety of emotions. Easy to tell the differences between cultures eg. Japanese and American people. Urasawa's artwork is cinematic and suspense-ridden. He knows what to reveal and what should be left to the reader's imagination. Characters are distinct and this is important when the story contains such a large cast.
There's a myriad of characters. Children, cooks, convenience store owners and assistants, musicians, soldiers, homeless people, scientists, politicians, terrorists, citizens, cultists, priests, criminals and even the pope - amongst many others. All are portrayed with depth. Our 'hero' is a convenience store worker called Kenji Endo. But there are more than one hero in this story. The main characters, of which there are many, are so well-developed the reader feels they know them. The main villain is cartoony to a degree but also very, very human.
The series surrounds a group of children, mostly boys and the events that happen one Summer in the late 1960's. What happens during this Summer affects their lives as adults. Jump to 1997, their childhood games are coming back to haunt them. The childhood/adult aspect reminded me of Stephen King's book, "IT" (of which I've admittedly only read half). The scope of the story, variety of characters (likely and unlikely) and some of the themes therein, remind me of King's "The Stand". There are many echoes of the Cold War. Elements of the story are torn straight from the pages of the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation. And yet, despite all that, the story is largely unpredictable and very, very suspenseful. This really is one series where the reader will need to turn the pages to find out what happens next. Many themes are covered, including but not exclusive to - community versus the individual, the desire to belong and believe in something, Truth versus truth, family and friendship.
Urasawa is an incredible storyteller. Some readers may find the story slowly-paced (and it is) but this allows time for a real exploration of characters. It's remarkable that such a complex story remains so consistent. That said, I found the ending to be a little anticlimactic, rushed and confusing. Also, it leaves the reader with many questions. All in all, a highly enjoyable manga series.
Not for children. "20th Century Boys" Contains moderate violence and mature themes.
9/10 (9.5/10, if not for the ending)
To those who've read the manga, does "21st Century Boys" answer any questions left by the first series? I felt we didn't get a proper payoff for the characters. I guess I wanted a half a manga wrap-up like that of "Fullmetal Alchemist". Thanks.