Guttergeek review: 20th Century Boys Vol. 7

Posted by on February 22nd, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Naoki Urasawa, 20th Century Boys (Viz, 2010). $12.95, paperback.


This is not the review I wrote. The review I wrote mysteriously disappeared off my computer sometime between the hours of 11PM on Saturday and 7AM on Sunday. I am trying not to get too paranoid about it. I am also trying not to be too bitter, as it was very good writing (and what follows will surely not be, as I am now both paranoid and bitter following the mysterious disappearance of my writing). Fortunately for me, whatever conspiracy I am up against (and it is vast, of that I am certain) it is nothing compared to that which our protagonists in 20th Century Boys are wrestling with. Still more fortunate, shortly after I received James’ review of Volumes 1-6 of 20th Century Boys I also received in the mail (the postman may have delivered it, but I am inclined to think it was in fact a secret ally) Volume 7 of the ongoing English-language translation of Urasawa’s 24-volume series, completed in Japan a few years ago.

But my troubles are far from over. It is, after all, a real challenge playing by the rules with serial manga these days—especially with a series as justifiably hyped as 20th Century Boys. In addition to the scanlations of the complete series available on the blackmarket for all who put their desire for immediate gratification ahead of their love of good translation and lawful conduct, there is also now a massively budgeted trilogy of films in Japan. The temptation to peak ahead and find out how it all comes out is very strong indeed. Fortunately, Viz is making it easy on me, by releasing beautifully produced and splendidly translated volumes every two months. Holding out for the proper editions seems the least one can do when confronted with the level of graphic story telling on display in Volume 7.

In reading 20th Century Boys I cannot help but imagine what Lost would have been like if Urasawa had been at the helm of that series. To be clear, I love Lost, but even I will admit that I have no fantasies that all the mysteries will be explained, that anything will ever fully justify season 2, or that the writers have had this thing in command at all times over the past several years. 20th Century Boys is something else entirely. Like Lost (interestingly the two started at almost the same time), 20th Century Boys makes use of flash-back, -forwards, vast conspiracies of untold scope, and deep clues planted in the shallowest of character backstories.

That said, I will confess that Volume 6 had left me feeling a bit flat. It was one of those transitional installments setting up a new set of problems and introducing new characters who are going to be vital to the arc that is about to begin (it is not surprising that the first installment of the film trilogy covers up through Volume 5). Urasawa, always keenly aware of his audience, repays the patience of the previous volume with interest here.

For those familiar with the first volumes, the biggest surprise is learning that the series will in fact continue for 24 volumes. How is this possible, I wondered, when everything seemed to be building up to the final confrontation between Kenji and his buddies and the mysterious Friend who had coopted their childhood fantasies into a plot for world domination. The giant atomic-powered robot is on the streets of Tokyo, bombs and germ warfare are unleashed upon capitals the world over, and the team is gathered to fulfill their childhood pledge to save the world in its time of need.


And then… and then we are fourteen years in the future. Kenji is missing, hiding or dead, as are the other friends, all save Shogun who is locked away in an unescapable prison (from which he promptly escapes, of course). Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. The world believed that the Friends saved the world from annihilation and that Kenji and his buddies were the terrorists who launched the attack on the eve of the new millennium. And it all seems so pointless. I don’t mean the book, which is as good as ever–but the situation, the fight. It seems the game is over and the good guys have lost, irrevocably.

As I hope my summary makes clear, this is good stuff. For those of you who love long-form serials, this is as good as it gets, and it keeps getting better. Volume 7 makes it fully clear why we haven’t even begun the good fight. In fact, by the end of this book, I could not imagine how Urasawa managed to pull this all together in only 24 volumes. And I will be here, three years later, to report on how it all turns out. You will want to be as well.


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5 Responses to “Guttergeek review: 20th Century Boys Vol. 7”

  1. Dirk Deppey says:

    Not a spoiler, I swear: This series was somewhat notorious for Urasawa writing himself into a corner at several points, and then suspending serialization while he figured out how to get out of it. (See for example: The transition from 20th Century Boys to 21st Century Boys, as the concluding volumes were called.)

    How did he finish it in 24 volumes? He vamped like a motherfucker, is what he did.

  2. Jared Gardner says:

    Dirk! That is a total spoiler!! Then again, I love a good vamp.

  3. […] Gardner on vol. 7 of 20th Century Boys (Guttergeek) Todd on vol. 1 of Alice in the Country of Hearts (Anime Maki) Leroy Douresseaux on […]

  4. Krill says:

    The transition from 20th Century Boys to 21st Century Boys involving a year off from the manga had much more to do with the fact that Urasawa was suffering severe fatigue and a dislocated shoulder from having been drawing for twenty some years almost straight through, some of that drawing more than one series at a time.

    While I can see where he might have written himself into a corner in a few other places, I don’t see much of a corner at the end of 20th Century Boys.

  5. […] Gardner on vol. 7 of 20th Century Boys (Guttergeek) Todd on vol. 1 of Alice in the Country of Hearts (Anime Maki) Leroy Douresseaux on […]