No. 27: 20th Century Boys and 21st century boys

by Naoki Urasawa

20th century boys 2

Genre: Mystery, Drama, Sci-fi, Seinen

Status: finished

First, let’s do a brief introduction of the artist. Urasawa has many notable and celebrated works beside this title – Monster, Pluto, Billy Bat – just to name a few. Due to the fact that I haven’t read any of his other works, they are not on my favorite list. However, from what my friends told me, his other works are just as good, if not better, than this one.

Synopsis:

Humanity, having faced extinction at the end of the 20th century, would not have entered the new millennium if it weren’t for them. In 1969, during their youth, they created a symbol. In 1997, as the coming disaster slowly starts to unfold, that symbol returns. This is the story of a group of boys who try to save the world.

For Kenji, a simple convenience store manager who once dreamed of becoming a rock ‘n’ roll musician, a host of memories from his past come rushing back when one of his childhood friends mysteriously commits suicide. Could this new death be related to the rise of a bizarre new cult that’s been implicated in several other murders and disappearances? Determined to dig deeper, Kenji reunites with some of his old buddies in the hope of learning the truth behind it all. (Source: Viz)
20th century boys is drawn by its artist, Urasawa, from 1999 until 2006. However, the manga give the impression of perhaps 70’s and 80’s art style. The artist employed what seemed like “an older generation” of characters designs (as illustrated in the photo below). The main characters ARE drawn like ordinary citizens, without the flawless handsome features for men and oval-shaped face for beautiful women. In fact, the main characters are drawn so like ordinary citizens that I almost quit this manga.

20th century boys 1

Artistic quality of the work aside, the contents of story in 20th century boys are innovative, complex, and involves a lot of flashbacks. The readers take a break from the typical shounen’s protagonist-get-power-and-save-the-world type of plot, and get to enjoy the protagonist, Kenji, solving a conspiracy throughout the manga. What’s more is that this conspiracy relates intimately with Kenji’s family and his elementary school classmates. Thus, Kenji’s journey of trying to solve the entire mystery started. In order to do that, he must ultimately search through the events that happened in his childhood (although it sounds bizarre  I promise the plot is tasty!).

The characters in 20th century boys face many hardships, such as dangers of diving deep into the conspiracy and even the pressures of everyday life. This is also what makes this manga differs from others. The main characters lack the “hero aura”. I can’t help but respect the main characters, who try to fight against unknown enemies without the likes of special powers, or even overpowered intelligence and deductive power. This manga demonstrates that even normal humans can be world-saving heroes, minus special abilities, intelligence hacks, and or unbelievable luck.


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