Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, vol. 3
Story and Art by Naoki Urasawa
With the cooperation of Takashi Nagasaki
English Adaptation by Akemi Wegmuller
Original Japanese edition: Shogakukan, 2000
Having now written full reviews of 20th Century Boys, vol. 1, and Pluto, vol. 1, the big challenge I face in writing this review of 20th Century Boys, vol. 3 is the temptation to say the same wonderful things about Urasawa yet again. It’s not that they are no longer true–they are!–but that’s just not very interesting reading for anyone. So let the record show that I continue to have the greatest respect for the craftmanship of Urasawa’s work, his expressive art and character designs, and his thoughtful depiction of everyone from his protagonists to the random person who works in his protagonist’s convenience store.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, I will move on to talking about something new!
In this volume, Kenji must decide how he will respond to Donkey’s last request. “Remember what we swore under that flag I made?” Donkey writes in his letter. “We swore we’d save the world. Well, you’re the only one who can do it. So do it, Kenji. Save the world.” Of course, Kenji’s response to this is not really ever in much doubt: there wouldn’t be much of a manga series if Kenji actually said, “Nope” and stuck to it. But how he comes to his answer is pretty fantastic; he picks up his old guitar and plays until he knows what to do. Don’t forget that this series is named after a rock song. This isn’t just a story for adults who read Shonen Sunday as kids. It’s also for anyone who has ever thought rock and rock could set them free.
(Side note: It occurred to me while reading that Viz’s publication of 20th Century Boys is particularly timely now that they’ve put together their own Shonen Sunday imprint.)
This volume also introduces two important plot elements: a certain revelation regarding Kanna and the appearance of grown-up Otcho. The former is both funny and creepy (don’t miss Kanna’s shifting expressions as she becomes the focus of many people’s attention), while the latter is just sheer over-the-top badass. Otcho serves as an excellent foil for Kenji and the others; unlike his friends, he hasn’t grown up to be a store owner, a salaryman, or an indulgent father. Meanwhile, in another series, the bits about Kanna would make me roll my eyes, but in the context of this particular story, it’s a very good twist.
Much as I love this series, I do have to admit that there’s a notable dearth of women characters. The ones that we get are quite wonderful (Yukiji!), but this is ultimately a boy’s own adventure. It’s built into the title. There’s about one notable woman character for every ten men, and even the strongest girl in the world can’t make up for that.
My copy of volume 4 should be on the way to me from Amazon any day now, so look for another 20th Century Boys review here soon.