To celebrate the local release of the first volume of Naoki Urasawa’s cult manga series, 20th CENTURY BOYS, guest writer and long time ‘Friend’ of Madman, Cefn Ridout reminisces on the pivotal moment he completed all 24 volumes of this engrossing epic.
“This is the end my friends.” Jim Morrison, The Doors
I can’t believe it’s over. Okay, so it finished in March (2013) and I’m only now getting around to writing about it… so sue me. Besides, a belated appreciation of 20th/21st Century Boys seems kinda fitting for a manga series pre-occupied with time and prophecy, and whose creator, Naoki Urasawa, also delayed its (English) publication until his Monster series ran its course in 2008.
Over five years, 24 volumes, a three-part live-action adaptation and umpteen awards later, Urasawa’s sci-fi action mystery never failed to surprise, thrill or delight, even with Viz’s patchy publishing schedule. In fact, it was one of the few regular comic series (manga or otherwise) that I looked out for with the same enthusiasm I did as a kid trawling the newsstands for my latest comic fix (just ask the staff at Kinokuniya in Sydney).
And a hard-nosed nostalgia underpins the series’ appeal. That and Urasawa’s seamless storytelling, credible characters, gripping action sequences and deft, distilled draughtsmanship. Few graphic novelists can make exposition exciting or expertly wrong foot their readers as well as Urasawa.
Taking its title from the 1973 hit single by one of Urasawa’s favourite bands, Marc Bolan and T-Rex, 20th Century Boys drags the past back to the future with a vengeance and rarely eases the tension. It’s perhaps his most personal work and his evocation of a buoyant, forward-looking Japan in 1970, meshed with the expectations of his own youth, is straight from the heart.
With a tip of the baseball cap to the two Steves (King and Spielberg), a dash of Tezuka and a whole lot of Urasawa, 20th/21st Century Boys constructs an elaborate tale that speculates on the perils of wish fulfilment. What if our youthful, world-changing schemes become a terrifying reality? What happens if we allow the sins of our childhood and the ghosts of our past to dominate and distort our adult lives? It’s also about the enduring power of true friendship… and one hell of a ride.
I’m going to miss the reluctant rock ‘n’ roll hero Kenji, the tough and absurdly capable Otcho, the impetuous, empathic Kanna and the rest of the gang that never gave up. You don’t get to save the world by taking down an all-powerful, Lazarus-like cult leader and his giant robot, three times, without leaving an impression.
Yes, I can’t believe it’s over — but, hang on, is that a faint light I see flickering on the fallen robot…?
20th Century Boys Vol. 1 is available now. Subsequent volumes will be released monthly.