Naoki Urasawa has carved out a niche for himself in the manga industry as a talented storyteller capable of creating smart and compelling fiction that transcends the genre. His works have been nominated time and again and have served as evidence of his genius. 20th Century Boys has been regarded as arguably Urasawa’s most daring work and his magnum opus. Playing off themes of the economic climate and religion while holding it together within a science fiction premise, the series has earned him several accolades.
With 16 volumes in and Urasawa packs in the twists and suspense that most writers would struggle to maintain. Despite only now paying off questions that had been introduced in the first volume, it doesn’t seem as though Urasawa has dragged them out, rather the series has moved at a conventional pace with the progression of the plot feeling natural and smooth. Every volume has had a handful of surprises to keep viewers to keep readers invested, but the most shocking came at the end of the previous volume with Friend’s ascension to ruler of the world.
Volume 16 takes a step back through history back to when the characters were still children to reveal the events that shaped the present. As child, the man that would become the entity known as Friend wanted simply that: a friend to call his own. This desire led to his destined meeting with Kenji and his group. Despite idolizing Kenji, Friend was never accepted into the fold and was left alone. That is, until he met another boy who showed an interest in Kenji, Sadakiyo. The two formed a quick bond but they were never truly “friends”.
Return to current day and the world’s population has been drastically reduced as a result of a deadly virus. Tokyo is now a paradise presided over by Friend. Though the blockade separating the city from the world is thought to be impenetrable, rumors arise of a man with long hair and a beard having succeeded in climbing the wall.
20th Century Boys is akin to a cinematic tour de force. No one in the genre rivals Urasawa in his craft. The mixture of mystery and pop culture exploitation is a strange one that could easily come unraveled in lesser hands, but is deftly handled by the Urasawa’s stark attention to detail, thus raising his work to the upper tier of graphic story telling.