Manga that Matters: 20th Century Boys

January 8, 2009

During my Christmas vacation back to Michigan, I spent at least 10 hours in Borders trying to catch up on American comic books ( I can’t bring myself to read scans on the computer for several reasons). I was really shocked to see that the manga section had quadrupled in  size while the graphic novels were reduced to about a shelf and a half. I was even more shocked when I looked through every book and couldn’t find a single title worth a damn other than maybe Dragon Ball, but come on…..

So……. a combination of that experience and a recent post about anime on the Mishka Bloglin inspired me to make series of posts about MANGA THAT MATTERS! I just (only slightly) felt embarrassed after typing that.

20th Century Boys is hardly new to anyone living in Japan, with last year’s first installment of the movie adaptation (the subtitles are a bit awkward on that trailer) being one of the highest grossing films of the year. Despite that, even my nerdiest friends back home hadn’t heard of it. In short, it is a story about a group of elementary students who write the “Book of Prophecy” in their secret fort during summer vacation in 1969. Flash forward to the late 90s where the end of the world is approaching in accordance to their book. The world is stricken with a gory plague that basically makes people ooze blood and explode, giants robots, and a creepy religious cult led by a masked man only known as “Tomodachi (Friend)” somehow behind it all.


The main character, Kenji, is a washed up rocker who abandoned his dreams to run a convenience store. When his prophacies start coming true, his friends from that summer contact him in order to prevent “Bloody New Year” from taking place. The only problem is no one really remembers what they wrote clearly or has any idea who Tomodachi might be.

A lot of my favorite genres all come together here; it has mystery, suspense and sci-fi with elements of IT (rather than Stand By Me, thanks Dave) and social commentary thrown in. The story jumps between a few different time lines, which I have always liked. It also has a great, huge cast of characters that really add to the mystery rather than diluting it with crappy side stories like in a lot of books. As much as I like superhero books, I love how manga usually puts normal people without a clue in extreme situations.  I got hyper-addicted to this and read all 20 something volumes within a week, which leads me to mention it’s only real downfall: the story is long. At times, around the 15th book or so, it feels like it is being stretched out a little too much, but it all comes together nicely in the end.

I looked up the possibility of the comic coming out in the states, and Amazon is already taking advanced orders on it’s February release. Not so much luck with the movie, though. As of now, no one has bought the rights in America. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were fan-subbed copies at comic or anime cons, so keep your eyes open if you go to one. For the time being, just check out the trailer linked above!

For those who can’t wait and don’t mind occasionally sloppy transations, go here. You can read the first 6 volumes online. One Manga has everything but they appear to be down for maintenance right now, which could very well mean that they are being sued.

Phew, a much more involved post than I originally imagined. I could keep going, but I’ll stop here. If anyone actually reads this, let me know what you think!


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