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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

“Friends Say It’s Fine, Friends Say It’s Good…”

20th Century Boys, Volume 9

I like Naoki Urusawa’s 20th Century Boys a lot, but I’ll be the first to admit that the initially easy task of having to explain the plot is getting exceedingly ridiculous with each succeeding volume. To give you a sense of the level of difficulty I’m talking about, let me try to summarize (without spoilers) — as clearly as possible — the events that form the basis of the plot for Volumes 9 and 10 of Viz’s snazzy English translation.

In the year 2014, Kanna, a teenage girl with psychic powers and  the only niece of an alleged and presumed dead terrorist leader, is charged with the task of a) clearing her Uncle Kenji’s name; b) leading a revolution against the ruling government of Neo Tokyo; and c) saving the world from Japan’s beloved, but secretly despotic overlord — the masked, creepy-ass villain known only as “Friend.”

In Volume 9, Kanna becomes convinced that she needs to gather the various ethnic gangs of Neo Tokyo to prevent the assassination of the visiting Pope, as prophesied in the aptly named “New Book of Prophecies,” a sequel to (you guessed it) the original “Book of Prophecies.” This “sacred tome” is actually just a tattered school notebook full of crazy ideas dreamed up by a bunch of Japanese grade schoolers. However, Friend has turned these harmless daydreams into a nightmarish reality.

Meanwhile, a teenage girl named Kyoko is stuck in a virtual reality machine at Friend Land, a government-sanctioned re-education center that brainwashes folks who dare to question the status quo — i.e. Friend’s deft manipulation of both the historical record and public opinion . This VR machine is pretty fancy though, as it has ostensibly flung Kyoko back into a simulation of Friend’s past where she meets the original crew of “20th Century Boys” back when they were little kids. Oh, and by the way, the boys not only retain their personalities in this simulation, but seemingly carry out past actions that Friend, the cult’s mastermind and presumably the master programmer for all this VR technology, would have absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever.

Volume 10 is slightly less over-the-top, as it deals with the aftermath of the events depicted in the previous installment, as Kanna gathers her forces and Kyoko comes to grips with the (possible) true identity of Friend.

20th Century Boys Volume 10

All the VR stuff works better in the manga than it does in the film adaptation, but just barely. Both instances involve a huge suspension of disbelief. I mean, it’s already 2010 and while I know a lot of folks are enamored with their iPads, Steve Jobs is gonna have to get cracking on iReality if he’s gonna come even close to the tech presented in 20th Century Boys‘ version of 2014. My guess is that in ten years, the future tech of 20th Century Boys to feel as quaint as the cutting edge Tandy computers in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, which was set in a dystopian future of 1997(!). It’s still a great movie, but those little quirks are sure to elicit chuckles.

I have to say that I enjoyed the manga more when it focused on Kenji’s quest to flush out the conspiracy, discover Friend’s secret masterplan, and unmask him to the world. But after the fateful of events of Bloody New Year’s Eve 2000, things got more demonstrably silly. Even so, I’m sticking with the series. Not only do I want to see how Urusawa decides to end the series, but I have to admit that there are enough cool moments sprinkled throughout these volumes to keep me hooked, even if my suspension of disbelief has been completely obliterated.

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