Throw down that T. Rex record and let that familiar riff roar on through to the inner most reaches of your soul. It is very fitting that Naoki Urasawa named this series after that classic song. Much like its namesake, 20th Century Boys strikes you to the core. It reaches deep and grabs a hold of your soul and refuses to let go until the last page is turned. All great songs are ones in which you simply don’t want to end, the same applies to manga and 20th Century Boys just doesn’t have enough pages per volume to satisfy my need for more of this intense masterpiece.
Picking up where volume 1 left off, 20th Century Boys volume 2 is right in the thick of things in regards to the mystery of the cult of ‘Friend’. The volume largely deals with Kenji’s attempts to identify the mystery man who seemingly has a connection to his past, although it ventures into a number of interesting side-stories that add a lot of colour to this ever expanding world that Urasawa has crafted.
On the outskirts of Kenji’s story we are introduced to Kamisama, a homeless psychic who seems to know more about the situation at hand than anyone else, even predicting the world’s fast approaching demise. We also get a nice look at Yukiji, Kenji’s childhood friend and perennial love interest. She always viewed him as her knight in shining armour since saving her back when they were kids. Unfortunately the times are changing and so too has Kenji. He is no longer the knight she fell for and there is some clear disappointment in her after coming to reconnect with Kenji.
An interesting direction this volume takes is the ways in which people change as they grow up. Kenji was once a carefree goof who had big dreams of being a rockstar, but as time went on those dreams faded and he resigned himself to the simple life behind the register in a convenience store. He has failed to reach the dreams he once held so close to his heart and that pang resounds throughout this volume.
A lot of this theme of lost hopes comes to a head with the look into the past of Kenji’s missing sister. We come to learn of her sacrifices for Kenji and the dreams she gave up for him. While we get a glimpse into the world she was a part of, it feels distinctly separate from that which Kenji is within right now. Whatever she was involved in, it wasn’t any good and what her ultimate is remains completely up in the air.
Part of what makes 20th Century Boys so affecting is its sense of nostalgia. It perfectly encapsulates that nostalgic feeling for the good old times and plays it for every beat of regret that lies in the heart of us all. That inherent pain that comes with the elation of nostalgia is the key to this volume’s success and 20th Century Boys plays with readers emotions like a fiddle. It’s a feeling anyone can relate to. The feeling of looking back and remembering all the good times, only for today to pale in comparison. What happened? Why did things have to change so much? Why can’t we go back to that moment when everything was right in the world? Questions that we have all asked at one point or another and questions that 20th Century Boys asks with this volume.
It goes without saying that Urasawa is a mangaka genius and with this second volume of 20th Century Boys he continues to be the standard bearer of excellence in manga. The series is progressing into increasingly intriguing territory and the artwork is simply phenomenal. 20th Century Boys is a modern classic for a reason, its complex psychological story twisted across multiple time periods and following countless characters each deeply connected to the greater mystery of the series all come together to make for a manga experience unlike any other. Urasawa is a one-of-a-kind mangaka and 20th Century Boys is a once in a life-time read.
You can pick up a copy of 20th Century Boys Volume 2 and witness the wild world of Urasawa over at Madman’s Online Store.