Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is an odd and interesting manga. It’s about a group of men who formed a club when they were kids and now find the symbol they used for their club appearing in their adult lives.
As Kenji and his friends come together for the funeral of one of their old gang, Kenji receives a letter from the deceased – a letter that includes the symbol [which the others in the gang have long since forgotten]. At the same time, there is a mysterious fellow who calls himself Friend, who performs feats, like levitation, above a stage floor on which is inscribed the circle. There’s also a mysterious girl who is troubled by unusual noises that emanate from something big in the night.
Disappearing families, deaths made to appear to be suicides, seeming supermen – and the evilest twins in history – make for an exciting read. Urasawa balances the mundane and the unusual with deftness. He has a gift for delineating a solid character with a minimum of information, and his layouts are fresh and frequently subtle. The story’s complexities – it frequently moves between time periods and groups of characters – are intriguing, and Urasawa builds layers of mystery which each shift.
I finished the two hundred-pages of Volume One: Friends in almost no time at all. Indeed, 20th Century Boys practically read itself to me – Urasawa’s storytelling skills are that sharp. If this isn’t classic storytelling, I don’t know what is.
Final Grade: A