20th Century Boys Volume 5 by Naoki Urasawa
Everytime I pick this series up I’m reminded again how great it is. Urasawa always throws in surprising plot elements, and it is rare now for me to be genuinely surprised when reading manga. After going into hiding Kenji sends out an inspiring call to action to his childhood friends. They send their families away and rendezvous with Kenji in a new secret hideout, preparing to take down the Friend. Kenji’s group is branded as a terrorist cell by the media when they are the ones who are trying to stop the destruction of the world. I was expecting that the events leading to the destruction of the world wouldn’t take place for several more volumes, but Urasawa speeds things up. Unexpectedly it is December of the year 2000 and the signs outlined in Kenji’s childhood fantasy are starting to come true. A giant robot stalks through Tokyo and Kenji’s crew gather’s up their weapons to face it.
Kenji’s story is left hanging as attention shifts to a teenage Kanna, Kenji’s niece. She’s a bit of a charismatic delinquent but utterly devoted to her (dead? missing?) uncle. Kanna lives in a future where Asian gangs from rival countries have shoot-outs in Tokyo. It seems like Kenji might have been defeated because the Friends are still in a position of power in the government. I love how intricately plotted this series is. It is filled with unusual connections between characters and humorous moments as the origin behind the striking symbol of a hand pointing up against the backdrop of an eyeball is revealed.
I love the variety of the characters’ facial expressions. Urasawa is able to do in a couple panels what a lesser artist might take two pages to accomplish. Kenji’s resigned determination contrasted with Kanna’s exuberance in a dystopic future makes me curious to find out how Kanna’s world was created. This is one of the best manga that I’ve read in terms of artistic accomplishment and literary quality.