Spoilers in review

New readers may be puzzled by the cover portrait, as it’s seemingly not someone we’ve been introduced to before. That’s not the case. We have seen her in Volume 2, just not looking as she does on the cover, and that’s because Naoki Urasawa pulls one hell of an audacious switch around a third of the way through this volume.

What’s been introduced to date is that a series of horrific events conceived by Kenji and his mates as a game when kids in the late 1960s seems to be coming true as the millennium approaches. He gradually realises this is the case, and begins reconnecting with people he’d lost touch with years before. This includes checking in on what became of overweight childhood bullies Mabo and Yanbo. What Kenji and pals made up back in the day culminated in a disaster to occur on the then inconceivable future to them of December 31st 1999. And that’s when Urasawa shreds the audience expectations and jumps the narrative forward to 2014. That becomes the new present day.

It’s a bold and brilliant move, and Urasawa’s storytelling is every bit as compelling here, rapidly dragging readers into the concerns of the now seventeen year old Kanna, and introducing an all new back-up cast. This isn’t as frustrating as it may sound to readers caught up in the events of the 1990s, and over time almost everyone who’s been spotlighted will make an appearance, although not all immediately. In the short term Tokyo is troubled by gang warfare, and while Urasawa is sketchy with the details, it appears Japan isn’t far from a totalitarian state, and the events of the millennium appear to have enabled that.

Urasawa’s art superbly defines characters, and he writes them with some depth also. Kenji is one-note in his tenacious virtuosity, but everyone else has shades of grey. This may not be immediately apparent, and Urasawa’s a master at making us reconsider someone’s worth. Pay attention to the gangsters he introduces. Their part in the bigger picture isn’t large, but the relationship with Kanna formed here has later relevance. Among other interesting new characters we meet are a jailed manga artist and a naive, but effective police detective.

For all that care, shifting the focus keeps the mysteries simmering, but changes the story. It’s no longer one of a basically likeable guy who we root for, despite being considerably out of his depth in facing a manipulative foe. For the time being the charm of the childhood reminiscences will be a closed door, and both are losses slightly diminishing the magic.

In the previous slightly smaller sized editions this content was 20th Century Boys 05 and 06. Naturally enough, Perfect Edition Volume 4 continues the story.