Review by Ian Keogh
Although this is 21st Century Boys 01, it’s more accurately 20th Century Boys 23, united by a clever cover design and continuing the story from the big concert ending The Beginning of Justice. Naoki Urasawa also deals with that volume’s other, stranger ending, that of Kenji meeting his younger self in the past. More astute readers will have figured out how that can happen.
Pretty well all the youngsters who hung around in the late 1960s and early 1970s are reunited here, now all old men with a lot of history and even more suffering between them. While never intending it to be enacted, they’re the people who created the scenarios eventually used to subjugate Japan, and seeing them at the point of their final victory ought to bring a tear to the eye of anyone who’s followed the series through from the beginning. It’s not the only heavy emotional moment as Kanna’s had her illusions shredded, but there’s a magnificent scene reinforcing her strength of character. Friend’s death is supplied as per the title, but that’s slightly anticlimactic, although in keeping with the surprises Urasawa has dropped throughout.
So, if Friend is dead and all is well with the world, why is there still a volume and a half left? Well, it seems there’s an additional prophecy added by Friend to the original scenario from the late 1960s. Is it valid or an empty threat? There’s no real way of knowing, but a fair chance of finding out via technology already seen a couple of times in earlier volumes. Rather sweetly, Urasawa ties the threat in with more manga from his youth. Also to be considered is the mystery of who Friend was, which is another touch of brilliance on Urasawa’s part, not least because it’s a mystery we believed had been solved around ten volumes back. It’s revived and the future of Japan may depend on it.
The past is seen a lot, but unusually there’s not a fixed point of entry. When Urasawa’s dipped back before, we know whose memories we’re viewing, and it’s frequently the case here that we don’t. Are they even reliable? We’ll find out.
Mystery! Suspense! Effortlessly good art! Personalities! And a plot that still twists and still captivates after 23 chapters. Friend’s Death is great, and the series winds up with 20th Century Boy.