Wow. Naoki Urasawa really gets this series going early. It’s hard to talk about the volume over all without sounding repetitive and it’s hard to resist summarizing the plot. Given that the whole reason behind the “Plot Threads” section is to keep this sort of thing sweet and short I will only say a few things. I was especially surprised by the revelation about Kenji’s sister, that came far earlier than I had remembered. I was also surprised by the amount of foreshadowing already happening – Urasawa has all but said a giant robot is going to attack Tokyo in December 2000, and quite a few years are going to have to pass to show us what happens. I had also completely forgotten that Mon-Chan discovers the friend’s identity this early.
There are a few new characters this volume, and a few clarifications about certain characters.
Yukiji – Seemingly Kenji’s only female childhood friend. He remembers her as a tomboy, as someone who would stand up against the bullies Yambo and Mambo. She remembers Kenji as a white-knight-in-shining-armour type deal and is even more disappointed by Kenji’s current life than Kenji is.
Manjome Inshu – A mysterious man who works for the friend’s. He appears to have spoon-bending powers, something Mon-Chan linked to the Friend himself.
Ichihara – Yukiji’s lawyer friend. She’s actively crusading against the friend.
Otcho – Otcho, the original creator of the Friend’s symbol, disappeared for a week in Thailand. After that he quit his high paying job. He was last seen by a coworker walking down the streets in India dressed rather like a monk. At the time he said he was going to Tibet.
Kamisama – A bowling-obsessed hobo who seems to prescient. From little premonitions (so far so accurate) to big premonitions. He knows something bad is going to happen on December 2000, and he knows Kenji is somehow responsible for preventing it.
Kiriko – Kenji’s sister. She’s always been on the look-out for Kenji. She constantly sacrificed her dignity and dreams for the future for him. She was dated someone she loved very much, but she turned down his proposal for her family’s sake. After that he fell onto some train tracks in died. When Kenji snoops through her desk he finds a mysterious note from the friend’s.
The Man Behind – One of the Friend’s devotees. He’s the one that pushed Kiriko’s boyfriend into the train tracks. Afterwards he started seducing Shikishima’s daughter. He’s helping the Friend learn how to seduce someone else.
The Dying Friend – An ex devotee. One of the two Friend’s (along with Masoa) who pushed Donkey off a roof. Donkey managed to convince him the Friend was false and using ideas Kenji made up as a child. On his bloody death bed he confirms Kenji’s suspicions, establishes important facts about the viruses, and gives Kenji a prototype Laser Gun (Kenji drew something similar as a child).
Artistically speaking, this is a pretty strong volume. It’s also great character development for Kenji. We get to see how selfish and unthinking he was, how the life he regrets giving up was shallow, and made him shallow. Urasawa dishes out some amazing pages of Kenji playing a guitar. In fact every time Kenji touches a guitar in this volume the page becomes magical. This is a great touch of character development, and one of the few times Urasawa allows a character’s internal emotions to effect the artwork. We also get the first appearance of a Naoki Urasawa stable with Mon-Chan’s scenes – he quickly gets you stupid-attached to a minor character only to kill them off. This is a technique he uses regularly in every book of his I’ve read, and one that will show up a few more times in 20th Century Boys.
Now plot threads are hardly the be-all and end-all of any work’s quality. Sometimes they reflect a larger inadequacy in the level of writing, but that is hardly the case with Naoki Urasawa. The only reason I’m bothering to include this section in this series of articles at all is that I think it will prove interesting. Largely I expect to be impressed by how early Urasawa seeds his ideas, hence the numbers in brackets. These mark the first volume the plot point appeared in. Time shall tell.
Humanity’s saviours – a flash forward early on shows a group of mysterious heroes at a press conference.
Mysterious girl – we see a girl awake in her bed. To watch “Humanity’s Final Hour.” (1)
“It can’t be that again” Dec 2000, Humanity’s Final Hour – a giant robot appears to be involved. This is not the first time it’s happened. (1)
Mysterious plague – Definitely used by the Friend’s to murder people. The plague has spread to Los Angeles and will go to London next. At the end of volume two Kenji realizes the path is something that he invented (with Otcho’s help) as a childhood game. (1)
Kenji’s sister Kiriko – she left Kenji with her baby, but why? Was she seduced by the Friend? (1)
Mysterious symbol - from here on out this will be lumped in with “The Friend.”
Where’s Otcho – No one knows. He’s the one who first came up with the symbol. He disappeared for a week from his high paying job (this is years ago), then came back and quit. Last seen in India heading to Tibet. (1)
Ochanomizu – a scientist found dead with all the blood outside his body. (1)
Donkey and the Shikishimas – they were both involved with Masoa. One committed suicide the other disappeared. The dying Friend and Masoa actually pushed Donkey off the roof after he found out to much about the Friend’s. The Shikishima’s daughter at some point was seduced by “The Man Behind.” (1)
The ghost - What was it Donkey saw in that room? (1)
The face - the friend has ordered the construction of a giant metal face. What’s up with that? Giant robot face perhaps? (1)
Spoon Bending – Both Manjome and the friend appear to have spoon-bending abilities. What’s up with that? (2)
Kamisama – The bowling obsessed hobo who can tell the future. What role will he play in this story? Is there any special reason he can tell the future? (2)
Laser Gun – who built it? What will it be used for. The Dying Friend tells Kenji not to fire it because it’s unstable. Is this going to turn into some serious Stream-Crossing? (2)
The Friend – who is he!? The series’ central question.
Right now we know: he wants to take over the world, he was a classmate of Kenji’s, he has some connection to spoon bending, and his identity is not very secure. Kenji becomes increasingly sure the friend is Otcho.