This is definitely the best volume of the series so far. Now that’s almost a false statement in a series like this, because this volume’s quality is utterly dependent on the two prior. Without their diligent set-up this volume’s pay-off would lack the resounding effect it has. Take for example, the guitar – volume two begins to show Kenji, in the past, having absolutely magical moments with his guitar. Every time Kenji touches a guitar in volume two he feels invincible, and that effect is heavily compounded between these two volumes. Kenji picking up his guitar in volume three is a stunning character beat, especially when the readers know how long it’s been since he’s played, and the effect playing it had on him in the past. The entire volume is filled with moments like this as Kenji begins to evolve as a character.
There are a few new characters this volume, and a few clarifications about certain characters.
Fukube – Another friend of Kenji’s, his wife became a Friend and since then he’s been investigating them. He remembers one other person, who always wore a mask, who might’ve known about the clubhouse. Fukube’s a womanizer, that’s what drove his wife away.
Sadakiyo – a mysterious child from Kenji’s early days, he always wore a mask. The Friend has also started wearing a mask, one suspiciously similar. He changed schools in fifth grade. He was bullied, and used to try communicating with aliens.
Shogun – A super-badass man of unclear origin who lives in Thailand. We see him save a man from gang members, only to rob the man as punishment for hiring underage prostitutes. He likes to eat Kuitiao more than Bamee. He takes care and befriends abused women in Thailand, at one point talking a suicidal prostitute off the proverbial, and literal, ledge. Last we see of him he opens a Shonen Sunday magazine and laughs hysterically at the site of the pointing finger (intended to direct foreign readers in the right direction.)
This volume really gives Naoki Urasawa a chance to shine. They’re a couple of completely stunning pages and sequences. The aforementioned guitar sequences are especially wonderful, displaying a fabulous savage energy and emotional resonance. Another standout sequence is Kenji’s confrontation with the friend. A lot happens both in terms of character development and plot in this scene, and the entire thing is supercharged with superb tension and desperation. Naoki Urasawa really knows when to act as a fly on the wall and when to put you inside a character’s head, and these scenes completely exemplify the latter.
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. (1)
Mysterious girl – we see a girl awake in her bed. To watch “Humanity’s Final Hour.” (1)
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)
Kiriko – she left Kenji with her baby, but why? Was she seduced by the Friend? Yes. As a matter of fact. Assuming you think the Friend is being truthful with this claim, then Kanna is his daughter. (1)
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)
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. There was even an incident at Kenji’s school where all the spoons were bent during one lunch. 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)
Shogun – Who is he? What role will he play in the larger story? (3)
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 was fairly sure the friend is Otcho, however now the masked child Sadakiyo seems like a likely candidate.