This is an exciting volume. A lot of it focuses on Shogun being generally badass. Shogun acts rather like a vigilante in this volume. He’s continually saving abused women from Thai gangsters. At first this all feels like a strange departure from the norm – until the creeping hand of the Friend makes itself apparent. Even though the plot connects it still feels like a bit of a separate story. Shogun’s antics and training flashbacks could be from a whole other comic. Of course it all connects, it just feels like a bit of a harsh difference. I say that like it’s a bad thing, but it really does pay off, and it’s a joy to read. This is another volume that’s a little light on new developments, but there is one major difference – it jumps forward in time by a couple years. This lets Naoki Urasawa reflect back on the changes that have happened with Kenji in this time, which is a handy shortcut if ever there was one.
There are a few new characters this volume, and a few clarifications about certain characters.
Shogun – A super-badass man of unclear origin who lives in Thailand. Turns out he’s Otcho. After his son died he spent years training with a monk in the forest, essentially learning to be Batman. He has crazy staff-related martial arts skills, is immune to poisons, and is generally awesome. In this volume he burns down a factory the Friends are using to create a new type of drug called Rainbow Kid.
Chaipong – One of the main Thai gangsters Shogun goes up against.
Fire Guy – I didn’t actually make note of this character when he first appeared back in volume $$. He was the guy who burned down Kenji’s store, and he did it by setting a friendly fellow Friend on fire. He comes back in this volume as the head of the Rainbow Kid factory. Otcho turns him good and together they burn down the factory.
Manjome – The Friend’s right hand man has now entered politics. He runs the Friendship and Democracy Party, or FDP for short.
Shikishima – He’s a robotics expert, and the Friends are holding his daughter “hostage” and forcing him to work on their robot for them.
Shikishima’s Daughter – Has completely fallen for “The Man Behind” and wholeheartedly trusts the Friends. She’s either unaware or unconcerned about the way their using her to blackmail her Dad.
This volume really marks the first time Urasawa has drawn a conventional fight scene in 20th Century Boys. Otcho’s battles serve as a great example of Urasawa’s style. Naoki Urasawa is really a fantastic artist to introduce manga to a non-manga reader. This is mainly because he does away with the codified visual language that so much manga depends on. His depictions of speed for example, whether it’s Otcho’s body or the staff he’s holding, are far more photorealistic than most manga. This approach, by the way, is really just an option. It’s not even remotely better than the other approach – it’s just different, and that difference makes his books more accessible.
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, ready 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. Seems like the Friends are gearing up to start the first attack soon. (1)
Mysterious Plague – Definitely used by the Friends 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. Turns out he’s Shogun, and he essentially became Batman after the death of his son. (1)
Ochanomizu – A scientist found dead with all the blood outside his body. (1)
Shikishimas – They were both involved with Masoa. One committed suicide and the other disappeared. The dying Friend and Masoa actually pushed Donkey off the roof after he found out too much about the Friends. The Shikishima’s daughter at some point was seduced by “The Man Behind.” And still is under his spell, it turns out. The Friends are holding her “hostage” to force her father to build their giant robots for them. (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? Yup. It is. (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? You already read about this up there. (3)
Team – The Friend is insisting Kenji prepare a “team” of nine people to fight. (4)
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.