This is an important volume, deserving of a particularly long write-up. You’ve been warned.
This volume starts the conclusion of Kenji’s story, and introduces the next part of this tale – Kanna’s story, which takes place years in the future. The whole comic pretty much turns on a dime, jumping many years into the future and adopting a new protagonist. Not only that, it skips right past the climax of Kenji’s story. This is a pretty damn risky move, and it means that Naoki Urasawa had to do a lot to make up for it. He had to work hard to immediately invest the audience in a new protagonist and a new set of stakes.
Kenji and most of his friends spend this volume hiding out in their new secret fort – except that this one isn’t made of grass. Their hideout is essentially a rough and ready terrorist cell in the sewer. No matter the morality of what they’re doing, it’s easy to see why they’re painted as terrorists by the Friends. They’re a bunch of radical conspiracy theorists with guns and dynamite hiding in the sewer. It doesn’t take many falsifications or cover-ups to make them look like villains.
Kenji spends most of this volume playing guitar on the street while Kanna watches. He’s trying to warn people about the Friends in a non-violent, subtle manner. It doesn’t particularly work. A few listeners hang about, but no one seems to be taking in his message.
All this calm, non-violent preaching provides a wonderful bit of contrast as the story shifts pace. Kenji’s group makes a risky attempt to track Manjome, hoping he’ll lead them to the Friend. This fails shortly before the Friend’s robot appears. The robot shows up as a massive silhouette spewing the lethal virus where it walks. Urasawa draws a wonderful series of panels that culminate in Kenji and his group facing down the robot.
Then the comic jumps back to a UN meeting at the dawn of the 21st Century, the meeting introducing The Saviours of the World.
The comic then jumps to Kanna. Kanna, now a teenager, is moving into an apartment across from two manga artists. She works at a restaurant in a bad neighbourhood, but ends up spending most of her pay cheque feeding customers who can’t afford their meals. Kanna’s outgoing personality and kind nature are introduced just quickly enough to keep you interested in the character, but Urasawa’s no slouch, and he knows he needs to makes her that much more compelling. He’s essentially fighting against the audience’s inclinations here, and he does so with one remarkable scene.
Kanna, singlehandedly, and only a few pages after her introduction, talks two angry gangs into putting away their guns mid-fight. Bullets fail to hit her as she stands between these two groups loudly admonishing them. She ends up quietly sitting at a different restaurant while the two gang bosses, having come to see her, calmly discuss a temporary cease fire. This is mainly to keep the police off their backs – the Pope is coming to visit, and the significant stopping points on his trip are being cleaned up.
Perhaps most importantly, we see Kanna celebrate the eve of the robot attack, now called Bloody New Year’s Eve, by placing a bowl of ramen at a monument dedicated to the victims of the attack. The thing is, this memorial seems to be one massive piece of Friends’ propaganda.
There’s more to Kanna’s story but, by that point, we’re sold. We know more than enough to be completely invested in this new protagonist. We know she’s quirky, and kind, and brave, and we know she hasn’t fallen under the Friend’s spell.
There are a lot of new characters this volume, and a few clarifications about certain characters.
Kenji’s Group – For future reference the group that confronts the Friends consists of Kenji, Marou, Yukiji, Mon-Chan, Fukube, Yoshitsune, and Otcho.
Yanbo and Mabo – The twins that terrorized Kenji during childhood are now slender and sophisticated CEOs, under the control of the Friends.
Kanna – Now a teenager, Kanna is rebellious and giving. She still owns a cassette player and routinely listens to it. She hates cops and knows the Friends are evil.
Ujiki and Kaneko – Old school pen and paper manga artists who live next to Kanna. The strict limitations the Friends have placed on entertainment is stifling their freedom.
Chin-san – Kanna’s boss at the restaurant. He’s a hard-ass.
Mariah – The poor transvestite Kanna keeps feeding at her own expense.
Chaipong – One of the main Thai gangsters Shogun goes up against. Now he’s one of two competing bosses in Tokyo.
Japanese Gangster – No name given yet. He’s far younger than Chaipong.
Chono – The little boy the detective Cho-san was bringing a Pokemon toy to before he died. Now a young detective with a lot to prove.
Tattooed Priest – A priest covered in Yakuza tattoos from a past life.
Yukiji – Survived Bloody New Year’s Eve and cared for Kanna as she grew up.
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.
(This section is going to get a lot bigger now that we’ve jumped forward in time.)
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.” This girl is plainly Kanna, which means… (1)
Dec 2000, Humanity’s Final Hour – A giant robot appears to be involved. This is not the first time it’s happened. Kanna will be present. (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)
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 too much about the Friends. The Shikishimas’ daughter was, at some point, 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)
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)
Team – The Friend is insisting Kenji prepare a “team” of nine people to fight. He ended up with seven. (4)
Bloody New Year’s Eve – What happened? Who survived; what did the Friends do afterwards? We have no answers. The Friends are definitely in a position of power now, but how powerful? (5)
Kanna’s Cassette Player – What’s she listening to on it? (5)
Kanna’s Luck – There were hints early on that there was something special about Kanna, but the way those bullets refused to hit her has made it clear. (5)
The Second Bowl – Kanna leaves a bowl of Kenji’s favourite noodles at a monument built by the Friends to commemorate Bloody New Year’s Eve. When she goes she finds someone else has been doing the same thing. Could it be one of Kenji’s team? (5)
Why Does Kanna Hate Cops – Pretty self-explanatory question. (5)
Cop-Killer – But not the normal kind. A gangster was shotgunned to death by a man in a police uniform. At least according to one mysterious witness. (5)
The Friends – Exactly how important are they after Bloody New Year’s Eve? The last line of the volume is “we sure don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Friends.” And it’s spoken by the very working class Ujiki and Kaneko, so clearly they’re fairly important. (5)
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.