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20th Century Boys (20?, Nij?seiki Sh?nen) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. It was originally serialized in Big Comic Spirits from 1999 to 2006, with the 249 chapters published into 22 tank?bon volumes by Shogakukan. In January 2007, a sixteen chapter continuation titled 21st Century Boys (21?, Nij?isseiki Sh?nen) ran until July, and was gathered into two tank?bon. It tells the story of Kenji End? and his friends, who notice a cult-leader known only as "Friend" is out to destroy the world, and it has something to do with their childhood memories. The series makes many references to a number of manga and anime from the 1960s-1970s, as well as to classic rock music, its title being taken from T. Rex's song "20th Century Boy".
A trilogy of live-action film adaptations, directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, were released in 2008 and 2009. The manga was licensed and released in English by Viz Media from 2009 to 2012, and distributed in Australasia by Madman Entertainment. The films were also licensed by Viz in North America and by 4Digital Media in the United Kingdom. 20th Century Boys has received critical acclaim and has 36 million copies in circulation.
In 1969, young boys Kenji, Otcho, Yoshitsune and Maruo build, in an empty field, a hideout they call their secret base, in which they and their friends can get together to share manga and stolen pornographic magazines and listen to a radio. To celebrate the event, Otcho draws a symbol for the base that would represent their friendship. After their friends Yukiji and Donkey join the gang, they imagine a future scenario where villains would try to destroy the world, and in which the boys would stand up and fight; this scenario is transcribed and labelled Book of Prophecy (, Yogen no sho).
In the late 1990s, Kenji is a convenience store owner, finding solace in his childhood adventures as he takes care of his baby niece Kanna and his mother. After Donkey is reported to have committed suicide, Kenji stumbles upon a large cult led by a man known only as "Friend". With current events beginning to resemble actions from the Book of Prophecy, Kenji and his former classmates try to remember who knows about the book. They find more events unfolding such as bombings and virus attacks in San Francisco, London, and a major Japanese airport.
Kenji and his former classmates eventually uncover a plan to destroy the world on New Year's Eve of 2000, referred to in the latter part of the story as the Bloody New Year's Eve, with the use of a "giant robot", which is later revealed to be a giant balloon with robotic appendages, which spreads the virus throughout the city as well as other cities. Kenji manages to get inside the robot to plant a bomb, but is presumed dead when it explodes. From this event, the members of the Friendship Democratic Party (, Y?mint?) gain widespread political popularity and power by presenting a vaccine that counters the virus, and thus take all the credit for saving the world.
Fourteen years after Bloody New Year's Eve, Kanna is a teenage girl who works at a Chinese restaurant. After she tries to defuse some interaction between various mafia groups, she discovers that a patron's friend had witnessed a Chinese mafia member get killed by a corrupted policeman. The mafia member mentions an assassination attempt on the Pope as he visits Japan. She then finds herself being hunted by members of the Friends while trying to unite the mafia groups to her cause. Meanwhile, Otcho manages to escape a maximum security prison.
Kyoko Koizumi, who attends Kanna's school, impulsively takes on a school assignment of covering Bloody New Year's Eve, but soon becomes entangled in activities involving both the Friends and the people who oppose them. After surviving a brainwashing program, she joins with Kenji's friend Yoshitsune and his resistance force.
Friend reveals a new plan, a continuation of the Book of Prophecy, in which he plans to kill every human being on Earth except for sixty million of his followers, but he is then assassinated by his chief scientist Yamane. Following this, Friend's funeral becomes a worldwide spectacle, held in a stadium with the Pope giving the address. Partway through the service, Friend appears to rise from the dead, and is shot in the shoulder by his own assassin. By saving the Pope, Friend is elevated to deity like status. Meanwhile, there is a worldwide viral outbreak that threatens to kill everyone except those who have been vaccinated.
The final portion of the story takes place in a newly remodeled Japan, under the "Era of Friend", who has instituted numerous bizarre changes, including the establishment of an Earth Defense Force, reputedly to protect Earth from an imminent alien invasion, exiling those without vaccinations, and forbidding travel across regions, under penalty of death. During this time frame, Kanna, who is revealed to be Friend's daughter, leads an insurgency against Friend's government, enlisting the aid of numerous groups, including the survivors of rival gangs and mafia organizations. During this, Kenji, apparently also risen from the dead and carrying his trademark guitar, reappears.
The series spans several decades from 1969 to 2017, the last of which in the chronology of the series, becomes 3FE (3rd Year of the Friend Era). The series makes three distinct timeline cuts during the story; one from 1971 to 1997, one from 2000 to 2014, and one from 2014 to 3FE. Several parts of the series are also told in flashbacks to previous events as the characters attempt to unravel the mystery of who Friend is and how to stop his plans of world destruction; most of the character's childhood backstories through the 1970s and 1980s are told in this fashion.
Kenji End? (, End? Kenji)
The central protagonist of the first half of the story, which revolves around his childhood in the 1970s to the present day. He is generally laid-back, with an almost recklessly careless nonchalance, and appears to be heavily interested in rock'n roll. Kenji () works at his family's store which used to be a liquor store but has since been converted to a subsidiary convenience store. He, his relatives, and friends play crucial roles as the plot unfolds. His whereabouts are unknown after the events of the Bloody New Year's Eve and was presumed dead, but later reappears under the alias of Yabuki Joe (, Yabuki J?) (a reference to the main character of Ashita no Joe), revealing that after barely escaping the robot's explosion, he suffered amnesia and wandered throughout Japan, only to regain his memory in 3FE. His song becomes a popular underground anthem against Friend's oppression.
Kenji's childhood friend who created the secret base with him. Ever the nervous, unconfident, and self-deprecating little guy of the group, he was nonetheless one of the few who answered the call to fight back with him on the Bloody New Year's Eve. In the year 2014, he has become the dependable, albeit reluctant leader of one of two underground organizations bent on taking down Friend, and is known as the Genji Ippa ().
Kenji's portly childhood friend. He later becomes the manager of pop singer Haru Namio who has become one of Friend's favorite entertainers.
Kenji's childhood friend nicknamed Froggy. Terrified by the events his friends have become embroiled in, he refuses the call to action and chooses to escape as far as possible from Japan. He has been guiltily hiding out in America when he discovers that Kanna's mother has gone there to try to manufacture the vaccine for the outbreak of 2015.
Kenji's female childhood friend and former classmate. During Kenji's school years, Yukiji was a high-toned tomboy who was able to fight off the bullying twins, Mabo and Yanbo. She also joins Kenji's gang when they were kids. Kenji and Yukiji had a mutual crush as children but neither had the courage to confess, with Kenji's only attempt being misunderstood due to its vagueness. In the late 1990s, Yukiji is a single unmarried woman who works as a customs official (often comically mistaken by Kenji's friends and local townsfolk for a narcotics officer) She bumps into Kenji and the gang at an airport in Tokyo when her disobedient drug sniffing dog named Blue Three (a Japanese pun on the name Bruce Lee), attacks Kenji. Yukiji later assists Kenji during Bloody New Year's Eve. Following Kenji's disappearance, Yukiji becomes Kanna's guardian.
Friend (?, Tomodachi)
The main antagonist of the series. An enigmatic cult leader who, in 1997, began using the symbol Kenji and his friends put together in the 1970s. His followers have filled venues such as the Budokan. One of his goals is to take over the world. His face is hidden in shadow throughout the series; he even confronts Kenji by wearing a mask. His true identity is one of the driving mysteries of the series. As of 2000, the Friendship Democratic Party (FDP) is established as a political group with government representatives such as Manjome Inshu. Over the course of the series, two people assume the identity of Friend: Fukubei, who is one of Kenji's schoolmates, initially appears to be one of Kenji's allies, and Katsumata, another of Kenji's schoolmates, the latter of whom possesses special powers.
Manjome Inshu ( ( ))
A junk-peddling wannabe con artist who allies with Friend and becomes one of the Friendship Democratic Party leaders. Likes to claim improbable foreign titles and falsely allude to respected American institutions. He originally met the boys in 1970-1971 when he was trying to sell knick-knacks such as space food and spoons, claiming these to be cutting edge modern innovations from "NASA". Upon discovering that Friend had a spoon bending talent, he attempted to recruit him for a show he was doing.
Kenji's childhood friend. Around 1988, he was sent to Thailand by his Japanese trading company, but went missing for a week; upon his return he quit the company and divorced, and a year later was in India. Originally suspected to be Friend (perhaps due to the fact that he was the one who thought of the symbol which Friend's cult uses), it has been revealed that he went to receive enlightenment and training from a monk after experiencing the pain of the loss of his son, and was simply living in Asia's seedy underground. In 2000, he is in Thailand doing jobs such as "saving" kidnapped tourists, going under the alias Sh?gun (). In prime physical shape, he has escaped certain death many times, but a local drug boss allies with the Friends and hunts him, and he gets a plea from Kenji for help, so he returns to Japan. His real name is Ch?ji Ochiai (, Ochiai Ch?ji).
Kanna End? (, End? Kanna)
Kenji's niece, introduced to the series in 1997 as a toddler under Kenji's care. After Kenji's apparent death and the time-skip, she is the series' new protagonist. Following the events of Bloody New Year's Eve, she returns to Japan as a high school student. She seems to possess supernatural abilities such as ESP and weak telekinesis. Her father is revealed to be Friend, who claims her abilities to be the result of a secret medicine given to her mother before childbirth, though as with everything else he says, this may be a lie, so the truth is unclear. Coupled with her charisma, Kanna makes an able leader, as she unites several of the major mafia organizations to save the Pope, and later assembles a faction against Friend where she goes under the moniker of "Ice Queen" (?, Koori no Jo?).
Kamisama (, Kamisama, lit. "God")
Kamisama ("God") is the nickname of a homeless old man (real name: Kaminaga Ky?tar? (), and thus actually forming "God" when addressed ironically, using extremely respectful tone but abbreviating his name) who is bent on the return of ten-pin bowling as a major sport in Japan. Kamisama has the power of foresight and can see what will happen before it comes to pass. Kamisama and his friend lure Kenji out to the riverbank where he warns Kenji about saving the future. Later in the series, Kamisama becomes extremely rich by using his foresight to play the stock market, and becomes the first Japanese civilian to travel into space. He is later revealed to be the businessman who evicted Kenji and the gang from their secret base in order to build a bowling alley.
Kyoko Koizumi ()
Kyoko is an airheaded stereotypical teenage girl that attends the same high school as Kanna. For a history assignment, she impulsively picks Bloody New Year's Eve, but when she starts doing some research, she meets Kamisama and learns the truth of what happened that night. She is suddenly recruited to participate in Tomodachi Land where she must abide by the Friend's cult activities or risk being sent to Tomodachi World. She struggles with her survival until she meets Yoshitsune, who helps her get through the exam in exchange for uncovering more information on the identity of Friend. In 3 FE, Kyoko discovers that she has a talent for bowling and is heavily recruited by Kamisama.
A mannequin dressed as Friend
Fukubei (?, Fukubei)
Fukubei is a schoolmate of Kenji. He initially helps Kenji by sacrificing himself to unmask a guy who seems to be controlling the giant robot. Fukubei later reveals himself as the true identity of Friend, Kanna's biological father and an extremely unbalanced man who nurtured a pathological envy of Kenji since their childhoods as well as delusions of grandiosity. A megalomaniac primarily motivated by a desire to live out childish fantasies of being recognized as a hero and to take revenge on the world for not recognizing the exceptionality he perceived in himself, Fukubei is an extremely charismatic leader who explores people's need to believe in something greater than themselves in order to fake a series of supernatural powers (in reality, only stage magic tricks) and pose as a superhuman prophet. He seduced Kanna's mother in order to enlist her help in developing a vaccine for the Ebola-like pathogens. Fukubei is shot dead by Yamane in the middle of the series.
Kenji's classmate who wasn't part of the original gang. As a child, he often wears a mask, but was bullied a lot in school and eventually left after a semester, thus his face remains unknown to most of the gang. However, Fukubei meets with him and Sadakiyo asks if he can be his friend. He later joins the Friends and is the caretaker of Friend's replica childhood home. He becomes the English teacher of Kyoko Koizumi and takes her to the Friend's home, where he begins to realize that maybe he wasn't doing the right thing after all, and ends up burning the home, and taking Kyoko to meet his old teacher at the senior center. He supposedly dies in a fiery car crash while Kyoko and the gang escape, but appears in 3FE with his mask on as he tries to hold off Friend. In the live-action film, he stays in the home as it burns.
A bacteriologist that worked with Kiriko. He is responsible for developing the deadly viruses that are unleashed by Friend, while Kiriko had to develop the vaccine that would save those loyal to Friend's cause.
Mitsuyo Takasu ()
Takasu is a Dream Navigator woman in the Friend organization. She rises towards the top of the Friends, originally as Manjome's mistress, but later as General Secretary after killing off Manjome. She bears a child of Friend, hoping she can take over the "Holy Mother" position from Kiriko.
Shohei Chono ()
Chono is a detective and the grandson of the legendary detective Cho-san. He investigates the Friend's cult and over the course of the story, undergoes a character arc in which he stops comparing himself to his grandfather, as he goes from wanting his fellow policemen to call him "Cho-san" to rejecting the nickname altogether.
Father Nitani (())
A priest of the Kabuki-Cho Church in the Tokyo Shinjuku district. He was a former gangster before he was set straight by a man who would later become the Pope.
Kiriko End? ()
Kenji's older sister and Kanna's mother. After her boyfriend was mysteriously murdered, Kiriko () is seduced by Fukubei into marrying him and joining Friend's research group. She becomes a bacteriologist where she tries to find vaccines for the viral outbreaks, although her colleague, Yamane, is ultimately responsible for creating. She later realizes that her research resulted in the Bloody New Year's Eve where she considers herself "Godzilla" for the deaths of 150,000 people. Abandoning Kanna in Kenji's care, she disappears on a quest to mitigate the damage of her earlier unwitting involvement. When Yamane unleashes more viruses, Kiriko tries to stop that.
The man who usurps Fukubei's place as Friend is revealed in the last chapter of 21st Century Boys to be Katsumata, who wears a double of Sadakiyo's mask. Katsumata harbors a deep hatred of Kenji for stealing a prize from a candy shop in their childhood and letting Katsumata take the blame for it. This incident leaves Katsumata "dead": a social pariah, his very existence unacknowledged by his schoolmates. Unlike Fukubei, who only pretends to have paranormal powers, the second Friend is a powerful precognitive who could dream the future since his childhood. Also unlike Fukubei, who dreamed of conquering the world so his need for attention could be fed by the praise of others, Katsumata wishes to destroy the entire planet after deeming the world unnecessary. He conducted experiments on Kanna's mother during her pregnancy in order to create another paranormal. Following the death of Friend, he assumes Fukubei's identity with plastic surgery but wraps his entire head with a bandage showing the Friend symbol. He is eventually killed during the final confrontation with Kenji at his old school where Sadakiyo suddenly holds him at knife point and one of the flying saucers crash lands on him.
Naoki Urasawa got the idea for 20th Century Boys when he was in the bath and heard a speech on television by someone from the United Nations say "Without them, we would not have been able to reach the 21st Century..." and wondered "Who's 'them'? Who are those people?"
Although he creates a "movie trailer" in his head when starting a new series, Urasawa does not plan the story out in advance. For example, a young woman appears in the first chapter pulling a curtain open to reveal a giant robot (as envisioned in the trailer). While writing that scene Urasawa could hear a baby crying in the convenience store next door and included that in the manga, thus it cuts to 1997 with Kenji and a crying baby Kanna in a convenience store. The author did not initially know that Kanna would grow into that young woman.
A few weeks before the September 11 attacks, Urasawa turned in a manuscript for 20th Century Boys where two giant robots fight and destroy buildings in Shinjuku. But after the attacks, the artist could not bring himself to illustrate that scene and created a chapter almost entirely devoted to Kenji singing a song, in order to express how he felt.
When Urasawa began 20th Century Boys in 1999, he was already writing Monster and continued to serialize both at the same time. Although he was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion at this point, Monster ended in 2001 and Urasawa began writing another series simultaneous to 20th Century Boys in 2003 with Pluto.
Written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, 20th Century Boys was originally serialized in Big Comic Spirits from 1999 to 2006. The 249 individual chapters were published into 22 tank?bon volumes by Shogakukan from January 29, 2000, to November 30, 2006. A sequel, titled 21st Century Boys, started in Big Comic Spiritss January 19, 2007, issue and ran until July. The 16 chapters were released into two volumes on May 30, 2007, and September 28, 2007. 20th Century Boys received an eleven-volume kanzenban re-release between January 29 and November 30, 2016. The single kanzenban reprint of 21st Century Boys, released on December 28, 2016, includes a new ending. A one-shot manga titled Aozora Chu-Ih? ("Blue Sky Advisory - Kiss") was published in the February 2009 issue of Big Comic Spirits, it was credited to "Ujiko-Ujio", the pen-name of the fictional manga creator duo Kaneko and Ujiki in 20th Century Boys.
Both 20th Century Boys and 21st Century Boys were licensed for English-language release in North America by Viz Media in 2005, however their release was delayed until after their translation of Monster had finished. The first English-language volume of 20th Century Boys was released on February 17, 2009, and the last of 21st Century Boys on March 19, 2013. It had been reported that the reason for the delay was at the request of Urasawa, who felt there was a change in his art style over time. However, when asked about it being due to his request in 2012, Urasawa was surprised saying that he did not know about that and simply suggested Viz did not know which order to publish the two series. In 2017, Viz licensed the kanzenban editions of both 20th Century Boys and 21st Century Boys. The first volume of 20th Century Boys: The Perfect Edition was published on September 18, 2018. Viz's initial release was distributed in Australasia by Madman Entertainment. The series has also been licensed in Germany by Planet Manga, France by Génération Comics, Hong Kong by Jade Dynasty, the Netherlands by Glénat, Indonesia by Level Comics, Italy by Planet Manga, South Korea by Haksan Publishing, Spain by Planeta DeAgostini, Taiwan by Tong Li Comics, Thailand by Nation Edutainment and Brazil by Planet Manga.
Billboards in Shibuya advertising the first film, featuring the symbol of the character Friend.
The trilogy of 20th Century Boys live-action films, directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, were first announced in 2006. In February 2008, the main cast was announced, as well as the trilogy's budget of 6 billion yen (approx. $60 million US) and that Urasawa will contribute to the script. Filming of the first two movies was planned from January 3 to the end of June, and of the third from mid-August to the end of October. English rock band T. Rex's "20th Century Boy", the song from which the series gets its name, was used as the theme song to the films.
The first movie's premiere was held in Paris on August 19, 2008, at the Publicis Champs-Elysées cinema with a press conference at the Louvre Museum, which was attended by Toshiaki Karasawa (Kenji) and Takako Tokiwa (Yukiji). The first film was released on August 30, 2008, the second on January 31, 2009, and the third was released on August 29, 2009. The first movie covers volumes 1 to 5 of the manga, and the second covers volumes 6 to 15, but differs from the original story on some key points; important characters missing in the first movie were introduced in the second. The final film in the trilogy covers the remainder of the volumes, but with several changes to the main story.
Komoto Masahiro as the first teacher of Kyoko Koizumi
The first film in the trilogy is available on DVD and Blu-ray in Japan from VAP, and in Hong Kong from Kam & Ronson.
A UK DVD release was announced by label 4Digital Asia, and released on May 4, 2009. On the same day, Part 2 received its UK theatrical premiere at the 8th Sci-Fi-London annual fantastic film festival. Part 3 received its UK theatrical premiere on May 7, 2010, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London as part of the 2nd Terracotta Film Festival. Following this, 4Digital Asia released a 4-disc boxset containing the complete trilogy on May 31, 2010.
Viz Media licensed the trilogy for North American release. The first film had its US theatrical premiere at the New People opening in San Francisco on August 15, 2009. The second film premiere followed at the same cinema on August 21, 2009, and the third film premiere followed on the same day as the Japanese premiere on August 28, 2009.
Part 1 received its US DVD release on December 11, 2009. A launch event was held at the New People cinema in San Francisco with a theatrical screening. Part 2's DVD release had a similar launch event on February 9, 2010, with a one-night-only theatrical screening. Likewise, Part 3 had a launch event and theatrical screening at New People on May 20, 2010. The entire trilogy was broadcast by NHK on its TV Japan channel airing on consecutive Saturdays beginning November 13, 2010.
Manga critic Jason Thompson called 20th Century Boys "an epic saga of nostalgia, middle age, rock n' roll, and a struggle against an evil conspiracy." He compared the story to several novels by Stephen King, such as It, where "a group of childhood friends who reunite as adults to deal with leftover issues from their childhood manifested in monstrous form." Thompson wrote that despite being a seinen manga aimed at an older audience, the series gained fans of all ages for its great premise, storytelling and the mystery behind Friend.
Carlo Santos of Anime News Network felt the pacing of the series should have been quicker, but praised the intricate and interconnecting plot and its twists, as well as the well-developed characters. He also noted Urasawa's art and dialogue, saying "it takes real skill to build a story as multi-layered as this one and still have it make sense as the characters explain things".
Including it on a list of "10 Essential Manga That Should Belong in Every Comic Collection", Matthew Meylikhov of Paste praised the cast as one of "the most expansive and diverse" in any manga and how Urasawa makes each character independently recognizable as they age through the decades. He finished by writing "20th Century Boys becomes an experience featuring horror, science fiction, post-apocalyptic futures, wild humor, epic landscapes and more as an apex accomplishment in manga."
20th Century Boys was adapted into three films. The first live-action film debuted at number two at the box office, grossing 625.61 million yen (approx. $5.78 million US), and rose to number one the second week. The second film debuted at number one, grossing approximately $6,955,472 US. The third film followed also debuting at number one, and earned approximately $22,893,123 US by its second week.
Writing for Empire, Justin Bowyer gave the first film a three out of five rating. He praised the action and faithfulness to the original manga, but stated that those unfamiliar with the source material may find the large cast of characters and complex story confusing. Bowyer also suggested waiting for all three films to be released. A fan of the manga, Jamie S. Rich of DVD Talk felt too much had to be cut to fit three films, with the development of characters suffering as a result. He did comment on how close the actors looked to their comic book counterparts and ultimately recommended the film. In the complete opposite view, both The Guardians Cath Clarke and Time Out Londons Trevor Johnston gave the first film two out of five stars and both cited the faithfulness to the original media as a negative, feeling that some of the material could have been cut.
Charles Webb of Twitch Film voiced similar criticism in a review of the second film. However, he praised the character Friend and Etsushi Toyokawa's performance as Occho, as well as the ending that makes the viewer anticipate the final installment in the trilogy. Jamie S. Rich also felt that the second movie "more than fulfills its prime directive of enticing me to stick around" for the final film.
On the third film, Burl Burlingame of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin wrote "The steam seems to have run out of the franchise during this third part, and it's simply an OK capper to the series," but did praise the special effects.Varietys Russell Edwards also cited the special effects in the final installment as the best in the trilogy.