We have a Manga Monday falling on a New Years Eve this year. Appropriately this volume of 20th Century Boys brings us to New Years Eve, 1999, and the climax of the first arc. Let’s get started.

Title: 20th Century Boys – Volume 5
Written & Illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
Translated by Akemi Wegmuller.
Published by Shogakukan (Japan) and Viz Media (USA)
Publication Date: October 2009

Available from Amazon.com & RightStuf

The Premise

New Years Eve 1999 approaches, as does the apocalypse that Kenji and his friends “planned” in childhood. Now Kenji and company must band together to stop the Friends and save the world.

High Points

The build up to the final confrontation is very intense. We get a good sense of this small group of people knowing the apocalypse is coming, who are unable to really warn the world of what’s to come.

The sections after the time-skip are also generally good as well (with an exception I’ll bring up in the Low Point), as we get a slow reveal of the changes that have happened since the Friends took over Japan.

Low Points

There is one big problem I have with the climax.

Urasawa shoots for something like a Bolivian Army Ending with the climax and the time-skip, and he fails. The original Bolivian Army Ending, in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, did not end with Butch & Sundance hiding behind cover. The final shot of the film has Butch & Sundance leaping out of cover, into a freeze frame where presumably they are gunned down.

However, with Urasawa, either he doesn’t know how to reconcile having the equivalent leap from cover with his plans for the time skip, or he just didn’t want to show it. Either way, it caused me to be confused after the time skip, instead of having the reactions that I think he was looking for – specifically a “holy crap” response, which I didn’t end up getting until the very end of the volume.

Scores

Originality: The climax and time skip are interesting, and weren’t what I were expecting would happen – come to think about it, this story is very good about keeping me on my toes. 4/6.

Story: Unfortunately, as mentioned in the Low Point, this volume’s story has a notable mis-step. 3/6.

Artwork: The art is still incredibly good. In particular, the Friends’ robot is very menacing, while being kept in shadow, while keeping the outline of its skull-shaped head visible. 5/6

Characterization: Urasawa does a good job of quickly developing the character of young Kanna. 5/6

Emotional Response: Once we get the reveal at the end that the Friends won and rule Japan is a hell of a “holy crap” moment. 5/6

Flow: 6/6

Overall: The manga stumbles in this volume, but provides hope that it will catch itself and regain its stride for next volume. 4/6