20th Century Boys

An impression of the series from the first volume

Hey everybody, today I’m going to be taking a look at 20th Century Boys. Here’s the sales pitch:

Humanity, having faced extinction at the end of the 20th century, would not have entered the new millennium if it weren't for them. In 1969, during their youth, they created a symbol. In 1997, as the coming disaster slowly starts to unfold, that symbol returns. This is the story of a group of boys who try to save the world.

Failed rock musician Kenji's memories of his past come rushing back when one of his childhood friends mysteriously commits suicide. Could this new death be related to the rise of a bizarre new cult that's been implicated in several other murders and disappearances? Determined to dig deeper, Kenji reunites with some of his old buddies in the hope of learning the truth behind it all.

20th Century Boys is a book full of flashbacks. There’s an overlaying story-arc that slowly unveils, but mainly the focus is on the protagonists growing up then remembering their childhood.

For example, we see a flashback where the kids start a secret hideout and bury a time-capsule full of their favourite toys, then later we see them dig it up again as adults; we hear news that one of their childhood friends is dead, then we get flashbacks to how they first met him and what they used to do together.

I found the first book to be a very good read, so long as you don’t mind a lot of unanswered questions. Some of the chapters would make good short stories in their own right, so even if you don’t continue with the series there are some nice experiences in just the first book on its own.

But so far, I’ve found the overall story-arc to be less well executed. Most engaging stories either give the reader complete knowledge of the situation, or else pick one character and give the reader all of the information that they currently know. 20th Century Boys does neither of these and instead gives all of the information that the protagonists can currently remember, then more in little snippets as they remember everything out of order. It does adds to style of the book, at a cost of making the main story less appealing to follow.

I think it’s asking for a bit of a leap of faith from the reader to get into the series. The first volume gives pretty much no pay-off in terms of plot resolutions, and hence it’s a bit difficult to see where this series is going next.