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DVD Review: 20th Century Boys 2 – The Last Hero

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Legendary manga-ka Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys has been quite the phenomenon. It started out as a series of over 20 volumes that hit the manga scene in 2000, and since then it has grown into a "blockbuster" movie franchise. In Japan the manga has come to a conclusion, but here in the States we're only up to sixth installment (with the seventh on the horizon). The film trilogy, however, is hitting much faster and today we're looking at the second part, The Last Hope.

20th Century Boys is about a Book of Prophecy made by a group of kids in the late '60s. One summer this group of friends gets together to create a scenario where a villain rises up to conquer the world and only a certain hero has the power to stop him. The kids thought up some pretty nasty things, and nearly thirty years later some of these events start to come true. A villain named Friend has stepped forward and has begun quoting the Book and setting things in motion to draw out the hero. The Book's main creator, Kenji, was thrust upon the world stage (along with the other people involved in the Book's production) by Friend and the first film followed his attempts to live up to the prophecy of being the hero.

For the sequel, 20th Century Boys 2 – The Last Hope, the plot jumps ahead by fifteen years after the New Years Eve incident. Without giving too many details away regarding the first film Friend overcame Kenji's efforts and succeeded in unleashing a terroristic act on Japan. Not only was he successful with that endeavor, but Friend also managed to make Kenji take the fall for his actions, labeling him a terrorist in the process. With his victor Friend essentially rises to power and pretty much rules the world, banishing his enemies to a prison known as Friend Land.

In this tumultuous time Kenji's niece, Kanna (Airi Taira), is pretty much the only person who believes her uncle was innocent of the crimes he's charged with. She holds that same rebellious sense of what's right and grows to fight Friend's plots whenever possible. This nature of hers, and her relation to Kenji, put her in the crosshairs and it would seem that Friend is plotting her assassination. The Last Hope introduces another Book of Prophecy that tells about a hero who would rise up, but be killed in the process and it would seem Kanna is supposed to fill that role.

Some familiar faces, like Otcho (Etsushi Toyokawa), break out of Friend's prison to come to Kanna's aid, however, and all is not lost it would seem. There's still quite a fight that has to be put up in order to survive Friend's latest plot, and to be quite fair this film handles the content quite well. Some astounding action sequences and strong pieces of dialogue take the center stage in some outstanding ways. Unfortunately not everything is smooth sailing.

One thing that stands out for both the good and wrong reasons is the acting. Some performers hit it out of the park, like Taira and Toyokawa, but the second-tier character actors just ham it up. This makes the film a bizarre mix of greatly acted lines, followed by B-movie material. Then again some of that could be reflective of the script since there's just too much material from the manga to be put into 140 minutes (the first film was comprised over volumes 1 through 5, while The Last Hope tackles 6 through 15). Pieces of the plot don't gel quite as well as others and the story feels paced awkwardly, as though it were edited to its bare bones. That's to be expected somewhat, and most of what's here borders on what one could call epic.

20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope is presented on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The picture quality is good, though on par with the original release in the sense that there are good and bad elements. Black levels don't offer a lot of depth, some compression pops up, and there's light grain in quite a few scenes. The rest of the film is gorgeous and, I dare say, visionary. It's a testament to Urasawa's original designs that many of the film's best scenes truly stand out.

Also similar to the first movie, the audio package here comes with Japanese language and English subtitles only. The film is presented with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks and sounds very good all around. The dialogue is relatively flat, but some pieces of action and music offer some nice directionality. If you're looking for a clean sounding track, and not an explosive sense of immersion, you won't be disappointed.

20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hero successfully follows up the original film in many ways. It presents a compelling story with fantastical elements and some scenes that are truly memorable. With that being said it's an unbalanced affair with some of the script feeling rushed and some elements standing out more than others. In the end if you're coming to 20th Century Boys you should know it's an investment. This film means so much more if you've seen the first, and I’m sure the same will be said for the final part of the trilogy. Manga may be the better format for this franchise, but the live-action entries are definitely worth checking out.

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