In case you haven’t heard about it, you should know that 20th Century Boys is kind of a big deal. The manga by Naoki Urasawa has been wildly popular in Japan and has made its way to the States, but the big news comes from the release of the live action version. Planned as a trilogy of films, 20th Century Boys was one of the highest budgeted, most popular Japanese movies in quite some time. The first installment, Beginning of the End, is coming out next week and the question remains whether or not the series will strike it big with an American audience.
I must admit right out of the gate that I had never read the manga prior to watching the film. This inherently leaves me bewildered by what transpires in the film, and I obviously had no idea about the complexities of the plot or relationships omitted from the movie. After all, this is a highly condensed version of the manga and if you are as unfamiliar with it as I was you’ll feel like you're missing something. Despite that, it’s clear enough to see the epic nature of the plot. It’s wholly unlike anything out there and wildly imaginative from top to bottom. It’s just a shame that the film feels disorganized and poorly edited. Before we get into what holds 20th Century Boys back, let’s take a look at what it’s all about.
20th Century Boys is a mystery unlike any other. It’s a story about a hero who rises up to save the world from evil, but it’s done so in a way that truly stands out. With copious amounts of flashbacks, the story weaves itself together as the film progresses, slowly building on what viewers already know. Bouncing between events that took place in the late '60s and the film’s main setting in the late '90s, everything centers on a group of boys.
At the apex of events is a guy named Kenji. He’s a washed-up rocker who is just going through the motions of life. He manages a dying convenience store, watches over his sister’s baby, and unfortunately doesn’t do much else. All of that changes when the police arrive to question him about the disappearance of his neighbors. Upon visiting their house he sees a symbol painted on a wall of an eye with a gloved hand pointing upwards. This symbol comes up again during his class reunion, at which point he learns about a strange religious cult that has surfaced, and its leader named Friend.