Volume 3 of 20th Century Boys plays like a compendium ofevery paranoid nightmare you’ve ever had. You are in front of a hostilecrowd, singled out for ridicule and aggression. You are dead certainsomething horrible is going to happen mere minutes from now, but youcannot get anyone to believe you. And you’re convinced there’s sometiny unremembered piece of your past which is crucially important toeverything that’s going on, if you could just remember what the hell it was!
That’sbeen Kenji’s problem: the clues to the imminent apocalypse beingunleashed by a former childhood friend are scattered far and widethrough his life. What’s worse is now that he’s finally started to fitthe pieces together, the one great discovery that comes to him is thathe is the only one who can comprehend the full scope of what’shappening. The attacks taking place around the world are all based onthe daydream scribbles he came up with all those years ago. Ergo, it’sa warning, a message aimed directly at him: Come get me. You know who I am, don’t you?
With nowhere else to turn, Kenji takes the bait. He attends avariety concert being held by the “Friends” cult, and ends upface-to-face with the mastermind of the group, “Our Friend”. Despitehis penchant for masks, he is only too willing to drop broad hintsabout who he is. Perhaps he’s Sadakiyo, the shyest and most “invisible”member of his old circle of friends. Perhaps he’s Kenji’sbrother-in-law—something this nemesis admits to flat-out, right as theystand in front of each other. Or maybe he’s none of these things—justsomeone who has learned enough about Kenji from a distance to exploithim.
Maybe who he is, isn’t as important as what’s aboutto happen. If the disasters unfolding across the globe are playing outin the order and fashion that Kenji laid down all those years ago,what’s next? It’s a bombing at Narita Airport, if memory serves—thesame airport where Kenji’s now-grown-up childhood friend Yukiji worksas a drug-squad member. How this unfolds is a terrific example of theway this series generates and plays off suspense, with Kenji throwinghimself heedlessly into the middle of danger and trying to convincepassers-by that their lives are in mortal danger. The tension doesn’tend there, either: in the next scene his convenience store is mobbed byFriends and burned to the ground, and he and his family are forced togo into hiding to avoid further reprisal.
This nightmare hasn’teven really begun to unfold, and now it is preparing to encompasseveryone he has ever known. But before he disappears completely, Kenjimanages to track down and find one final, crucial piece of evidence:the very notebook in which the future was written all those years ago,sealed away and buried as part of a game that no one expected wouldbecome a roadmap for fate.
Sometimes I have to read a volume or two of a particular series before it clicks, but 20th Century Boys dugits hooks into me the moment I heard the premise. It hasn’tdisappointed me yet. It is, of course, a markedly different sort ofstory than the moral abyss of Monster (which is coming to SyFyin its animated form, by the way), but that’s only further proof thatNaoki Urasawa could probably create a manga about the phone book andmake it riveting material.