20th Century Boys (20世紀少年 Nijusseiki Shōnen?) is a science fiction-mystery manga created by Naoki Urasawa. It won the 2001 Kodansha Manga Award in the General category, an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival, and the 2003 Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category. The last two volumes of the story were serialized under the name 21st Century Boys (21世紀少年 Nijūisseiki Shōnen?). The series makes many references to rock music as well as a number of 1960s-1970s anime; its title is based on T.Rex's famous song, "20th Century Boy".
Urasawa wrote 20th Century Boys along with another popular title, Monster, for two years (Monster ended in 2001). It was licensed by VIZ Media in 2005; however, at Urasawa's request, it has been rescheduled for release after Monster finishes its English serialization due to a change in art style over time.
A live action movie adaptation, directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, was released in Japan on August 30, 2008, as the first part of a trilogy of films. The second film was released on January 30, 2009, with the final part being released August 2009 (Both the USA and Japan shared the same premiere date of the final film, with the U.S. premiere exclusively being at the VIZ Cinema in San Francisco).
In 1969, young boys Kenji, Otcho, Yoshitsune and Maruo build, in an empty field, a hideout they call their secret base, in which they and their friends can get together to share manga and stolen porn magazines and listen to a radio. To celebrate the event, Otcho draws a symbol for the base that would represent their friendship. After their friends Yukiji and Donkey join the gang, they imagine a future scenario where villains would try to destroy the world, and in which the boys would stand up and fight; this scenario is transcribed and labeled Book of Prophecy (よげんの書 Yogen no sho?).
The series itself opens in the late 1990s, where Kenji is a convenience store owner, finding solace in his childhood adventures as he takes care of his baby niece Kanna and his mother. After Donkey is reported to have committed suicide, Kenji stumbles upon a large cult led by a man known only as "Friend". The cult has a plan to destroy the world on New Year's Eve of 2000, (referred to in the latter half of the story as the Bloody New Year's Eve), and the events that are currently unfolding are suspiciously close to the plan documented in the Book of Prophecy. Kenji begins to recruit some of his older friends, including Otcho and Yoshitsune, in an attempt to stop Friend.
The series spans several decades, from 1969 to 2017, which in the chronology of the series, becomes 3FE (3rd Year of the Friend Era). The series makes two distinct timeline cuts during the story; one from 2000 to 2014, and one from 2014 to 3FE. Several parts of the series are also told in flashbacks to previous events as the characters attempt to unravel the mystery of who Friend is and how to stop his plans of world destruction; most of the children's backstories through the 70s and 80s are told in this fashion.
Overall, the plot follows the friends as they initially try to piece together what the Book of Prophecy contained, and eventually attempt to predict the next attack, which begins with biological attacks on San Francisco and London, followed by a series of bombings at a major Japanese airport. The attack on the eve of 2000 involves a "robot", which is revealed to be a giant balloon with robotic appendages. Kenji manages to get inside the robot to plant a bomb in it, and is presumed killed when the bomb explodes. From this event, in which Friend uses a monument to destroy the robot, Friend and the Friendship Democratic Party (友民党 Yūmintō?), his titular political group, gain widespread political and even religious power, as Friend is slowly beginning to be viewed as a religious icon. Friend then reveals a new plan, a continuation of the Book of Prophecy, in which he plans to kill every human being on Earth except for 3 million of his friends, but he is then assassinated by his chief scientist. Following this, Friend's funeral becomes a worldwide spectacle, held in a stadium with the Pope giving the address. Partway through the service, Friend appears to rise from the dead and is shot in the shoulder by his own assassin. Friend made it appear like he saved the Pope, leading him to worldwide acclaim and power.
The final portion of the story takes place in a newly remodeled Japan, under the Era of Friend, who has instituted numerous bizarre changes, including the establishment of an Earth Defense Force, reputedly to protect Earth from an imminent alien invasion. During this time frame, Kanna, who is revealed to be Friend's daughter, leads an insurgency against Friend's government, enlisting the aid of numerous groups, including the survivors of rival gangs and mafia organizations. During this, Kenji, apparently also risen from the dead and carrying his trademark guitar, reappears.
- Kenji Endō (遠藤 ケンヂ Endō Kenji?)
- The central protagonist of the first half of the story, which revolves around his childhood in the 1970s to the present day. He is generally laid-back, and appears to be heavily interested in rock'n roll. He, his relatives, and friends play crucial roles as the plot unfolds. His whereabouts are unknown after the events of the Bloody New Year's Eve and was presumed dead, but later reappears under the alias of Yabuki Joe (矢吹丈 Yabuki Jō?) (a reference to the main character of Tomorrow's Joe), revealing that after barely escaping the robot's explosion, he suffered amnesia and wandered throughout Japan, only to regain his memory after the end of the year 2015.
- Kanna Endō (遠藤 カンナ Endō Kanna?)
- Kenji's niece, and the protagonist in the aftermath of the Bloody New Year's Eve. She seems to possess supernatural abilities the source of which is unknown, though it is hinted by Friend to be the result of a secret medicine given to her mother before childbirth. Coupled with her charisma, Kanna makes an able leader, leading a rebel faction against Friend under the moniker of "Ice Queen" (氷の女王 Koori no Joō?).
- Otcho (オッチョ?)
- Kenji's childhood friend and benefactor, he typically is referred to as "Shōgun". In prime physical shape, he has escaped certain death many times. Originally suspected to be Friend (perhaps due to the fact that he was the one who thought of the symbol which Friend's cult uses), it has been revealed that he went to receive enlightenment and training from a monk after experiencing the pain of the loss of his son, and was simply living in Asia's seedy underground. His real name is Chōji Ochiai (落合長治 Ochiai Chōji?).
- Friend (ともだち Tomodachi?)
- An enigmatic character who draws on the childhood ideas of Kenji and his friends to commit atrocities and gain power over the world. His true identity is one of the driving mysteries of the series. During the course of the story two different characters take on mantle of Friend.
- Fukubei (フクベエ Fukubei?)
- Kanna's biological father is an extremely unbalanced man who nurtured a pathological envy of Kenji since their childhoods as well as delusions of grandiosity. A megalomaniac primarily motivated by a desire to live out childish fantasies of being recognized as a hero and to take revenge on the world for not recognizing the exceptionality he perceived on himself, Fukubei is an extremely charismatic leader who explores people's need to believe in something greater than themselves in order to fake a series of supernatural powers (in reality, only stage magic tricks) and pose as a superhuman prophet. He seduced Kanna's mother in order to enlist her help in developing a vaccine for the Ebola-like pathogens. Fukubei is shot dead by Yamane in the middle of the series.
- The man who usurps Fukubei's place is most likely Katsumata, another one of Kenji's childhood schoolmates. Katsumata harbors a deep hatred of Kenji for stealing a prize from a candy shop in their childhood and letting Katsumata take the blame for it. This incident leaves Katsumata "dead": a social pariah, his very existence unacknowledged by his schoolmates. Unlike Fukubei, who only pretends to have paranormal powers, the second friend is a powerful precognitive who could dream the future since his childhood. Also unlike Fukubei, who dreamed of conquering the world so his need for attention could be fed by the praise of others, Katsumata wishes to destroy the entire planet after deeming the world unnecessary. He conducts experiments on Kanna's mother during her pregnancy in order to create another paranormal. He is killed by a crashing flying saucer at the end of the series.
- Yoshitsune (ヨシツネ?)
- Kenji's childhood friend who created the secret base with him. He was one of the few who answered the call to fight back with him on the Bloody New Year's Eve. In the year 2014, he is the leader of one of two underground organizations bent on taking down Friend, known as the Genji Ippa (ゲンジ一派?).
- God (神様 Kamisama?)
- God is the nickname of a homeless old man (real name: Kaminaga Kyūtarō (神永球太郎?)) who is bent on the return of tenpin bowling as a major sport in Japan. God has the power of foresight and can see what will happen before it comes to pass. God was the one who warned Kenji and told him of his future. Later in the series, God becomes extremely rich by using his foresight to play the stock market. With his new found wealth, he becomes the first Japanese civilian to travel into space.
- Yukiji (ユキジ?)
- Kenji's only female childhood friend. During Kenji's school years, Yukiji was a high-toned tomboy, whereas in the manga's adult years, Yukiji is portrayed as rather professional. She is reunited with Kenji while working at an airport in Tokyo as a customs official (often comically mistaken for a narcotics officer), along with a drug sniffing dog named Blue Three (a Japanese pun on the name Bruce Lee). Yukiji also assists Kenji during Bloody New Year's Eve. Yukiji becomes Kanna's guardian after Kenji's disappearance.
The trilogy of 20th Century Boys live-action films (directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi) is one of the biggest undertakings ever in the Japanese movie industry. The project not only had a budget of 6 billion yen, but it featured a cast of 300 people. The first movie was released on 30 August 2008 in Japan. The second was released 31 January 2009 and the third on 29 August 2009. The world preview of the first film took place 19 August 2008 at Publicis Cinemas in Paris attended by Toshiaki Karasawa (Kenji in the film) and Takako Tokiwa (Yukiji).
The first movie covers volumes 1 to 5 of the manga. The second one covers volumes 6 to 15 but it differs from the original manga on some key points. Important characters missing in the first movie have been introduced in the second one. The final film in the trilogy covers the remainder of the volumes, but with several changes to the story.
- Toshiaki Karasawa as Kenji Endō
- Etsushi Toyokawa as Otcho
- Takako Tokiwa as Yukiji
- Airi Taira as Kanna
- Teruyuki Kagawa as Yoshitsune
- Takashi Ukaji as Mon-chan
- Hiroyuki Miyasako as Keroyon
- Kuranosuke Sasaki as Fukubei
- Renji Ishibashi as Inshū Manjōme
- Katsuo Nakamura as God
- Hitomi Kuroki as Kiriko Endō
- Naohito Fujiki
- Arata Furuta
- Yoriko Douguchi
- Kenichi Endo
- Fumiya Fujii
- Takashi Fujii
- Oshikazu Fukawa
- Chizuru Ikewaki
- Masato Irie
- Tamotsu Ishibashi
- Hidehiko Ishizuka
- Nana Katase
- Fumiyo Kohinata
- Ken Mitsuishi
- Mirai Moriyama
- Katsuhisa Namase
- Raita Ryu
- Shirô Sano
- Naoto Takenaka
- Miyako Takeuchi
- Ryushin Tei
- Yu Tokui
- Hanako Yamada
- Niclas Ericsson as VIP
The first film in the trilogy is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Japan from VAP, and in Hong Kong from Kam & Ronson. Both discs are locked to Region AScript error: No such module "Unsubst"., while of the two, only the HK release contains English subtitles.
A UK DVD release was announced by label 4Digital Asia, and released on 4 May 2009. On the same day, Part 2 received its UK theatrical premiere at the 8th Sci-Fi-London annual fantastic film festival. Part 3 received its UK theatrical premiere on 7 May 2010 at the Prince Charles Cinema in London as part of the 2nd Terracotta Film Festival. Following this, 4Digital Asia will release a 4-disc boxset containing the complete trilogy on 31 May 2010.
Viz Media has licensed the trilogy for a North American release. The first film had its US theatrical premiere at the New People opening in San Francisco on 15 August 2009. The second film premiere followed at the same cinema on 21 August 2009, and the third film premiere followed on the same day as the Japanese premiere on 28 August 2009.
Part 1 received its US DVD release on 11 December 2009. A launch event was held at the New People cinema in San Francisco with a theatrical screening. Part 2's DVD release had a similar launch event on 9 February 2010 with a one-night-only theatrical screening. Part 3 has a launch event & theatrical screening scheduled at New People on 20 May 2010. Entire series broadcast by NHK on its TV Japan channel airing on consecutive Saturdays beginning November 13, 2010.
- Joel Hahn. "Kodansha Manga Awards". Comic Book Awards Almanac. Archived from the original on 16 August 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2007.
- "小学館漫画賞: 歴代受賞者" (in Japanese). Shogakukan. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
- 20th Century Boys Delay. Anime News Network. 9 July 2005
- "20世紀少年-第1章-終わりの始まり-通常版-DVD". Amazon Japan.
- YesAsia product listing: yesasia.com
- Product listing at official company website: 4digitalmedia.com
- Official festival website screening listing: sci-fi-london.com
- Official festival website film listing: terracottafestival.com
- Product Listing at official company website: 4digitalmedia.com
- Official press release for cinema opening: newpeopleworld.com
- New People official website listings for August 2009: newpeopleworld.com
- New People official website listings for December 2009: newpeopleworld.com
- New People official website listings for February 2010: newpeopleworld.com
- New People official website listings for May 2010: newpeopleworld.com
- Official movie site (Japanese)
- Official Movie Trilogy UK site
- 20th Century Boys at the Internet Movie Database (Part 1)
- Early review of 20th Century Boys feature film (Part 1)
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