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Book Review: 21st Century Boys, Vol 1: Death of the Friend by Naoki Urasawa

21st Century Boys, Vol 1: Death of the Friend   

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: January 15, 2013

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Mystery/Sci-fi/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Kenji’s arrived at the Expo Center and the crowd goes wild. They want to hear him play their song… but he refuses, tells the band to play instead. A helicopter explodes above them and crash lands inside the arena. Not everyone makes it, including Sadakiyo and Friend. When Kenji removes the Friend’s mask at last, he sees… Fukube!  How can that be? He died a long time ago. Nothing is making any sense.

Back in the past, an old woman in a convenience mart broods over which of the children has stolen a badge from her store and angrily scans every child who walks by, seeking the thief. A boy in a mask reveals his strange dream to a few of his friends, who aren’t particularly interested until he tells them they were in it, and one of them killed the other. They are not amused and walk away. The boy debates telling them the ending… about the final bomb. The one that will really kill all of mankind. Or at least those who remain on the planet.

Maruo and Yoshitsune tell Kenji they saw a ghost at a Shinto shrine, but Kenji doesn’t believe them and decides to find out for himself… only to come face to face with himself!

In the present, the UN forces have assumed control of Tokyo after the destruction of the Friend regime. A profiler interviews Kenji, to learn what he knows about the Friend. Most particularly he is interested in learning what Kenji knows about the last page of the New Book of Prophecy, the one that speaks of an anti-proton bomb that will destroy the world. The UN is taking this threat very seriously. They plan to send forces into Friend World, into the virtual reality game,  but Kenji tells them that won’t work. He has to be the one to go there.

So much of the past is finally being exposed as present, past, and future reveal themselves in an elaborate tapestry, one  woven by a master. Things that didn’t make sense before become clear.  I really enjoyed watching the relationship of Kenji and Yukiji from the beginning. Gosh, Kenji was… is… so dense.  At the same time, the more we learn, the less we know. So much to grasp. A copy of a copy?  Fukube? Sadakiyo? Someone else? Kenji runs into Manjome in Friend World. He’s lost his way and is seeking a way out, but Kenji has to tell him that won’t work because in the real world he is dead. We see more and more of Manjome in the past, and the part he played in what happened.

Detective Chono seeks answers regarding his grandfather, the legendary Cho-san. And Kenji wants to know why he was called evil. What did he do in the past that would warrant such an accusation? The story isn’t over yet, one more book to go. Is there an anti-proton bomb? And can they find it before it takes out the world? On pins and needles waiting to find out!