20th Century Boys

Book Keeper's Library Crew

You hear music blaring from down the hall. You recognize it as old rock’n’roll, but can’t discern the song or band.

As you get closer, you realize that it is so loud, you can feel vibrations in the floor and walls. Finally, when you reach Abraheim’s door, you hear this.

The old man is playing air guitar, strutting back and forth throughout the room like it was some kind of stage, nimbly dodging all of the stacks of books and papers. He sees you and smiles, but doesn’t miss a beat of rocking out. Over the music, he starts yelling in your direction.

“Hey! Good to see you!” Headbang. Strut.

“Good song, eh?” High kick. Strut.

“I wanted to take a break from the Hyperion Cantos. I was getting in too deep!” Strut. Dodge. Headbang.

Then the song ends. Abraheim is visibly sweating, and breathing heavily. He wipes his forehead with a cloth and then throws it out to an imaginary crowd, then takes a bow.  

“Shew. Research can be tiring.” He returns to his seat. For a moment, you are puzzled by his last statement, but then you see the book on his desk.

He motions for you to pull up a chair and picks up the manga. ‘It isn’t just the title of the manga either. That song is how this manga begins. It blares through the intercom of a junior high school in Japan in 1973. After reading this volume, I wanted to hear it.”

“By now you should know that I like complexity, rabbit holes, and deliberate cultural references in stories that I read. I like being able to see bits and pieces of a storyteller’s life and experience show up in the stories they tell. I got all of this and more just within the first volume of this manga. 20th Century Boys.”

Abraheim nods to the familiar screen and projector and flashes up a picture.

“This is Naoki Urasawa, the mangaka of 20th Century Boys. A little research into the man quickly reveals that not only is he a revered mangaka — he is also a musician. He has recorded songs, albums, and even made live appearances. So it’s no coincidence that Kenji, one of the main characters of the manga, falls in love with rock music, guitars, and rebellious behavior at a young age. Ever heard the expression ‘write what you know’? Perhaps there is a little bit of Urasawa in Kenji.”

“But I believe this points towards an important aspect of this series. The beautiful thing about this story, so far at least, is that there is so much character development. The story follows different characters at multiple points in their lives to help really solidify why a character is the way they are. Backstory upon backstory. Each one having a tremendous significance on the story as a whole. And while at first it might seem at first that the actual ‘conflict’ of the story has nothing to do with guitars or rock songs, the tiny details matter. And that’s all I’ll say about that.” Then he gives you a little wink. 

“But don’t just take my word for it, let me show you.” He begins thumbing through the pages. This volume alone jumps from 1973, to 1997, to 1969, back to ‘97, then to ‘68, back to ‘97, then to ‘72, on to 1979, back to ‘97. I think you get the point.”

You see that he wasn’t even half way through the manga when he stopped.

“All the while different things about Kenji and his friends are revealed, and we haven’t even talked about the actual conflict in the story yet!”

He sets the book back on the table and begins rifling through a stack of paper. He produces one and hands it to you. There is a symbol on it.

‘A cult. And something that Kenji and his group of friends did back in the 1960s might have caused its creation, and now the cult has set out to destroy the world. How’s that for a butterfly effect?”

“Jumping back and forth in time helps reveal details that does one of my favorite things — connect the dots. The first dot that is connected in this volume is the secret of the symbol. I have kept myself from doing any further research into the story because I am enjoying it so much that I don’t want to ruin it.”   

“If you haven’t read this manga before, I think it might be worth your time to at least check it out. The first volume seems to be mostly just a set-up for the rest of the story, but you learn valuable information about some of the main characters, and you begin to unravel some of the mysteries of the story. I enjoyed my time reading, and am ready to read more.”

Abraheim changes slides on the projector, and a video begins playing.

“Obviously, this is in Japanese, and it will take a moment for my translation software to figure out the lyrics, but it does sound nice, doesn’t it? It’s called Kenji no Uta, or Kenji’s Song. And it is with this, I am afraid I must run. I have a little adventure of my own I have to embark on. Feel free to stick around and finish the song, just shut the door when you leave.”

The old man gets up, gathers some books, papers, and pens, and begins heading towards the door.

“Oh, and always feel free to stop by, even if I’m not here. You’re welcome to browse what I have in here.” He gestures around the room and smiles at you once again. “I do enjoy your company.”

“Until next time, my friend.”