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20th Century Boys Chapter 2 (2009) May 11, 2009

Posted by ayasawada in Film, Manga.
Tags: , ,


Last Monday, the second movie in the 20th Century Boys live-action trilogy received its UK premiere as the closing film of the Sci-Fi London Film Festival. I can’t tell you how excited I was about seeing it. After watching the first part back in November, I’d been eagerly awaiting the next installment and feared that the usual slow Japan to UK transfer would mean waiting a year for the second and third parts (if they appeared at all). Since then, the trilogy has been picked up for UK DVD release and Viz have finally started releasing the graphic novels. Relief all round for Naoki Urasawa fans. ^^

So how about the second movie? Well, it certainly had me on the edge of my seat throughout, if only because I really wanted to know what happened next. I did enjoy the film but, on first impressions, I also found it a little disappointing. But that shouldn’t take away from what is still a fabulously enjoyable film.

Now, admittedly it’s never easy for the middle part of a trilogy. The Empire Strikes Back apart, most middle chapters struggle to hold their own given that the real beginning and end are in the other movies. Its one of the reasons Back to the Future Part 2 always felt a little weird to me (enjoyable though it was) :p And 20th Century Boys, being one huge epic story, is maybe difficult to split into three natural ‘arcs’ (though I don’t really know since I haven’t read all the manga!). The trailer for the final part, aired after the credits, raised a few laughs with its promise of “another plot to endanger the world” and “our heroes must rise up again“. XD

My biggest issue was that, while stuff happened, I didn’t feel the story really moved forward as such. Sure, it added another layer, with the New Book of Prophecies and Friend’s messiah-like resurrection. But most of the story was the introduction of two of the other childhood characters (Yamane and Sadakiyo, the former of whom was hardly mentioned in the first film, while the latter was hinted as being Friend) and catching up on what had happened to the others. I don’t really feel many more clues to the conspiracy were revealed and my theory about Friend’s identity (based largely on his ears :p) remains viable. We still don’t know what Kanna’s part as ‘the chosen one’ is in the larger conspiracy, who is behind it, or why they are doing it (though it is hinted that this is perhaps some revenge for Kenji taking Sadoyuki’s place to go to the 1970 Expo?). We did, however, find out (or did we?) what happened when Donkey went to the lab, which seemed to hint at some supernatural powers at work. I really hope that isn’t the case. Whenever supernatural powers appear in a story, it gives me the uncomfortable feeling of deux ex machina. It’s bad enough that Kanna’s ESP is used as a magical way to explain her being everywhere at the right place and time!

Perhaps what disappointed me most was the lack of character development. In the first chapter, Kenji went from a slacker loser to an inspiring father figure and determined hero, as did the rest of the dorks in the gang. After the “Our hope is…. Kanna!” epilogue of the first film, I was really looking forward to finding out more about her. But she wasn’t really given much license to develop, mostly running around being angry or sad and thinking nostaglically about Uncle Kenji (that’s a little harsh, but not too far from the truth). I guess it’s the curse of being the ‘chosen one’ — any character given that label (Luke Skywalker, Neo from the Matrix) has to be so virtuous they often end up vanilla and lacking the darker, doubting side that makes characters interesting.

Many of the other characters didn’t get a chance to develop either. Otcho and Yukiji seemed pretty much the same. I would have liked to have found out more about the manga artist Kakuta and Kyoko, both of whom I’m sure will have a bigger role to play in the final act (plus, there’s always the manga :p).Only Yoshitsune showed a bit of growth, again a character developing from a spineless dork to an undergrond resistance commander with nous, principles and unwavering hope (I almost shed a tear when he was reunited with Kanna and declared with absolutely certainty that Kenji was still alive).

But though I am disappointed by the lack of character development, I do appreciate how difficult it must have been for the Director. I really don’t know how he could have addressed my criticisms without making a film five hours long! This film is already almost three hours long and, as another reviewer wrote, you can’t even take a bathroom break for fear of missing some important detail. There was already a sprawling mass of characters and plotlines before the new stuff was thrown in, and Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi has done a remarkable job in finding time and space for all of them, while creating a rich world for the audience to experience.

And that, I think, is why I still very much enjoyed the film despite my disappointment and criticisms. Visually and atmospherically, the film is fantastic, with little details like the huge sets and digital string games putting you right in the heart of Urasawa’s world. That and the fact that it’s a bloody captivating story that has you dying to find out what it’s all about and what will happen next (which, for me, is further praise for the explosive first chapter that really set the tone). Perhaps the only thing he could have done better is the epilogue. Instead of the repeated humming of “I appear to be dead” and a cut to a front view of Kenji on bike, I’d have liked to have seen a cut from the radio DJ to a wide shot of Hokkaido and a man stepping forward, panning up from his shoes to reveal a guitar on his back, the first riffs of T-Rex starting up as the camera reveals a smiling Kenji in his shades…

Overall though, Chapter 2 is a must see, maybe not on its own merits, but because the entire trilogy is a must see. When this thing finishes it’ll be almost nine hours long. And I’ve no doubt I’ll have loved every minute of it.


1. The lazy round up post « Canned Memory - December 29, 2009

[…] but hasn’t grabbed me as much as Pluto, mainly because I’ve already seen the first two live-action movies, which spoilered me slightly ^^; Still, the pacing is different, as is the order […]

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