2th Century Boys and Pluto by Naoki Urasawa
Submitted by Faith on February 28, 2009 - 10:23
I woke up way too early today (I can't sleep in when I'm working tons, even if it's Saturday), so I thought I'd take this extra time that should have been spent sleeping to finally write a bit about Pluto and 20th Century Boys. As I'm sure you all know, I discovered Naoki Urasawa last year, and sort of fell babblingly in love with Monster, which became the first manga I really got involved with, and purchase, and then squealed about online. I even did a guest blog about my love for the whole Monster experience on the blog Robot 6, where I was mistaken for an actual reviewer by someone from Viz, and asked if I'd review more of their stuff. Of course, once I fessed up (being horribly honest, y'know) that I wasn't a reviewer, the offer of free books was rescinded. Alas!
So of COURSE I was completely chuffed for whatever new Urasawa books Viz was translating. And people kept telling me that the upcoming books were so much better than Monster, and I was all "No! It cannot be so! For there is nothing better than Monster!" and then I challenged them to a duel and that's why half of Nova Scotia is missing. But anyway. Wednesday, February 17th finally came around and I scampered down to Strange Adventures and got my paws on the new books. Firstly, the presentation was lovely. They're both a bit larger than standard manga size, and the covers have lovely French flaps, so I felt the presentation was worth the extra few dollars.
God, the comics ... I'm not a reviewer so it's hard for me to articulate things properly when it comes to explaining exactly why something works, but there's something so thrilling about paying attention to the mechanics of Urasawa's storytelling, because he's just so damn good. I've never seen a cartoonist portray dread and convey atmosphere so effectively. As I'm sure you all know by now, Pluto is a retelling of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot on Earth," a story which I hadn't read. But I'm enjoying not knowing what's going to happen in the story. There's such a feeling of incredible malice and dread hanging over it all, this idea of a robot serial killer offing the world's seven great robots. There's a wonderful creepy scene when the detective investigating the crimes visits a robot who had previously killed a human, years ago. It was like a robotic Hannibal Lecter meeting Clarice Starling moment, which was incredible considering the human-killing robot didn't have a face. But just his voice and twitchy arm movements were enough to send chills down my spine. It's incredible that Urasawa can get that kind of reactions out of his reader with simple text and images on a page.
20th Century Boys had a little of the same dread, as a mysterious doomsday cult seems to be working parallel to the lives of a group of kids, now grown and disappointed in their adult lives. 20th Century Boys had a wonderful chaotic humour to it that Pluto didn't have room for, as the gang of boys (and one girl, I think) scrabble around as both kids and adults. There's a resonating sadness in all of their lives: as kids they watched the Moon landing and the world seemed open to endless possibilities, as adults they're stuck in menial jobs. It reminded me of that one great line from King of the Hill: "I know you're disappointed in how you turned out. We all are." I got more out of this book on the second reading, and really enjoyed the interplay between the characters. Urasawa seems to have a great knack for writing how people interact and converse, overlapping and overstepping each others' conversations, and also accurately portraying how faulty childhood memories can be. I don't know about you, but I can't remember much that I did when I was 10, so it's great to see characters forgetting about important events in their childhood, then remembering slowly as they're prodded by those with better memories. Oh, and I love how Urasawa draws babies! He's just so good at it. They look like floppy, fat babies, rather than smaller adults, which is how so many cartoonists draw them.
Anyway, both books were fantastic. I'm so thrilled to have the chance to read them now. And like all really good work, the books kind of reaffirmed in me what I want to do: to make comics, and to hopefully someday get the chance to make a series. The only bad thing: God! Twenty two volumes of 20th Century Boys??? I'm going to be so poor! From what I can see, Viz is releasing the books in alternating months (Pluto vol. 2 in March, 20th Century Boys vol. 2 in April), anyone want to confirm that? So one new Urasawa a month? It's like I've died and gone to heaven.