20-Seiki Shônen Chapter 1 (20th Century Boys Chapter 1)
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Written by Yasushi Fukuda and Takashi Nagasaki and
Naoki Urasawa and Yûsuke Watanabe
From the manga by Naoki Urasawa
I've destroyed the world many times before - - - and so have you. With crayon drawings on torn notebook paper. This is what us boys would do to give vent to the berserker rages of all our boyish imaginations. Gleefully, dementedly laying waste to civilizations, perhaps in secret hope of remaking the world from the rubble but this time to our prepubescent whims. Or maybe it was merely out of how diabolically fun blowing up imaginary cities can be. Not to mention drawing all the flamboyant, impossible monsters that blew them up.
Back in the 20th century, flying a 747 into a skyscraper as a terrorist plot rang with similarly feverish delirium- - - crayon drawings on torn notebook paper. That was just nine years ago. Not that you need to be told but this is the world we woke up to after the millennium changed hands- - - boyhood annihilation fantasies as real world genocide scenarios with wackos for architects, bent on remaking the world to their whims. Fucked up doesn't quite cover it. And taken one way, Naoki Urusawa's immense manga 20th Century Boys , filtrated as it is through this grand pop sieve of weird viruses and giant robots and shadowy cults, is all about what life is like in this new world we live in, which is what life was like in the old world we lived in except it's more fitful and more rickety and more prone to toxic absurdities.
Taken another way, it's about the vagaries of obsolesence , the way those of us whose destinies have passed us by flail for some kind of bearing in a world that doesn't give a shit like it used to, if it did at all. And the possible devastations getting stuck in the past can wreak on the future. That T. Rex song - - - "I'm your toy, your 20th century boy" - - - has a riff so mighty you can believe how the kids here fell under it like a banner to signal changes. Fed by Marc Bolan's futuresexy androgyny, it was a song on the cusp of a world to come. The irony, of course, and the subtext Naoki is aiming for, is that today nothing sums someone up more as a relic of his time than calling him a 20th century boy.
Taken the same way and minus the millennial divide, this is what Stephen King's It was about, too - - - waking up in a present you didn't expect to wake up in agitated by a past that's come to collect. It's not as if it would take a genius to run them - - - the parallels between the two do glare and vibrate. There's the relentless toggling between two timelines. There's the childhood friends - - -boy dominant with a token girl - - - sputtering invisibly through a bland middle age. There's the banding together to thwart an enemy they may have unwittingly loosed. There's the epic sprawl - - -it starts in the '70s and ends in 2015. There's the turned-up volume to everything. Except it's not supernatural bunk Naoki cranks up.
He hews closer to the sort of boy detective sci-fic pop the younger Ray Bradbury and the younger Steven Spielberg proliferated but without lapsing into the dewy cloy they both tended to stoop to back then. And he's as fiendish as King is with story. It , of course, was massive, but also unwieldy and turgid and not the novel you uphold to champion King - - - omnipotent turtles and gangbangs, WTF? 20th Century Boys is even more vast but manga always gives itself the room to stretch and breathe and not hurry that Americans seem chronically allergic to, and over its 24 volumes, it moves at a clip but paces its convolutions so it never really disintegrates into the gooey mess we're left with at the end of It.
Given how Tsutsumi's spacing out all 24 volumes across three features - - - and this is merely the first - - - it's a little disingenuous to raise him up for the structural liberties he takes that makes this spry or put him down not only for how the nuances he forsakes activates a little supercompression vertigo but also for how he exaggerates the cataclysm near the cliffhanging end. He does soothe my doubts about the next two to come by tempering all the heightened arcana that comes with being a kid with all the simmering melancholia that comes with being an adult. 20th Century Boys is all about how hope and ruin intersect, potential and failure, wonderment and exhaustion. And how, to paraphrase another glam rock icon, we can all be heroes in the overlap. Trite, sure - - - but lay in a mighty guitar riff on top of it and it's a banner to fall under.