Tuesday, July 5, 2011

20th Century Boys

There's two different ideas behind releasing serial content, be it a TV show, manga chapters, or webcomic pages. Are you writing for its full release, be it on DVD or in volumes? Are you writing so that once its all done, it comes together into one solid emotional arc? Or are you writing so that each serial peice has an emotional impact, each chapter or episode leaving you to want for more? The former way means you have to wait a long, long time to get the full feel of a work, and sometimes leaves the individual episodes dull. The latter means when you're re-reading or watching the work in its completed form, it becomes mind-numbingly exausting to have each and every chapter try and build up for the next one.

This is exactly my feeling as I'm reading 20th Century Boys. Not the band, a manga released by Naoki Urasawa. It ended about six years ago, and I'm reading through it for the first time. After an amazing fifty chapter setup (yes, five volumes, seinin manga really take thier sweet time) the story suddenly skips forward about fifteen years and you start to hear the drums. The drums in the background that slowly get louder and louder and louder and louder, each beat saying "getting intense now, GETTING SO INTENSE!" They go on for so long you stop being into the expeirience and just wonder how fast the drums will go until it just gets silly. And you know, I've hit the 130th chapter, and with another 100 chapters to go, this manga has really overworn its welcome.

It just feels like each chapter was written solely to perpetuate its existance. Its not about telling a good story and having it come to a timely conclusion. Its going to soap opera route where it just piles on more and more bullcrap drama and twists. While you're reading serially you might go "holy shit holy shit hooooly shit!" But when you step back and look at it as a whole, there's really nothing to this manga. The only moment in this entire manga I really felt touched me was the release of Kenji's song, which isnt even in the dang manga. Yes, a bonus track is more touching than this entire dang manga. Maybe its touching because I have context for it... but shouldn't that kind of impact be in the manga itself?

The other major flaw with this work is that its just so dang silly. Even if you took away the constant ramping up, the major twists are just laughably ridiculous. The story is literally trying to take dumb kid's ideas and make them into a legitimate threat. No, really, some kids in 1970 think up a plan to save the world, and some dudes find it and decide to really reenact it. The villains do feel threatening and unstoppable, even post-setup. But what are supposed to be major dramatic turns just wind up being freaking ridiculous. I've laughed more than this dumb story wanted me to. Here's a moment from the part I really liked, the fifty chapter setup. We're about to see the villain, Friend's face for the first time.... oh my goodness its.... ITS.... a dumb mask. A really silly looking mask. And I just laughed. Every time that mask turns up... well, they're trying to make the mask threatening in its childlike appearance. Like that Laughing Man thing from Ghost in the Shell. When you see the Laughing Man's logo after its been set up, you flip a shit, even though it doesn't look all that threatening. When you see Friend's mask.... well, yeah, you know its the villain's thing, but whatever, its a dumb mask. Can we just see who the hell this guy is, please? We saw Johan's face, Urasawa, and we were freaking intimidated by it! Stop dragging this nonsense out!

Right, this is by the man who wrote Monster, which despite it's serial feel, the work felt like it was actually going somewhere. On the other hand, this is the same guy who wrote Pluto, which is cohesive in volumes, but just so dang silly. Take that as you will... but I'm done with 20th Century Boys. Maybe I'll keep reading, maybe I wont. It might be worth a look at, faceless internet, but don't go into it expecting a classic.

No comments:

Post a Comment