A Savior will Arise
I enjoyed the first installment of 20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End, but I wasn’t totally thrilled with it. I thought it was a well-done adaptation of one of Japan’s greatest modern manga, but the whole thing left something to be desired and I rank it below Death Note in terms of manga-adaptations.
It wasn’t until part two, “20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope,” that I was hanging on the edge of my seat and wishing desperately that I had part three to through into the DVD player and finish off the story. This second installment of the trilogy fixes most of the problems I had with the first film and really takes off running from the set-up of “Beginning of the End.”
The first film ended with the explosion of a giant bomb in Tokyo, the death of Endo Kenji (Karasawa Toshiaki, Casshern) and a few other of the club members, and the completion of the rise to power of the mysterious Friend. The “Book of Prophecy” had been fulfilled, and the heroes had lost their bid to save the world.
Part two begins fifteen years after the events of Tokyo, and Friend’s control of Japan is absolute. His propaganda machine has established Endo Kenji as a reviled terrorist and as the target of a county’s hate. In true 1984 style, Friend is everywhere and events have been re-written to suit his agenda. The only one who knows the truth of the events is Endo Kanna (newcommer Airi Taira), Kenji’s niece now all grown up going to school and working at a ramen shop when not negotiating a peace treaty between local Thai and Triad ganglords. This puts her in the path of Detective Chono (Naohito Fujiki, “Platonic Sex”), grandson of the legendary detective Cho-san, and together they uncover more about Friend’s plans, and soon realize that they can trust no one. Kanna’s quest for the truth leads her to one of Friend’s re-education camps, where one of the secrets is revealed to her, and she finds the remainder of Kenji’s group of club members, still fighting Friend.
There was a lot going on in “The Last Hope,” with new characters appearing and disappearing, yet in a way that did not muddle the main storyline. There are still the cameos by various stars, but they fit in a more logical way, such as comedian/transvestite Ken Maeda’s portrayal of Mariah, a scared transvestite hiding out with her friend Brittany (Hirofumi Araki) who has learned a terrible secret about friend. A discovery is also made of a “New Book of Prophecy” that was written, but who wrote it and what is the continuation of the story is the mystery Kanna and her fellow revolutionaries hunt for.
Airi Taira as Kanna was a real stand-out in “The Last Hope.” She handles the action, comedy and drama equally well, and is incredibly cute to boot. At some stage, she gets saddled with a sidekick Kyoko (Haruka Kinami) who plays a stereotypical whining and useless Japanese schoolgirl, the opposite of the capable Kanna. Kyoko is pure comic relief, and it must be said that she has her moments. Toyokawa Etsushi (Hula Girls), still tears the screen apart as “Otcho.” Toyokawa clearly plays the “Wolverine”-type character in the group, and when the shogun decides it is time to kick some ass and take some names then you know it is time to lean back and grab the popcorn because the screen is going to get very cool very quickly.
The only complaint I had about “The Last Hope” is also a major spoiler, so here is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know the ending. Friend’s whole plan revolves around faking his own death, then rising from the grave again as a holy figure. It’s a good plan, and everyone buys into it but…Friend’s face is covered by a mask the entire time. I couldn’t figure out why at least one world leader didn’t stand up and say “Hey! How do we know it is the real Friend that got killed, and not just some patsy in a Friend mask?” But that never happened. You really have to suspend your disbelief to make the climax of the film work.