20th Century Boys started out as an award winning manga/Comic series that spanned 24 volumes over 8 years. It’s often been compared to The Watchmen or Lord Of The Rings in terms of it’s epic scale, numerous characters as well as the perception that it would be impossible to film. Now that the world has seen Watchmen and Lord Of the Rings come to screen it’s only fitting that 20th Century would be adapted as well.
An unprecedented budget of $60-Million dollars was put into the project to produce a full trilogy of films. Great care was taken so that no details were left out, however, like Watchmen this approach has some flaws.
The basic plot revolves around a group of 40 something’s and their goofy group-story written when they were children, that seems to be word for word a prediction of the coming Apocalypse. Kenji, a down and out Grocery Store Clerk has to gather the remaining living friends, and get them to remember their parts in the stories in order to try and prevent the coming destruction.
The first half of the movie, drags quite a bit as it introduces the array of characters important to the series, including an infant heralded as the Chosen One. While most of the characters remain rather one-dimensional, Toshiaki Karasawa as Kenji creates a compelling and troubled hero for this first installment.
Also similar to Watchmen (or even the TV Adaption of “Stephen King’s IT”), the first half relies heavily on flashing back between the character’s as children and their current situation. Sometimes this works, but sometimes the transitions are clumsy and repetitive.
While the story is intriguing, the various pay-offs are a bit anticlimactic. There are some great moments, and the final half an hour is a great deal of fun, the film takes too long getting engaging. Many sequences seem like they are lifted straight from the episodic series Again this may work great for a monthly comic but really drags down the pacing of the film.
I would cautiously recommend this film if you are a fan of the series, or a coinsure of Japanese Genre cinema. I’m also hoping that Part 2 (due out in Jan) and 3 up the ante and stray from the slavish recreation of the books.
The preview copy of the DVD did not have any special features, but hopefully on a project this ambitious there will be some in the final release. The "how" and the "why" on grand projects like this are always a joy to see.