Answers and revelations finally arrive in the form of “20th Century Boys – The Last Chapter: Our Flag”, as director Tsutsumi Yukihiko returns with the final instalment of his hugely ambitious adaptation of Urasawa Naoki’s huge, sprawling manga. It’s hard to overstate the achievements of the trilogy, having jumped back and forth between decades and juggled a massive cast of diverse characters, while delivering a gripping doomsday scenario plot. The effort has certainly been worth it, with the films having enjoyed critical and commercial success at home and abroad, staying faithful to the highly complex source material while at the same time managing to offer something coherent and accessible to newcomers.
The film opens in 2017, with Japan under the control of Friend, and Tokyo in quarantine, sealed off from the rest of the country by a huge wall following the virus attack. Inside the walls, the city has come to resemble the Tokyo of decades ago, as surviving rebels Ocho (Toyokawa Etushi), Yoshitsune (Kagawa Teruyuki) and Yukiji (Tokiwa Takako) come together to try and prevent Friend’s final dreadful prophecy from coming true – that all mankind aside from his followers will be destroyed by an alien invasion on August 12th. With the date fast approaching, Kanna (Taira Airi) has split from the group and taken up arms, planning to stop the mysterious man who may be her father through force. Meanwhile, Kenji (Karasawa Toshiaki), presumed dead since the giant robot attack at the climax of the first chapter, reappears on the island of Hokkaido, and heads for Tokyo with his guitar.
Finishing a story as epic and complicated as “20th Century Boys” in a satisfactory manner was always going to be an incredibly difficult task, though Tsutsumi Yukihiko and screenwriter Yasushi Fukuda manage to tie up most of the series’ many loose threads whilst still leaving enough questions for aficionados to puzzle over. To be honest, probably the best idea for fans of the series would be to revisit the first two chapters beforehand, as the film pays few concessions to those with patchy memories, diving straight back into the story and its multiple timelines and mass of characters. As with the other films, this approach works very well, and the film’s wilful complexity and refusal to spoon feed its audience answers gives it a more challenging and stimulating feel than that of most other epics.
It’s obviously difficult to go into details without giving much away, though it is safe to say that the film does answer many of the questions raised in the incredibly dense second chapter, and that the identify of Friend is a key point in the plot. This having been said, the film does not wholly explain its catalogue of mysteries, and there remains a certain amount of ambiguity, making the trilogy well worth revisiting in search of clarity. Things do not play out quite as expected, with the film’s climax showing the same kind of eccentricity and rock and roll spirit that has characterised the whole series – viewers should note that they should not under any circumstances turn off the film once the credits start to roll, as it actually continues for a further twenty minutes and into its conclusion proper.
As the final chapter of an apocalyptic story, the film unsurprisingly does have more in the way of special effects than its predecessors, with new giant robots, flying machine and a weirdly recreated Tokyo of the future. However, it remains very much a character driven affair, with its explosive set pieces generally taking a backseat to its more human aspects. The film does feature quite extensive use of CGI, particularly in its many sweeping shots of the city and its omnipresent zeppelin balloons, though the special effects are generally of a good standard, and are woven into the film in pleasingly subtle rather than show stopping fashion. This goes some way to helping the film remain grounded and convincing despite its many leaps backwards and forwards through time. There is a good amount of action and fun sprinkled throughout, enough to keep the film exciting and engaging despite its long running time of over two and a half hours.
Needless to say, “20th Century Boys – The Last Chapter: Our Flag” is an absolute must see for all fans, and one which does not disappoint, shouldering the huge responsibility of resolving the series in entertaining and compelling fashion. Indeed, the only real problem is that with the journey now over, a certain sense of sadness and nostalgia is inevitable, though fitting, with memories and the past having played such a vital thematic role.
Yukihiko Tsutsumi (director) / Yasushi Fukuda (screenplay), Naoki Urasawa (manga)
CAST: Naoto Takenaka
Etsushi Toyokawa … Occho
Takashi Ukaji … Monchan
Toshiaki Karasawa … Kenji
Takako Tokiwa … Yukiji
Airi Taira … Kanna