In part 2, the story focuses more, but loses a bit of its down-to-earth charm
[Inevitably, this review will contain spoilers about what happened in the previous film]
So where were we? At the end of the twentieth century, the mysterious and villainous Tomodachi (played by ????) set off a chain of catastrophic events that culminated in the near complete destruction of Tokyo. While many of our heroes survived, it seems that Kenji Endo (Toshiaki Karasawa) did not, and now, in the (highly futuristic) world of 2015, he has been deemed a traitor and terrorist by the Friendship Democratic Party, taking the fall for all the events from their apocalyptic childhood ‘Book of Prophecies’ that Tomodachi has set into motion.
Here the story is about Kanna (Airi Taira), Kenji’s neice, who has grown up in a world where Tomodachi is hailed as a messianic hero. Understandably feeling herself a bit of an outcast from the rest of society, she takes to hanging out in abandoned warehouses with two drag queens, Britney and Mariah (Hirofumi Araki and Ken Maeda). Her bad behaviour in school results in her being sent to Tomodachi Land – a theme park dedicated to the man who saved the world on Bloody New Years Eve.
It is there that she finds Kenji’s childhood friend Yoshitsune (Teruyuki Kagawa) working with an underground resistance team, and begins to learn more about her uncle, and Tomodachi, and what her role is in the bid to stop the destruction of the world. Meanwile, Otcho (Etsushi Toyokawa), recently imprisoned, breaks out in order to take down Tomodachi once and for all.
While The Beginning of the End spent pretty much 100% of its running time on Kenji, Kanna is the focus here and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we spent so much time with Kenji in part 1, thinking he would be the hero to follow throughout all of this, that it’s a little bit of culture shock when we learn that he barely even figures in the entire thing. Not to say that his presence is not felt though: here, the surviving members of his friends have split off into resistance pockets, with Otcho a fugitive, Yoshitsune now running an underground rebellion masquerading as janitorial staff at Tomodachi Land. Yukiji (Takako Tokiwa) is Kanna’s legal guardian, and one of the few people in Kanna’s life who knows the truth.
Like The Beginning of the End, The Last Hope is split off into several different stories, with Kanna as the new focal point around it all. However, because we have more insight to the characters, it becomes a little bit easier to settle into each plot and so we’re able to follow more closely. Where it falls down though is that it is less grounded, and so the audience feels a bit more of a disconnect. Everything has changed in Japan to being almost unrecognisable. This leaves the stakes, while obviously much higher, feeling a bit shallow. It’s a problem that the film can’t really overcome in term of story, so instead it relies on a pre-established connection to the characters.
This is where the cast come in, and as in the first part, they really shine. Airi Taira, who plays Kanna, is a strong addition to the cast and fits in well with the universe. Everyone involved does a great job of keeping the film at ground level, especially as it so often risks flying completely off the handle. The plot escalates to such a crazy level at times(Tomodachi land is a park where you have play Oculus Rift-style shoot-em-ups featuring zombie Kenjis) that you need those likeable leads to guide us through it. The children from the flashbacks are back to remind us of the down-to-earth life the gang, and Tomodachi, used to have. Here we’re treated to a couple of decent of clues about his identity and his motive, and some of them even happen in a virtual reality. Yeah, it gets a bit weird.
Thankfully it’s not all insanity and lunacy, and we’re given several scenes that we can more easily relate to, such as a building war between Thai and Japanese gangsters with small restaurants caught in the middle. They not only help remind us that despite everything we’re still in Japan, on planet Earth, but also give Kanna something to do that immediately makes her endearing to us. One of her first actions in the movie is to stand up against the gangsters, making them all run back to their bosses. The friendship between her and the drag queens is pleasant, as is her sort-of romance with young cop Chono (Naohiko Fujiki). These help break up the epic action sequences and high-concept dystopian storyline.
As I mentioned in the last review, this film series might have benefitted better from being a television series. There are so many events happening at once, all building up to Tomodachi organising a parade in the heart of Shinjuku, and the following events at the Expo 2015. The buildup is certainly worth it, though, and the climax is both tense and exciting, even if there is a bit of head-scratching leading up to it. Where a TV show might fail though would be in the budget, and this is a series that needs a high budget. From deadly robots spraying poison gas to a complete architectural restructuring of Tokyo, there’s no way this series can be done on the cheap. There’s a sacrifice each way, either in the pacing of the story, or in the overall look of the show, and in this case I think this was the right call.
It’s certainly not perfect, not by a long shot, but The Last Hope accomplishes two things: it provides a pretty cohesive and fun spectacle, while making watching the conclusion inevitable. If you’ve watched the first and made it to the end of this, there’s no way you want it to end now.
Verdict: It suffers from being the second part of a trilogy, and the messy plotting can be distracting and confusing, but by keeping the pace frantic and the stakes high, director Yukihiko Tsutsumi leaves us wanting more.
20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope (2009)
Also known as: 20世紀少年 第二章 (nijuuseiki shonen: dainisho)
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Writer: Naoki Urasawa, Yasushi Fukuda, Yusuke Watanabe, Takashi Nagasaki
Airi Taira – Kanna Endo
Etsushi Toyokawa – Otcho
Takako Tokiwa – Yukiji
Naohito Fujiki – Detective Chono
Hirofumi Araki – Britney
ken Maeda – Mariah
Haruka Kinami – Kyoko Koizumi
Teruyuki Kagawa – Yoshitsune
Hidehiko Ishizuka – Maruo
Yûsuke Santamaria – Sadakiyo
Renji Ishibashi – Manjoume
Takashi Ukaji – Mon-chan
Hiroyuki Miyasako – Keroyon
Fumiyo Kohinata – Yamane
Mirai Moriyama – Comic Artist
Arata Iura – Masao Tamura
Toshiaki Karasawa – Kenji Endô
Jun Nishiyama – Young Kenji
Ryusei Sawahata – Young Otcho
Tamaki Matsumoto – Young Yukiji
Fumiya Ogura – Young Yoshitsune
Ichiya Anzai – Young Maruo
Muneyoshi Abiko – Young Yamane
Riku Uehara – Young Fukube