It's been a relatively long wait for the sequel to 20th Century Boys, and a word of warning to those who intend to catch The Last Hope. Either you have to be a thorough fan boy of the first film to have a photographic memory of what developed, or you'd have just recently watched it on DVD, in order to be able to dive right into this film's proceedings. Being a fan of the manga series probably wouldn't help as much since the story would depart from the established mythos, and it's sad to say there isn't so much of a recap of key events and characters from the first film. You have been warned, and newbies better stay away.
Otherwise, save for the film starting off with a flashback scene into the 70s, the film is set some 15 years after the climax of its predecessor, where the group of friends are now termed terrorists, and "Friend" is the recognized saviour of the world, having become leader of Japan, and well-respected leader to the world. After all, history is written by the victor, and "Friend" has ensured that the students in school are inculcated into his version of the truth.
Kanna Endo (Airi Taira), the niece of Kenji Endo (who doesn't feature in this installment), takes over the mantle as The Chosen One. Just what she's chosen for is quite vague, other than her lineage and what could be deemed as super-powers in her fighting ability, which doesn't get exploited much, leaving a lot of room for interpretation just what her value is to the plot. She suffers from weak characterization, and got bogged down with protecting two transsexuals, searching for her mom, infiltrating "Friend"'s cult camp, and learning some back-story of her uncle and his friends.
The other characters of course were the older versions of some of Kenji's gang, from Occho (Etsushi Toyokawa) to Yukiji (Takako Tokiwa), lending again some bewildered moments as they get caught up trying to learn of "Friend"'s identity, and his next scheme. Unfortunately, the narrative's played out in rather straightforward fashion, and before the mid-way mark is reached, you'll expect what that would just be, thanks to a careless slip where you see the initial seeds of the plan being worked on, since the childhood days. There's also a New Book of Prophecy, and rather than come up with some earth-shattering self-fulfilling prophecies like the first installment, it has, wait for it... one prophecy to develop in the whole 2.5 hours.
New characters were also introduced, and here's yet another negative point that the film chalked up effortlessly. Many of the new faces just turn up with little background, and you've to swallow it as is. Some are added for (poor) comedic effect, like Kanna's klutzy schoolmate Kyoko Koizumi (Haruka Kinami) and honest, bullied cop Detective Chono (Naohito Fujiki), but a lot of characters were just there for the numbers, such as the Thai and Chinese mafioso, and well-connected priest Father Nitani (Naomasa Rokudaira). I guess we would only know their extent of relevance come the third film, if they do get an opportunity to show something worth their salt.
The only plus point which does get tired after a while, is how fanatical any cult follower can be, in complete obedience to their appointed leader. In this film "Friend"'s aims to cement his reputation, and has his own inner circle of members inducted through specially designed camps. One can just laugh at the proceedings, and especially at the camp leaders in their extremely artificial show of sincerity toward all new recruits whom they want to win over. It's quite scary how uniform they all behave, and their conformity to one another just seem all the more fake especially when someone breaks ranks, and doesn't exhibit approved behaviour.
20th Century Boys 2 suffered from your classic middle-movie syndrome, being sandwiched as part of a planned trilogy. Not every middle film can stand alone and make sense without too much reference to its predecessor, and I guess the acid test is whether a new viewer would be able to watch this film as the starting point. The fact is it can't, and with the expectation that this film will definitely come without a real ending, it probably will just frustrate you until the third and final chapter come rolling along. So all you can do for this one, is to sit back after the end credits roll for the trailer of the final film, and trust me, that short clip is equally baffling as this film.
I only hope that this series would be worthwhile investing time in when seen as a whole trilogy.