The best way to really enjoy this installment of 20th Century Boys, is to quickly break out the DVDs of the previous two films, watch them to jog your memory, before turning up for this one. Given the myriad of characters and the lag between the local releases, a revisit is somewhat necessary since there's very little recap, and the juxtaposition of timelines through flashbacks also provide that additional narrative challenge, not to mention that memories, being memories, tend to be faulty as well, for both you, as well as the characters in the storyline.
For fans of the franchise, the wait is finally over. Loose ends get tied up and the greatest mystery of all, the identity of Friend, gets revealed, albeit in a more definitive ending, diferent from the manga series, that gets played out after the end credits roll, so do not head for the doors anytime soon, otherwise you'll miss what's probably the best part of the entire film.
I was entertained by the first film given the interesting premise, and T-Rex's 20th Century Boys track, but it left us all with an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The second film was somewhat weaker since most middle films in a trilogy are, as the timeline gets fast-forwarded way into the future, with the focus on Kanna, the girl who possesses some ESP abilities which got totally forgotten in this installment. A lot more characters get introduced, and a lot more subplots revealed, some of which didn't actually gel with the main narrative thread, which unfortunately bloated the film into a hydra of ideas that were still left hanging by the time the film ended.
So for the patient amongst us, don't write off the franchise just yet, as whatever can of worms Part II opened, Part III sought to address them all. Although it meant shuffling quickly from character to character, and even having Kanna being relegated back to a supporting role, the film picked up speed with the re-introduction of Kenji (surely you can't be expecting him to disappear after Part I, can you?), and plenty of the good ol' familiar faces, though aged now, from Part I.
Production wise, the filmmakers do not scrimp on sets and props, with the largest being an invading robot shaped like a ball with two limbs on either side to crushingly stomp all over Japan, never looking out of place should it decide to jump straight into an Ultraman film. The seamless mix of CG and life-action in this film would triumph over that of many movies, as the effects don't serve to distract, but rather enhanced the overall look and feel of the film, especially since the bulk of it is set in the future, with Friend's world domination, and recreation of the Tokyo from childhood.
One of the more successful manga adaptations to have come out from Japan, 20th Century Boys is a very different science fiction show put together which tells of consequences from what would seemingly be insignificant seeds sowed, and the action-reaction that we sometimes would experience that would come later in life. Clearly the franchise exhibited that the strength lies in the summation of all the films over each individual installments, which you would find more enjoyable if you approach the last film after quickly recapping the significant events from the first two. Definitely recommended for the fans of the franchise since you're likely to be seeking a satisfying closure.
20th Century Boys 3 Opens on 28 Jan!