The 20th Century Boys was an extremely popular Manga series; popular enough to create a three-part live action movie series. This series had a huge budget and was extremely popular in Japan. Its quirky near-apocalypse story and well-thought-out characters endeared itself originally in its Manga form (which began in 2001). The three films, released in Japan between 2008 and 2009 (all three are available in the US thanks to VIZ media), had wildly impressive production values.
And oh, hey, I bet that includes the music!
We don’t have the Vol.1 or Vol.3 soundtracks on-hand presently. So we’re starting in the middle, which is always a strange place to start. Nonetheless, we think it’s worth exposing our readers to. Soundtracks for live-action Japanese cinema based on Manga? Hey, no one likes traversing the boundaries of OSV’s coverage more than me, so let’s get to it!
I’m not sure what kind of music you were expecting: atmospheric digital stuff, sweeping orchestral stuff, maybe some rock? Well, yeah, lots of rock. After all, the franchise’s title comes from the song “20th Century Boy” by T.Rex, and the song itself actually holds meaning over the plot arc. So you can expect rock’n’roll.
But it’s not all in-your-face, foot-through-the-amp rock. The opening track certainly is, but then there are tracks like “Burn” which slowly build using a small chamber orchestra and female choir. So when I say “yeah, this soundtrack has some good rock,” you gotta believe me, it’s not all rock. “Burn” is actually an outstanding track, and it runs for a solid 8 minutes.
And that’s not the longest track on the disc either. Track 12, “God,” runs for 10 minutes. It, too, features a female choir and a small chamber group (including a beautiful clarinet and flute solos).
The second track on the disc, “You’ve Gotta Friend,” had me confused for awhile. With a track title like that, you’d expect something happy and upbeat. That is, of course, until you acknowledge that “Friend” is the pseudonym taken on by the show’s absolutely crazy villain. In other words, you don’t want a “friend” in this case. This piece of music puts a chill down your spine. Imagine a less driven version of the Lich battle theme from Secret of Mana, and you’re basically there, especially in terms of harmonic structure and chord progression.
This soundtrack isn’t the work of one composer. A team of composers and arrangers, as well as some popular artists, wrote and recorded the music for this film. As such, there isn’t a lot that holds the sound together. The recurrence of the electric guitar is about all you have for most tracks, even the ambient ones. For RPG fans, think Crisis Core and you’re on your way there.
I know I haven’t done this soundtrack justice. There’s a lot going on across the 19 tracks, but I can’t get any more in-depth without watching the three films (something I’ve yet to do). But I will say this: most live action films, particularly from Japan, would not garner my attention. Especially not for their music. A few have over the years, but it’s rare. If you’re interested, pick it up! Catalog number is MHCL-1471. For those who have seen the films, your input about the scores would be appreciated. Feel free to weigh in below!Tags: 20th Century Boys, Manga Adaptations, Reviews, Twentieth Century Boys