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Children have an amazing imagination. Their games can take them anywhere; like outer space, or make them the heroes that will save the world. And when they grow up, they can see those games with either nostalgic fondness, or being a bit embarrassed of the things they used to do. Very few children grow up to be the fantastic heroes they pretended to be, and none wants to grow to become the bad guy of those games. No one, that is, except the man behind the Friend mask. A cult leader who took a childhood dream, and then made it his own obsession and the bible to the destruction of the world, and who can only be stopped by the other children who played with him two decades ago.
In the world of 20th Century Boys, you have to be really good at many skills to survive. Problem is, living in a normal city doesn’t make it easy to come by those skills. But there are people who, despite having lived as salary men and ordinary women, still have the strength of will and resolve to survive and help mankind to do the same.
This list is a small sample of the most badass characters that populate the amazing world of 20th Century Boys. Just a word of warning: As the story is incredibly complex, it is hard to talk about some characters without spoiling a bit of the plot. We’re doing our best, and of course, we won’t spoil the biggest twist of the series, but we still recommend caution.
It takes a very special person to keep his identity a complete secret from everyone in his life, to be able to create a cult and preach that the end of the world is coming while wearing an anime mask. And yet, Friend manages it. While he is the undisputed villain in the story, one can’t help but admire the tenacity that was required to make his plan work, and the time it took for him to do so. While the narrative doesn’t give us his flashbacks –as that would give clues to his identity before it’s discovered- we can infer that he started very young. Not when they all were children, but soon after. Because when we list all the things that he needed to do before 1999, and the first real step of his plan, we can’t help but admire his resolve.
Just consider: Friend was a scientist who helped create a bleeding plague that had no cure, while creating the cult that would make him rise to political power. He also had at least two assassins working for him, and had enough intimidating presence to brainwash almost anyone who comes in contact with him, again, while using a mask of a cartoon character that, if anyone else tried to wear, would be laughed out of the room (And yes, there’s a plot point when he changes from the anime mask to the more symbolic mask with his Friend symbol).
The only reason why Friend is stuck in number ten is because, at the end of the day, he always let others do the dirty jobs for him. And so, he isn’t as impressive as other people on the list.
No one can deny that Kyuutarou Kaminaga, better known as Kamisama to everyone who knows him, has had a very interesting life. In the seventies, he was the owner of a Bowling Alley, which is his personal passion. But when bowling lost popularity in Japan, he fell into really hard times. By the time we met him in the actual story, he is the leader of the homeless people who sometimes go to Kenji’s store to steal food. And here’s where we can start seeing why Kamisama has survived for so many years: not only does his personality make him the obvious leader of most groups he is a part of, but he can also see the future. Not by much, and not with many details, but enough to stay alive and away from cops and Friend’s minions.
As the story advances, we also see him earn millions and lose them, and even then he doesn’t lose his fighting spirit. Kamisama is a perfect example of someone who will not stop at any difficulty in order to survive and protect those he has decided are part of his family. Despite his old age –as he is one of the two oldest characters in the series-, he runs, fights, bites, and he will literally not give up on his mission or his passion, bowling. Given that he must be around his 100th birthday in the later part of the manga, it’s no surprise he gets the ninth place on our list.
8. Masao Tamura
Loyalty, even if misplaced, is always an interesting trait. And it can be incredibly intimidating too, when one realizes that there’s no possible way of buying someone away from their boss and that they are in danger. This is one of the things that makes Masao so dangerous: his absolute devotion to Friend and Friend’s goals. From the moment we meet him as a college student, we can see that nothing matters to him more than Friend and his teachings; not his family, not his friends, not even his own freedom, as he’s very willing to kill innocents in Friend’s name. In fact, for him, there are no innocents if they’re Friend’s enemies.
And if that quality wasn’t enough to make him a badass, there’s the fact that, under Friend’s orders, he spent 3 years in the most secure prison as a prisoner, and became the second most feared person in there. He learned martial arts, and how to pilot a helicopter. Masao is the perfect minion and assassin for Friend’s cult. And his appearance, which makes him look like a deranged Buddhist monk, only adds to the unsettling feelings you will have if you cross his path.
All of this gives Masao the eighth place on our list. The only reason why he isn’t higher is because he rarely acts out of his own free will.
Where Masao represents the blind loyalty of a follower, Maruo has the strong loyalty of a friend. Unlike the rest of Kenji’s allies, he was still in contact with him after school, and they were friends before the cult’s discovery. Where Kenji owned a corner store, Maruo and his family had a gift and stationery shop that was very popular with high school girls; and yet, Maruo didn’t hesitate to throw all that away to help Kenji in his fight against Friend from the very beginning. Despite not being very athletic, and still having to worry about his family, as he has a young child when the problems begin, he never falters in his support for the cause, and remains at Kenji’s side until the last moments in the fatidic New Year’s Eve of 1999.
After that, Maruo doesn’t give up working to stop Friend. Only, as he is not as strong as his other friends, he has to take a different approach. Even if he disappears from everyone’s radar for a while, when we see him back it’s both a relief and a surprise. And a testament that absolutely nothing will break his commitment to avenge Kenji, since it reflects how much he was ready to risk. Without spoilers, we can assure you that his patience and final reveal show what a real hidden badass looks like. And because of that, he earns the seventh place on our list.
6. Sada Kiyoshi “Sadakiyo”
It is a little hard to talk about Sadakiyo without spoiling part of 20th Century Boys’ plot, so take this in account before reading this entry. Sadakiyo used to be Kenji Endo’s classmate when he was in Elementary school, and he had the habit of wearing an Ultraman-like mask or a Ninja Hattori-kun mask, which of course, made him the first suspected to be Friend. Although he had never been part of Kenji’s group and thus didn’t know the story of their game, he was often around and some of them remembered a masked child in their hideout, so there was a huge possibility that Sadakiyo could be Friend.
But Sadakiyo is not Friend. He knows Friend’s identity, and he is loyal enough not to reveal it, which makes him earn the honor of managing the Friend Museum. Later on, he becomes Kanna Endo and Kyoko Koitsumi’s English teacher, probably under Friend’s orders. However, it is then when Kyoko finally makes him question his loyalty to Friend, and although he still doesn’t reveal his name, the actions he takes to make sure that the Friend Police don’t capture Kyoko, and the small but powerful way in which he remains defiant to the end are what make him another hidden badass, and one who deserves the sixth place on this list.
5. Kiriko Endo
For most of 20th Century Boys, Kiriko Endo is a non-entity. We know she’s Kenji’s sister who got pregnant by an unknown man and then left Kanna in Kenji and her mother’s care, and that’s about it. Kenji has her in high regard because when they were children, she would take care of him, but we, as readers, only get to see her through those small flashbacks. Then Kanna, now a young woman, realizes that her mother may still be alive and connected to Friend’s conspiracy, and suddenly, Kiriko is very important to the plot. But that is not what makes her a badass.
What makes her a badass is that we discover that she spends all her off-screen time working on a vaccine for Friend’s virus because she was one of the scientists who created the virus in the first place. She was so overcome by guilt, that she dedicated every single moment of her life to not only try to protect those people around her from the virus and other illness, but, without any fear, she used herself as a guinea pig
Because she takes responsibility for her actions –even abandoning Kanna was to protect her daughter- and faces possible death with dignity, Kiriko Endo has the fifth place on our list.
4. Yukiji Setoguchi
The strongest girl on Earth. That’s how Kenji thought of Yukiji when they were younger, and the girl lived up to her reputation, as she was the only one who could face off against Yanbo and Manbo, the terrible twins, and win. And while she stopped being so hands-on with her fights when she grew older, first as a policewoman and later as a dojo instructor, she never loses her incredible iron will. As Kanna’s substitute parent, she is one of the few people in the world who can make Kanna rethink her actions, and she was the one who made Kenji feel ashamed for not standing up to Friend from the beginning. In short, she may not always be on camera, and she may not have the greatest moments in the story, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a very important part of the backbone of the Resistance.
Sometimes, the hardest part of valor is to stand still where others risk their lives. To be the one who keeps a façade of normalcy to be a good cover for your allies, while they conduct the dangerous, life-threatening missions. And that is what Yukiji has to do, not even knowing if some of her friends were alive or death, but still keeping the Resistance alive. A movement that she helped to create, as she was one of the first to gather those whose families had been broken by Friend’s Cult when Kenji still thought it had nothing to do with him. And she still stood by Kanna’s side, raising her when Kenji couldn’t, making sure that Friend didn’t hurt her.
Because her will never wavered, and even with a look she could bring down men twice her size, Yukiji earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Kanna Endo NEOBK-1894905
Of all the characters in 20th Century Boys, Kanna is the only one we meet from babyhood, when she is completely defenseless and usually is carried around on Kenji’s back. But even then, she seemed to have strong resolve, and was very intuitive about who was good and who was bad. Then we see her grow up, and we can see that she is exactly how a girl who has Kiriko’s blood, and was raised by both Kenji and Yukiji would be: Strong-willed and with a desire to protect people from evil. Being a teenager, she should be worried about school, but instead, she is leading the Homeless Resistance against Friend and also mediating gang wars between different Yakuza families. No one can deny that the girl has guts.
By the time society is so run down that going to school is useless, Kanna is the undisputed leader of the Resistance. While others help her and are the public face of it, she is the one who calls the shots. She’s strong, she’s agile and she’s fearless, or so she appears to be because she needs to. In truth, she’s scared and misses her uncle and mother. But she never breaks her resolve, even managing to figure out some of the greatest mysteries of the series without much help.
And those are the reasons why Kanna, the girl we watched growing up under Friend’s threat, has the third place on our list.
2. Kenji Endo
Kenji Endo dreamed of becoming a rockstar or saving the world when he was young, but when his sister came to him and his mother, and asked them to take care of her newborn daughter, he put everything on hold. In just two years, he became the manager of his family store, always carrying Kanna on his back and never complaining. Some would have called him a wimp, but after the suspicious suicide of one of his childhood friends, Donkey, Kenji starts to investigate the cult of Friend and proves that he is still the strong-willed kid that once declared that when the Earth was in danger, he’d be first in line to protect it. And he does, while sacrificing everything he holds dear.
Among the things that Kenji does while still being considered a loser and a wimp by the people around him, there’s the fact that he goes directly to face Friend once he finds out he was the one who ordered Donkey’s execution. With nothing but a prototype laser gun that he doesn’t know will work or not, he faces not just Friend, but a stadium full of Friend’s followers. Not long after that, he also protects Kanna from a mob trying to kidnap her to take her to Friend. And then, realizing all his friends have families that could be in danger, he chooses to try and fight alone, so that no one but him risks their life. By the time the series is almost over, he beats an assassin with nothing but words and his unnerving stare. To be honest, Kenji is very close to the first place on our list, but as we don’t do ties, he remains in second.
1. Otcho “Shogun”
If there is anyone in the 20th Century Boys universe who deserves the title of Badass Supreme, is Chouji Ochiai, known to his friends as Otcho and to everyone else as Shogun. When he was a kid, he was always at Kenji’s side, even facing Mambo and Janbo when there was no hope of beating the terrible twins, and he was the one who created the symbol that was later hijacked by Friend, because he priced loyalty over everything. Unfortunately, he drifted away when they grew old, and after his son’s death, disappeared completely from Japan. While Kenji and Yukiji suspected him at first of being Friend, the truth is that Otcho traveled to Tibet, underwent some serious training, and became the guardian of a group of prostitutes in Taiwan before returning to Japan because Kenji needed him.
From the moment Otcho appears as an adult in the story, he has one badass scene after another. If he is not fighting and winning against four mob thugs, he is saving a girl from a whole gang with nothing but a rug holder. He also has the bad habit of standing between guns and people he is protecting, but so far, no one manages to shoot him as his eyes and determination make him so intimidating; his enemies’ just stop. And after three years in jail, he also earned the reputation of being a Beast. Those who are jailed with him don’t survive to tell the tale, unless he wants to use them to escape the prison. Which he does by swimming impossible currents because he needs to protect Kanna.
Because of that, and so many other actions that would require having a separate ‘Top ten amazing feats by Otcho’ list, he earns the first place on our list.
This was a hard list to write because there are many characters who, upon finding themselves in a fight to save the world, will perform incredible acts that definitely earn them the title of badass. Among the runner-ups, for example, was the Italian priest who held a bridge with his bare hands during a flood, was taken by the waters and survived to become the Pope. Or the Japanese detective who solved the mystery of Friend’s identity 21 years before anyone else could come close.
So while we think we were fair to all the characters on the list, we need to ask you if you agree. Did we miss someone who was even a bigger badass than Otcho? Or is the list in a different order from what you would’ve written? Please, let us know in the comments below.