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Battle Royale: the Manga

Updated on February 4, 2014
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While I imagine most have at least heard of the movie «Battle Royale» it never hurts to give a short summary: a bunch of teenagers, living under an oppressive government, are taken by said government to an island, given weapons and forced to kill each other until only one remains. While the movie is the one that became famous, it is based on a novel written by Koushon Takami. Takami is also credited as the writer of the manga version, and he praised the manga, saying that the characters evolve in ways the did not in the book. The movie had little time for character development, given that 40 people had to be killed in about 2 hours, but what does Battle Royale look like given as much space and time as it needs? Let us take a look.

Our main character, Shuya
Our main character, Shuya | Source

Kidnapped

First, the basic plot: Shuya Nanahara is an orphan and high-schooler, obsessed with rock music. He passes his days playing basketball and being happy, while living under a cruel government about to destroy his little bubble of joy. One day, under the pretense of a class trip, his entire school class of 42 teenagers are kidnapped and forced to take part in the “Program”. This is a dystopian reality show hold once each year where students are forced to kill each other in front of the cameras until only one remains. This is broadcast all over Japan, and people can bet on who they believe will win. You may have heard people accuse Hunger Games of ripping of this story, and indeed the similarities are there.

Now every student is given a bag containing food and water, and a random weapon. These weapons can be guns or knives, poison or boomerangs. Obviously some are more useful than others, a point the host of the show, Yonemi Kamon, himself makes. More on that later. Our main character gets an army knife, low on the food chain, although not as bad as his friend/possible love interest Noriko, who gets the boomerang, which is pretty useless.

Kiriyama, the emotionless villain
Kiriyama, the emotionless villain | Source

The Players

And then the game begins, mere minutes after they wake up, they are in the forest fighting for their lives. These kids have not been trained in any way, and the results are as inevitable as they are gruesome. From now on, while there are characters we follow who have a continuing story, we also get to see some who we follow for just a chapter or two, and these “one time” characters are some of the more effective.

We see a couple contemplating suicide instead of joining the fray, some who feels that they can do whatever they want on this island of no rules, some go insane under the pressure. A lot of it is cruel, gruesome and graphic. Be warned, there is nudity, although it seems to have more of a point than the usual fanservice, there is rape and sexual assault, and of course lots of violence. Apparently we need close-ups of every character shot in the head.

Two main villains appear, in addition to several minor ones: Souma, a femme fatale who seduces men and kills them. She has severe psychological issues which only becomes more prevalent during the game. The second is Kiriyama, a frightening psychopath. Sadly he was never the most developed character, but he manages to be a constant threat and impossibly hard to kill. You really feel like he is undefeatable.

There are times when reality is stretched a little too far into the fantastical, both in relation to Kiriyama but also when it comes to the martial arts expert and the resistance-fighter, and these moments can pull you out of the suspense, but these moments are not so numerous I would call them a big problem.

Comparing the Message

So what is the message? It has been said of both the movie and the manga that they symbolize the transition from childhood to the realm of adults. As children we are told to share, to be kind. Then suddenly we are thrown into a world of ruthless competition, and we are expected to fight against our friends for the top spot. What would this do to you? I would say the manga tries to answer this to a greater degree, as it goes into more characters and shows why they react as they do to this sudden cruelty. The manga did of course have more time, but that does not change the fact that it explores these people much better.

There are also those who believe the manga talks of Japan as nation, its foreign policies and other issues, and again I feel the manga delivers this better, going into great detail about

But the emotions, the fear and pleasure and wild rage and how they create both monsters and heroes is the center of the manga. While the movie may have gore as the most important factor, in the manga it is the emotions of these people which carries you. Should they kill? Should they trust? Should they even continue, when all seems hopeless? These questions make us gravitate towards the people asking, and it is incredible how well I remember characters that only appeared once. Battle Royale is truly a great character study, and I would say it by far surpasses the movie with the same name. If you are not bothered by blood and gore I would absolutely recommend it.

© 2014 Nidag the Goat

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