animefringe july 2003 / reviews

Battle Royale Vol.1
Format: right-to-left manga
Production: TOKYOPOP / Koushun Takami / Masayuki Taguchi / Keith Giffen
Comments: The most disturbing story I've ever read. It's as shocking and sickening as it is addictive.
Animefringe Reviews:
Battle Royale Vol.1

"Program Conditions: All members of the class must kill each other until one survivor remains. All students are supplied with a ration of food, a map of the island, and a weapon. All students will wear an explosive bomb collar which also monitors life signs. Students are free to move about the island but must stay out of designated danger zones that will frequently change locations. If there is more than one survivor at the end of the game, the remaining bomb collars will be detonated."

In the near future, a Japan different from the one we know funds the most-watched television series in the country. Its contestants are chosen using a lottery system that includes every ninth grader in the nation, though the students that are eventually picked to participate in "The Program" cannot be called winners by any stretch of the imagination.

The rules of the game are listed above. Since we featured this series a short time ago, I'm not going to get too heavy on the background information. In addition to the manga edition reviewed here, Battle Royale can also be experienced in novel and film incarnations - though only the novel and manga are currently available domestically.

Stories like this have been done before. However, stories like Stephen King's The Running Man (made into an Arnie movie, no less) become nothing more than trite sci-fi action tales when compared to the stomach-twisting events of Battle Royale.

Think of it. Your entire 9th grade class - friends, acquaintances, enemies, people you may have a crush on, people you may secretly despise - suddenly all transformed into either someone you have to murder or someone who must kill you in order to ensure your (or their) survival. While some people may try to fight against this insane scenario, their trust of one another and chances of staying alive will decline with each passing minute.

As horrifying this story is, it's impossible to put down once you've picked it up, hoping against hope for a happy ending. We'll see if such hope is misplaced as the forthcoming volumes arrive.

The artwork is terribly impressive, and every gruesome detail is illustrated with impeccable skill right down to the glistening internal organs of eviscerated students. Everything here is on the realistic side, which makes the story that much harder to read due to its greater-than-average realism.

The writing (adapted into English by Keith Giffen of Lobo fame) flows well, never impeding the pace of the story. For me, it was the premise more than the artwork, writing, or action of the story that nabbed me in the first place, but the quality of the other elements kept me reading.

The book is in TOKYOPOP's now standard format, reading from right to left at $9.99. To avoid shocking the average bookstore customer, they also thoughtfully wrapped the book in plastic, similar to their Happy Mania and Between the Sheets releases. The book is, of course, rated Mature (ages 18+), but that doesn't mean that the manga industry won't one day be threatened by censorship as the video game industry is now.

Of course, seeing a book wrapped in shrink wrap and marked "Not for children" is a sure way to draw attention to it as well, so that works both ways.

In any case, this is one of the most gripping stories I've ever read, and it's told well with great artwork accompanying the thrilling plot. If you have a strong constitution and wouldn't mind experiencing one of the most brutal "what if?" tales out there, then this is an easy recommendation. This truly is not for children, and there's a good chance that it won't suit a number of adults, either, due to its graphic content. However, for those of us who can handle it, there's some thought-provoking social commentary nestled beneath its violent surface. We're already living in a world with more than its fair share of censorship, and if we're not careful, the most frightening thing about Battle Royale is that the future it presents may one day be our own.