Book-to-movie adaptations are common in American culture. Heck, movies based on comic books are popping up left and right. Here, we have a manga series based on Koushun Takami’s classic pulp novel Battle Royale and, yes, it’s already been made into a movie. Two movies, to be precise (skip the second one).
Set in an alternate-universe Japan, Battle Royale stars a group of 42 ninth-graders who have been abducted and taken to an island to participate in a game of survivor (with much more literal backstabbing than the CBS reality show). The game, known as “The Program,” is a televised event held every so often to keep the population in line by means of fear. The rules are simple: Kill all of your classmates within 72 hours. Be the last player standing and you win your life back. If more than one player is alive when the time limit is reached, everyone dies.
Battle Royale is about youthful rebellion against an oppressive society, not a commentary on the direction of reality television. The original novel beats the reader over the head with that theme. In fact, the novel was published in 1999, a year prior to the reality TV boom with the first broadcast of Survivor in 2000.
The manga truly shines in creating a sense of terror and panic that grips the reader and drags them along for a rollercoaster ride. There is a clear set of main characters, but the manga gives the reader a glimpse into the minds of every single player, offering everyone a chance to bond with at least one character before he or she dies horribly.
Battle Royale is oddly addictive and difficult to put down, but that could be because of the structure of the chapters themselves. Scenes rarely end when a chapter does. Instead, they end with cliffhangers that leave you itching to find out what happens. Then, when you finish the scene, it leaves you compelled to finish the chapter. It’s a vicious but clever cycle.
The art style carefully plays into who the authors want you to like and hate. Likeable equals pretty. Annoying or unlikeable equals not-so-pretty. Keep in mind that “unlikeable” does not necessarily mean “evil.” The two most vicious players are also the most physically attractive. The other thing that’s great about the art is that the action is simple to follow. It’s very easy to visualize what’s happening to connect each cell fluidly. The violence is very graphic, but sometimes the art goes a little over the top with the sweating and tears.
This series is definitely for a mature audience looking for something exciting and action-packed but not flat. It would be wrong to call it “fast-paced” when fight scenes are drawn out and the story pauses often for the sake of flashbacks. It is an action-horror-thriller for those looking for more dimensions than just your average slasher. Think of it like the original Saw film. It’s not a “slasher flick” at all. In fact, Saw is not even particularly graphic. Instead, it’s a dark, psychological story that explores how different people react while in the scenario of “kill or be killed” within a given time limit. Battle Royale, on the other hand, is quite visually graphic, with nudity, blood, and guts (and brains), but the psychology is far more important.
The manga itself has been out for a while, but Tokyopop has recently been compiling them into “ultimate editions” with three volumes bound together in hardcover. There’s just something so cozy about curling up in bed with a hardbound bloodbath.
Reviewed by Courtney Kraft on July 12, 2012
Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 3