Battle Royale

Battle Royale

battle-royale-v01-cover

One of the first franchises that I ever witnessed coming out of Japan, Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale concept completely intrigued me. Every year in Japan a class of schoolchildren are selected at random and taken to an undisclosed location, where they are forced to kill each other. The winner (if there IS a winner) is the only one left standing after the three day time limit. I first saw this concept through the film, but it took me no time at all to realise that the story was in manga form, and that I had to get my hands on it.

Watching the DVD had somewhat desensitised me to the violence of what was to come in the manga, but elements and perceptions were so different to what was portrayed in the film that it was that, even though I knew the general storyline, I was surprised as to how hard-hitting it still was. Sure, the film contained lots of gore – but the manga contained even more so. Combined with graphic sexual scenes, bad language and in-depth background story for almost all the class members, the manga had an impact that the film never had.

It was a strange, but effective mix of techniques: over-the-top splattergore with surprisingly real and sometimes touching backstories. I found myself feeling for not only the good guys, but also main antagonists such as Kazuo Kiriyama and Mitsuko Souma – who were just displayed as aggressive and psychopathic in the film. The general concept of Battle Royale sparked many debates between myself and my friends if this situation ever happened to us: would we give up and take the easy way out, form a trustworthy group, or really turn to the dark side and take the opportunity to fight our way out and survive?

Mitsuko
Mitsuko Souma and her trademark sickle dealing with her first of many victims, former classmate Megumi Eto.

Battle Royale is, and always has been, a guilty pleasure of mine. Each of the fifteen tankobon volumes was a thrill and held something new from a different viewpoint. Due to the very nature of Battle Royale, the reader never feels like any of the content is ‘filler’ as the narrative races to its inevitable conclusion. The illustrations are very detailed and real, never shying away from blood or wounding, but because of this are also given cause to be hauntingly beautiful in some panels in comparison, showing the wide spectrum of humanity.

Since reading,  Battle Royale has no doubt shaped my manga choices to date. After BR had given me all it could, I then moved onto mangas like Hiruya Oku’s Gantz, animes like Angel Beats, and of course I was very keen to find out what The Hunger Games had to offer me (but don’t get me started on the ethics of pinching ideas). Even ten years on and several re-reads, the originality and vision are why Battle Royale remains one of my top favourite mangas to-date.