Battle Royale Volume 14

Only The Strong Survive

Story: Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi

English Adaptation by Keith Giffen

Publisher: TOKYOPOP

Rating: (Mature/18+)

Reviewed by Jon Minners

What would you do if you were stranded on an island with your friends and/or classmates/co-workers where it was not about surviving together like on Lost or winning a million dollar prize like on Survivor, but about being the only person to leave the island alive?  Who could you trust?  Could you trust anyone?  Could you survive the ordeal without killing anyone?  Would you be able to kill your friend or someone you love if it meant your own survival?  Those are some of the questions that have been presented to the cast of characters making up the nerve-wracking psychologically thrilling manga titled Battle Royale.  In every issue, a cast of 42 students; 21 boys and 21 girls, who have been kidnapped and stranded on an island to play in a game called The Program, has been whittled down, forced to kill one another so that one person can re-enter society.  There is no choice.  Do not kill and someone scared enough will kill you.  If no one kills, mechanical bracelets around each "contestant's" neck will explode killing everyone off anyway.  With weapons in hand and a host of targets around them, friends turn against friends, enemies have the means to end their rivalries and the meek have a chance to inherit the Earth.  Idealists band together, with hope that there is a better way; brutal killers go at it alone, picking off one student after another.  An experiment in depravity; after 13 volumes, only four students remain and the game is coming close to an end. 

It has been an exciting ride.  Battle Royale is a literary masterpiece in graphic form.  Every character, given an amazing back story and fleshed out better than any bit player on a television series, enters your heart; memories of their past, thoughts of their future; everything taken away in a hail of bullets, a stab of a knife, or any one of the means given to others to kill.  Heroes were killed; no star guaranteed to survive.  Villains are even killed by worse villains.   Readers experience each brutally violent kill and sad death.  It has been a thrilling rollercoaster ride and now, with Volume 14, readers brace themselves for the beginning of the end.  Two dreamers; Shuuya and Noriko must band together with a ruthless, cold-blooded killer former Program survivor named Kawada Shogo, who is not really a heartless player after all, to fight for their lives against Kiriyama, the psychotic student who decimated most of their class.  Three-on-one sounds like pretty good odds for our final heroes, but all is not as easy as it appears.  How do you kill a man who just won't die?  How do you hurt someone who feels no pain?  How do you escape from a man who knows your every move and anticipates your every thought?  This is the last obstacle that remains for the three classmates bound together by fate, but who will come out alive. 

This was an excellent volume of the series that starts off a little slow.  I have endured Shuuya's idealism for some time, but his long narrative about his past as an orphan and how he refuses to not honor everyone who was killed on the island, including those ruthless killers that tried to take their lives, gets to be a bore for someone like me looking for an explosive ending.  Monologues were a major part of every volume, but this latest one seemed out of place toward the end and seemed to be created just to fill space before they got into the final confrontation with Kiriyama.  Once the morning announcements are made by The Program director who notifies them that their friend Sugimura has been killed, Shogo realizes that they are the only ones left with Kiriyama, and must make their move, knowing that the psychopath is only moments behind.  Almost on cue, Kiriyama shows up and the chase is on.  Guns are drawn, bullets fly and even cars become involved in one of the best chases ever created for a manga.  This could have translated so well on the television or movie screen.  Try not to bite your nails as Shuuya and Kiriyama exchange shots at one another from speeding vehicles.  This is one fierce firefight and every time Kiriyama appears to be dead, the evil genius literally dodges a bullet and finds a way to gain the advantage. 

Readers who followed the series will be thrilled to see a cameo appearance by Mimura in spirit form, as he helps Shuuya face his most difficult challenge.  Readers will also get a little more insight into what made a bright, talented young man into the unfeeling killer that Kiriyama has become today.  This is the penultimate tale that sets up for the finale better than any manga before it.  Everything comes to the end in the next issue.  Will the three classmates survive their battle with Kiriyama?  If they do, will they remain united as time clicks away from the clock and the three are forced to make a decision; kill or be killed?  Or will they find a way to go up against someone even more ruthless than Kiriyama; those who forced students to become killers, and walk off the island together and end The Program once and for all?  These are questions that are leaving readers wanting more and although it will be a sad day when that final page is turned, it was one hell of a story well worth the read.  If you pick up one manga ever in your life; make it Battle Royale


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