When Reality Goes Too Far
Story: Takami and Masayuki Taguchi
English Adaptation: Keith Giffen
Reviewed by Jon Minners
It is all around us. Just turn on your television shows. Survivor, American Idol, Wife Swap; there is just one new reality show born every minute. There are even reality shows about reality shows. It is absolutely amazing to see them all; each show trying to be more realistic than the previous show. So, when does it go too far? How long before we start seeing reality shows based in prison? How long before we see people being killed for real right in our living rooms? What would that be like? Well, if you thought Survivor was something; the people who created the hit manga Battle Royale believe you have not seen anything yet.
Battle Royale takes a look at the most surreal, violent and disturbing reality series fictitiously set in Japan. Published by TOKYOPOP and created by Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi, the story revolves around 42 children kidnapped during what was supposed to be a routine field trip. The children are instead brought to an island where they are randomly given weapons and sent out to kill one another. Only one person can leave the island alive and to ensure that everyone plays along, each student has been forced to wear a collar around their necks; try to take it off and it blows up and if no kills are recorded by a certain time, it explodes. Students cannot even hide for long with random spots announced as danger zones set to detonate with the students inside if they do not find another place to stay.
These students must play or at least find a way to survive long enough to figure out a way off the island together; if there is any way at all to defy the creators of the reality series simply called The Program. Readers immediately realize who the main players are. There is Shuuya, the idealist who feels the game is not worth playing. He is a rock-n-roll rebel who chooses a non-violent approach to playing the game, hoping to form alliances and find a way around the rules and off the island. There is Noriko, who sees good in everyone and has an emotional bond with Shuuya that expands throughout the series. Shinji Mimura is the intelligent, well-spoken student, who allies himself with a hapless classmate in an effort to discover a way to exact revenge on their educational oppressors. He devises a scheme to get everyone off the island, but can the strategist pull it off. There is also Hiroki Sugimura, the well trained martial artist, who chooses to live a peaceful life rather than one of violence. His quiet nature contrasts what he could do in a fight, but does he have the will to play the game and save the lives of two women he loves even if it means going against his own beliefs?
Of course, you have your mysterious characters. There is Kazou Kiriyama, the most violent individual on the island. Like a machine, he kills without feeling; never flinching and never losing sight of his goals to get off the island alive and take as many people with him as he can. He even kills his own gang rather than use them as allies during his quest. Armed to the teeth, even when it appears his reign of terror will end, he finds a way out alive. Mitsuko is the oversexed vixen who has lived a horrible life of sexual, physical and mental abuse, forcing her to use sex as a weapon. Believing everyone wants to hurt her, she has no qualms about killing others to get out alive, using whatever it takes to get the job done, including her own body. However, moments of weakness; an actual heart that beats beneath her plentiful chest, make her only the third deadliest on the island. Lucky for Shuuya and Noriko, they are allied with the second deadliest killer. Shogo Kawada knows how to play the game. In fact, he is a past winner who got left back and was forced to repeat his class, and essentially repeat the game. Learning from past mistakes, he decides to help Shuuya and Noriko get off the island together. He is the anti-Shuuya; a pessimist who believes it is either kill or be-killed, but the two learn from one another. The only thing is; how much can Shogo be trusted?
As each installment passes, viewers learn a little more about each character through flashbacks about each of their lives. Battle Royale affectively used the flashbacks before Lost made it a common part of each episode. As readers learn about each character, each death becomes harder to deal with. Even the lesser characters get their moment in the sun before they are killed off. Some stories are downright dirty including an abundance of sex, nudity and bloodshed, which does go a little overboard at times and some are very heartwarming stories of love, friendship and admiration. The death scenes have as much impact. Mitsuko cons a young girl from hiding under a desk and comforts her, only to brutally kill her. Two kids use a megaphone to tell others they are not playing the game, asking others to join them in finding a way off the island only to have Kiriyama mutilate them with a sub-machine gun. As the body count rises, the deaths do not become easier to deal with.
And that leads readers to the latest volume in the Battle Royale series. Volume 13 focuses on a brutal battle between Kiriyama and Mitsuko, the two killers with the majority of the kills on the island. This is the battle readers have been waiting for, but who will walk away the survivor and how does that impact the others? This was really cool. It was like getting a chance to see Lex Luthor fight the Joker. Both try to play with their strengths, but the ending is realistic considering the combatants involved. And as bad as they are, reader redemption brings closure for one of our favorites upon its eventual demise.
The best part of the volume deals with Shogo’s past, as readers discover he has a lot more in common with Shuuya and Noriko than he does with Kiriyama. We discover what happened the first time he was on The Program and what he had to do to survive. This is an emotional tale that finally gets to be told. Shogo has been coming around, but this volume finally humanizes the shadowy character giving hope to the reader that good will prevail, but with what looks like only two volumes left, will hope be enough to get the characters off the island or will a tough decision have to be made so that only one survives.
Pick this series up. This title legitimizes manga as quality reading for the mature reader only. The artwork is well detailed, action packed and realistic; like a movie playing out within the pages. The writing is top notch. Every character brings something new to the table. No one diverts from the characteristics that separate them from the rest without any reason behind it. Each student is fleshed out to the point that each death has meaning. The cliffhangers keep readers hooked for the next issue. In fact, the only complaint, besides the fact that the series is about to end, is that it takes so long for each volume to come out. Readers are going to want more and they are going to want more now, but when it is all said and done, can Battle Royale 2 be too far behind? The way this series is written, I sure hope so. Can we also get a Battle Royale television series? No, it cannot be a reality series - that would be taking things too far; wouldn’t it?