Since 1999, Battle Royale has been synonymous with unnecessary violence, gratuitous teenage sexuality, and Japanese weirdness. It has a cult following that could put Evil Dead’s following to shame and it’s had its hand in almost all popular media: it was originally a novel with well over six hundred pages, it then became a movie (that was only recently allowed for sale in North America due to it being made right around the time of the Columbine massacre), and a fifteen volume manga series–which is what I’ll be exploring in this review.
The Battle Royale manga series is based upon Koushun Takami’s novel of the same name. The adaption was rewritten and drawn by Masayuki Taguchi. For those of you who have never heard of Battle Royale it’s about a dystopian Japan where the government rules by fear and intimidation. To do this they select a number of junior level classes (grade nine, ages fourteen to fifteen), spirit them away to a deserted town or island, give them weapons and three days to kill all their classmates while all of Japan is forced to watch on television. The last student alive gets a government pension and is considered a loyal and heroic Japanese citizen. Sounds a lot like The Hunger Games doesn’t it? Well, where as The Hunger Games was written for teenage girls, Battle Royale (especially its manga counterpart) is strictly for mature audiences only. It’s ultra violent, incredibly sexualized, and lined from top to bottom with swears and gore!
Battle Royale’s plot is simple but keeping track of the characters might confuse a casual reading as there’s about forty characters within the story and each one gets their time in the spotlight. Through the fifteen volumes you see each person’s backstory, follow them around the island and watch them struggle to survive, kill or fun, or form alliances that ultimately disintegrate in an over-the-top violent fashion. Of course all the characters are not the main characters, only about five or so would be considered main. Three are your standard good guys that you cheer for to survive and escape to live another day, one is a femme fatale that you cheer for because of her sob backstory (and because she’s just plain awesome), and one is a sociopathic madman that kills for the fun of it that will leave you cheering for his death!
|Can you tell which one is the bad one?|
|The detail is seriously impressive|
As much as I love the story of Battle Royale and how well thecharacters are written and designed (in the novel especially, but that’s a review for another day), the art style of the manga leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly, everything is just ugly as shit. First off, the characters are not drawn like teenagers: the ‘bad kids’ are drawn like monsters with hideous features. I find their hideous, grotesque mouths to be the worst; they’re always licking their lips and spit runs down their chins–just plain disgusting. The kids that aren’t bad but aren’t main characters are drawn like white kids even though they are supposed to be Japanese. The main characters (whether good or bad) are the only ones that could be considered attractive with their smooth and proportioned facial features. I mean, it makes sense, make the bad kids ugly and they’re even more ‘bad’ then before–absolutely no one will pity the guy that tries to rape his female classmates when he’s axed in the face when he’s a deformed fiend, but they will cheer for the beautiful psychopathic girl who kills without mercy but also gets naked once a volume.
The only thing that the art has going for it is how incredibly detailed it is; you’ll see every leaf on every tree, every splatter of blood, and every hair on everyone’s head. But even the detail becomes a nuisance after a while as the gore and violence quickly becomes just too much.
Battle Royale is really a no brainer for an 18+ manga–of course the plot is probably one of the saddest things you’ll ever read but it’s got violence and sex galore, it’s got characters that you’ll cheer for, either to survive or die in an awful, painful way, it’s even got some deep and meaningful themes about trust, friendship, loyalty, and freedom in the modern world. Unfortunately, the art style is awful and takes away almost everything else that the manga has to offer.
My final thoughts on Taguchi’s manga adaption of Battle Royale is that it’s okay. That’s it: okay. The story is more or less the same (although if you’ve seen the movie or read the novel the manga will seem very different towards the end), but the art style will ruin it for you. Manga is a visual media and the visuals should be pleasing, they should draw you in, and add to the story but the drawings here don’t add, they take away. They take away from the amazing story until all that’s left is something okay. If you must read the manga series, do yourself a favour and save them until you’ve read the book or seen the movie!