Manga Review: Battle Royale

Manga Review: Battle RoyaleBattle Royale: The Manga by Koushun Takami, Masayuki Taguchi
Published by TOKYOPOP on August 1, 2003
Genres: Dystopian, Horror, Thriller
Format: eBook
Source: Scanlation

Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence in a dystopian world, it is one of Japan's best-selling - and most controversial - novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television. A Japanese pulp classic available in English for the first time, Battle Royale is a potent allegory of what it means to be young and survive in today's dog-eat-dog world. The first novel by small-town journalist Koushun Takami, it went on to become an even more notorious film by 70-year-old director Kinji Fukusaku.

For those of you keeping track, this is the third (and final) post on Battle Royale in just a couple of weeks. First, I read the novel, and then I watched the film version. This time I read the manga version of the novel. The somewhat OCD part of me ordained that I should clump all of this together, so that I could analyze the differences between the various formats. I have done such things before and know that it can be a very bad idea; reading the same story twice in a row (or reading then watching) can be exceedingly boring. Thankfully, each version of Battle Royale had enough differences to make the comparison incredibly interesting.

The manga is both better and worse than the novel. All in all, I think I liked it about as well as the novel. The translation was better for the manga, but the novel did not have the rather large detractor of the images. The art in the manga is seriously disturbing and gross. And yes, I do know that that was the point. Still, it does not mean that I have to like looking at people’s gouged-out or stabbed eyes (which happens more often than you might expect). The worst and most annoying aspect of art, however, was not the gore. It was the tears and the sweat. The kids are always crying. Always. And the tears just look so icky. And obnoxious. Also, the hairstyles. Why did he do that to Shuya and Sugimura?

What was awesome about the manga, which Koushun Takami (author of the novel and collaborator on the manga series) agrees with, is all of the additional back story that Masayuki Taguchi added. The characters feel a lot more real than they did, excluding the major characters. Only a few characters do not receive a more fleshed-out back story, amongst those sadly are Noriko and Shuya. Most of the back story was very interesting and added poignancy or explanation to the events of the story. I was not wild about what they did to the character of Mitsuko though. I rather liked her being a bad-ass bitch who had learned how to manipulate people after being abused. Her weird Stockholm-syndrome-ish behavior in the manga just made her crazy.

The other change was that the last few battles were super drawn out and much changed. Again, for better and for worse. Sugimura, for example, got to have a better lead up to death but a much more painful ending. The final battle with Kiriyama (yes, technically a spoiler, but who didn’t see that coming?) has a different resolution, but one that seems perhaps more fitting and meaningful (disregarding the puppet-like images of Kiriyama) than the way things played out in the book. The final conclusion of the story is more optimistic, but still not clear.

I have finally reached the end of my Battle Royale-a-thon. It has been a fun, if twisted, journey. I recommend this to people who can deal with serious violence and very mature themes. There is a lot of nudity and close ups on serious injuries.

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