Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Bookshelf: Battle Royale

She's fourteen.

Breaking up the light-hearted, idealistic lawyer games, is a manga series I've been meaning to review for a long time. This is quite honestly the most gruesome, heartbreaking stories I've ever read. From the twisted mind of Koushun Takumi comes the blood-lust dystopian tale known as Battle Royale. Originally a novel, it was later adapted to a live action film and then a manga. I've only had the pleasure of reading the manga version, but I plan on picking up the novel as soon as I can find it. A word of warning, this story is not for the faint of heart. If you can not stomach graphic gore, rape, and potty-mouths I do not suggest picking up this book. Certainly don't if you're not at least 18, as there is near-pornographic levels of sex depicted on several occasions. Hell, I don't even recommend reading this review as I'm going to show several graphic gore images.



... and Wikipedia claims it's a romance novel. Hah.




Authors: Koushun Takumi (Writer), Masayuki Taguchi (Artist)
Genres: Action, Splatter Horror, Dystopia, Tragedy
Original Run: Nov 2000 - Jan 2006

English Publisher: Tokyopop (No, seriously.)

In the "near future" Japan is controlled by a brutal dictatorship. As a means of calming and appealing to the masses, every semester or so, there is a twisted lottery of sorts: one ninth grade class out of the entire country is selected to participate in a reality show called The Program. The students are drugged and taken to a deserted island, where they will be given a small amount of rations and a single weapon of random selection. They will be then turned out into the wilderness and be forced to kill their friends and classmates until all but one are dead. This last remaining survivor will be the "winner." Should the students all band together and refuse to kill their classmates, there is a bit of insurance in the form of an electronic collar around each of their necks-- they will all detonate and kill every single one of them if no one is killed in twenty-four hours. Their parents, teachers, and care-takers are all told once the students are abducted. If anyone protests, they are beaten, raped, or brutally murdered. 

This year, the lucky winners are a class of fourty-two students. All students have known each other for years. Some are like brothers, others are lovers, and a few are complete monsters. In the midst of the horrible revelation that everyone they've known for their entire lives are dead or are going to die, one student, Shuuya Nanahara vows to not play the awful game. After witnessing the gruesome murder of his friend for nothing more than being angry over the rape of the woman he loves, he is joined by his new-found friends Noriko Nakagawa and Shogo Kawada on a quest to gather more classmates who refuse to play.

no really guys i think we can trust this one.
guys? guys?

Of course, many other students are as idealistic and hopeful. But when doubt begins to set in, even friends and lovers can turn on each other. To make things worse, there are definitely a few who are not only in the game to win, but they're probably in the game for fun. And when all is said and done, how will they escape? In a story of impossible cruelty, can friendship, even love, blossom?



Story Analysis
As mentioned before, the path of the story is a gruesome, bloody mess. However, one thing it does very well is have you care for a majority of the fourty-two students. Instead of just faces and numbers, many students' backstories are explored. Each and every one of their deaths are shown; there are no "oh lol student number five died :D" moments. This can have its drawbacks as well. While those us with... ahem, shorter attention-spans might enjoy each break in the storyline surrounding Shuuya & Co., I can just as easily see how someone might be frustrated with how every other chapter seems to be dedicated to someone who is just going to die at the end of the next chapter.

That being said, the deaths at a certain point get a bit predictable... a lot of the kills come from absolutely no where when the character is sitting around smiling. I suppose it gives a feel of them being hunted. But at the same time, it gets to be predictable. Towards the end of the story I was rolling my eyes and going, "Oh, of course. They would be killed right about now." Which is pretty horrible to be desensitized about that.

I'd hate her if I wasn't so turned on by her.
Or should that be the other way around?
See what this fucking manga does? Ugh.

I won't spoil the ending, but the climax and final battle with the story's "villain" seems to drag on. The entire story Shuuya tries to remain the idealistic hero everyone wants him to be, but eventually it gets to the breaking point and he's finally struggling with his own hypocrisy. While this seems like excellent character development, it's not. While the writer certainly tried to slowly build up to the breaking point, it seemed like going from filling a cup of water drop by drop to standing under a waterfall.

When all's said and done, everyone reads this manga for one thing: to watch everyone break down and kill each other. And as far as going from perfectly normal human characters to blood hungry savages, it's quite an entertaining read.

Grade: C

It does what it's supposed to, but it doesn't really do a great job doing it.



Art
Oh sweet Jesus. Where do I start?

As far as having the balls to draw everything, like guts, blood, rape, and such, the artist certainly doesn't chicken out of anything. But again, this can have its drawbacks as well. It can get pretty ridiculous. I mean... a kid was shot up the ass. Literally. Someone took a gun and shot him up the ass. I didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified. (That's a lie, I laughed. He had it coming.) BUT, I am willing to chock the over the top art to a style preference, and not a technical problem.

wow what a pussy

The art-style itself is a neat blend of Western and Eastern, and many characters look different from each other, an area that many novels fail in. And while I have to say most of the time it's a good style, there are times when characters look almost inhuman, like plastic dolls. Maybe that's symbolism for something, but I don't know. However, when it counts, Taguchi certainly can portray emotion very well, and can turn his characters into monsters. There are times when the images are as emotionally gripping and psychotic as the story itself.

Grade: A

Has the balls to go where many don't, and the art certainly reflects the talent of the artist.


Side Note: Character Design/Development
Turning away from the serious reviewer in me, I have to say... Holy shit Taguchi has some badass style. I mean. Fucking look at this hardcore mother fucker:

Him.
My reaction.
Fangirling over Kiriyama aside, there are points in the story where I seriously question the age of these kids. I mean, look at the first picture I posted up. She's fourteen.

This guy is fifteen.
You're only a man, and a man's
gotta learn to take it...
Fourteen, again.
But he's still the best
AROUND
Nothing's gonna ever-- *shot*

See what I mean? Although, to be honest, there are certainly some kids who look much younger and much older than they actually are, so I'm willing to chock this up to realism, as there are plenty of students who don't look ten, let alone fourteen.





Famous Last Words:
"HAH! Unfortunately for you, my friend, I've eaten so many bullets
that I've built up an immunity! Go ahead! Take your best shot!"

Overall
At the end of the story, at the end of the long, twisted, bloody road, at the end of everything, I walked away from the story with almost a sense of... dare I say it, dissatisfaction. The story was entertaining, the art was very well done, and I managed to shed a tear or two. But I didn't feel that sense of "everything came together at the end and made sense" like I do with many stories.

That isn't to say that this story is particularly bad. Think back to any traumatic event in your life. Whether it be a sudden act of violence, an accident, or something equally unsettling. In many cases of trauma, there is a sense of powerlessness to everything going on. You look back and try to make sense of it, if it's even possible. Like the random acts of cruelty by divine or human hands in life, this story can be as equally confusing and unsettling.

Or maybe I'm giving this manga way too much credit. Maybe the ending was unsatisfying to me because it was rushed. Maybe I'm unsatisfied because the end dragged on longer than it should have. Maybe it makes total and complete sense and I'm just thinking about everything way too much.

Regardless, I keep finding myself coming back to this story... The tragic nature of watching even the most confident and innocent of students turn into killers, the fascination of the complete monsters Kiriyama and Mitsuko, the naive hope Shuuya and Noriko have in each other compels me too.

Like life, it's flawed, stupid, and beautiful all at the same time. Fucking game.

Overall Grade: B






Oh yeah, I almost forgot. If you're curious about how gruesome this story can get, here's a few lovely shots:

76 comments:

  1. Is there japanese version out there ?
    This book is originally japanese but I cant find it anywhere .

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  2. ooo such a long post

    im too tired to read it all but i'll read it later :)

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  3. @Meisefelix

    I have no idea. You might need to import it from the Japanese publisher to do that.

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  4. the movie was enough for me, when i started on the manga for some reason I had more of a reaction bad to the static gore than the movie, that said, his gore is better than the movies

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  5. @kal

    Probably because when you're watching a movie, you KNOW they aren't actually doing that to the actor.

    And even though these characters are fictional, in their fictional universe, they actually are being torn apart.

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  6. You make it sound like it's so brutal and horrid that no human should ever bear reading it..

    It's now on my list.

    and I lol'd at like all of your captions xD.

    Thanks for the review.

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  7. Wow that book looks insane. I would say I would check it out but I got a pretty indepth analysis here.

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  8. I kinda like the old pictures!

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  9. The subtext of the first picture saying 'She's 14' really made me laugh.

    ^^

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  10. I was....intrigued by the movie and tried to get through the manga once but it never amounted to anything and it does seem a lot more violent some how then the movie was.

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  11. What's not romantic about graphic gore and pornography? Hahaha

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  12. is this where the movie came from? it looks a good book awsell. :)

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  13. I had no idea they made a manga out of this, badass

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  14. Best manga ever! And movie rocks also xP

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  15. This sounds very interesting I might have to check out the manga

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  16. Interesting as others have said i will need to check this out..

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  17. Wiki seems to be very wrong, I might be checking this out though. Following.

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  18. Interesting read.
    May just have to check it out.

    people tend to take Wikipedia as total truth forgetting its user maintained and edited.

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  19. I'm going to have to check this out, Hale. Yes!

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  20. Never heard of it before! Thanks!

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  21. I might have to check this book out.

    http://www.blogger.com/home

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  22. Seen the movie.

    Might have to read the book now :D

    xx

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  23. not really into Manga but this is pretty interesting

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  24. this looks really good ill have to get it

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  25. Really cool blog ! following and supporting :) I enjoyed reading it

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  26. loved this movie, havent checked out the graphic novel yet but i see it on the shelves evertime im there.....taunting me.
    has anyone read the novel?

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  27. i really like the concept of battle royale. such an awesome series and movie

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  28. i love this manga man
    i like how gruesome it is

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  29. lol never believe wikis... they are all outta date and lies...

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  30. ahahah romance novel...yeah right xD

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  31. I have always been interested in the battle royale concept. It looks like a very cool book. Will check it out soon

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  32. I might have to check this out sometime

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  33. one of my favourite action films. although i think labeling it as a romance is far from correct haha.

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  34. sounds interesting ! I need to check it

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  35. good post, I dont really got into magna when I was in HS, the only manga that caught my attention was death note..ohhh and candy candy..lol..that was when i was like 5 years old OKKK!!!

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  36. nice, i don't read a lot of manga but this one looks cool.

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  37. I always loved the Battle Royale series, not so much the Manga but the book and movie were both fantastic.

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  38. Was a long post but a good read thanks:)

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  39. Nice blog. Might have to look for this book.

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  40. Awesome review, really in depth break down! Been meaning to check this out for a while!

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  41. Nice review, ahahah. Battle Royale is awesome. Have you seen the movies? The sequel is totally out there.

    Oh yeah, check out my blog at guysimfreakingout.blogspot.com - I'll be checking back on your blog soon enough :)

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  42. I will go check it out lol, sounds cool.

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  43. I was hooked by your second paragraph. I'm acquiring this as I type.

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  44. Pretty lengthy but worth it I suppose, ill follow.

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  45. Got some nice shots there my man! Keep up the good work!

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  46. Nice, i will look into that book.

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  47. haha love the comments below the pictures

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  48. I love the book, and the film, so I may have to check this out

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  49. Battle Royale is one of my favorite movies. I haven't done the whole manga thing but seems legit.

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  50. Yea just got into manga will give this a read

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  51. Lots of Manga's and anime's characters dont look their age, must be an asian thing ;)

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  52. The movie was pretty awesome though.

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  53. I've heard about this. I heard the movie was one of the bloodiest movies every made.

    I'm not sure, but I heard they're trying to do a US version of the movie. Probably won't stuck up to the original.

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  54. This manga seems incredibly badass.

    I WANT.

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  55. I saw this movie when I was like, 14. Definitely disturbing stuff lol
    Interesting review. I'll be following.

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  56. This looks interesting i'll have to check it out

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  57. Sounds like a good read. Romance and gore? Bring it on!

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  58. I was just browsing through your older posts. I really enjoyed reading this one.

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  59. Haven't read the manga yet, but I have seen the movie (dodgy subs) and read the book. After reading this review, I think I might stay away from the manga as it seems quite different/not as amazing as the book.
    I read the English translation by Yuji Oniki (I think there's 2 versions) but omg I love this book and the language used, it is simply amazing! (There is no rape in this version or the movie version btw)

    Anyone who enjoys reading disutopian fiction or wants a challenging read/something to compare to the hunger games (ripped Battle Royale off) read this!
    It gets it's point across - pointless killing to the extreme of making you feel sick and question it is one of the major points of the novel!

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