Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, November 09, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Writer/Artist:Koushun Takami, Masayuki Taguchi, Masayuki Takaguchi
Translated by:Tomo Iwo, Emily Shoji
Adapted by:Keith Giffen
What They Say
Battle Royale: Ultimate Edition is a large, nicely designed hardcover collection of the first three volumes of Battle Royale with a few nice additions. The hardcover isn't like a typical hardcover book, but it is a cardboard hardcover like on the Lemony Snicket novels. In such a big format with nice binding, this book has a very substantial feeling to it, though it is shockingly light for how big it is. The cover image is just like the paperback editions with the target logo and black border around a color picture. The picture itself is a new illustration of Nanahara by the artist, Masayuki TAGUCHI. The same image is used again in black&white on the title page. Inside the book the individual volumes are reproduced almost exactly with their cover images (this time in black&white) separating the volumes. There are progress reports throughout the volumes keeping you up-to-date on who has been killed, as well as new danger zones on the island. There is also the Battle Royale index that helps better define certain aspects of the world, like the history behind the program as well as the rise of the politics that lead to it. At the end of the first two volumes there are a few character sketches and some in-depth details on the weapons used in the program so far - in case you need to know anything other than, you know, that they kill people.
At the end of the book are the more interesting additions to the Ultimate Edition: the “On the Couch” essay from Susan M. Axtell, Psy.D., and an interview with Koshun TAKAMI. “On the Couch” is a very interesting, though short, essay about the Stanford Prison Experiment and how seemingly normal people can become exceedingly cruel under the right conditions. The interview with TAKAMI, while not terribly in-depth, is a nice addition for this edition, mostly because it does a good job showing that TAKAMI isn't some heinous brute with a terrible imagination, like some seem to think. Also, this interview was not advertised as being included in this edition, and considering that it was conducted in July of 2008, it was probably a last minute addition, possibly bumping out the “'Second Opinion' on characters' injuries from an actual E.R. physician” which was initially supposed to be included.
There is something odd about volume 3 in this edition. I can't find any mention of it on any reviews for the individual volume that I have found, so I have to conclude that this is something unique to the Ultimate Edition. For whatever reason, the art is blurry and dull. It's as if the images have been put through a soften filter or were originally scanned in at a poor resolution, but it is only the third volume, and it is consistent through the entire volume. The text is clear, so it is certainly an issue with the image and not, say, a printing error. This is incredibly unfortunate since almost everything about the packaging of this edition is exactly what would be wanted by fans. It is not enough to ruin the experience, but it is certainly stark and especially notable when going straight from volume 2 to 3. But for a book that is shooting to be the “Ultimate Edition” of this title, it is a more than lamentable problem.
The art of Battle Royale is understandably expressive and gruesome. The character designs are varied and show off what kind of character they are: characters with rounder, more cartoonish figures are the benign students who just want to survive this nightmare that they have found themselves in, whereas lean, straight-lined characters are the vicious ones who are out to play the game.
There is a significant amount of attention to detail here, especially to the faces. There is an impressive emotive quality to TAGUCHI's faces. They bend and stretch in ways that perfectly express the incredulity of horror and the sorrow of loss. Equal attention is paid to backgrounds so that visually, the narrative is as grounded in reality as possible. Of course, there is a considerable amount of gore and it is nothing if not gruesome. The realism and intensity of some of these very graphic scenes is not to be overlooked as it can very easily be too much for many readers. Taking readers out of their comfort zones is obviously a goal with this book, so it should not be taken lightly when it is said that even the most cynical and hardened of readers should brace themselves when starting this series.
This book being as long as it is, there is a considerable amount of text. As is inevitable with something of this length, there are a couple of spelling and grammar errors, as well as inconsistencies, but nothing egregious. Sound effects are not translated, except for those masquerading as dialog. The translation itself seems fine, but the adaptation is suspect. Keith Giffen's adaptation is notably loose and not entirely accurate to the original Japanese. Giffen added a Reality T.V. element to the story that is of his own creation and doesn't really pan out. Even those who are unaware of this change before they read this book will notice that some of the story elements don't really match up, especially in those areas where they talk about the program as being a show, but there isn't any visual confirmation that there is anything like that going on. It is thoroughly unnecessary and useless. On a bit more of a technical note, Keith Giffen's adaptation tries too hard in places to be colloquial. Of course any story involving teens, fear, and carte blanche is going to be profane and full of slang. But there is a slight artificial quality to the dialog that just says that Giffen was trying too hard to make everything sound natural. This may not be a problem for many people, but keep in mind: there are enough ellipses in this book to last most people a lifetime.
Battle Royale is a story that anyone even remotely interested in Japanese entertainment is familiar with. It is the story of a Fascist and corrupt government that regularly puts a lottery-selected ninth-grade class into a cutthroat game of murder. One class is selected to participate and then taken to a remote location where they are given three days to kill each other. Each student is given a bag of supplies and a random weapon, which is sometimes a worthless gag item, like a boomerang, and each are collared with an explosive. They are then let loose to their own devices, but, if after three days there is still more than one person alive, they are all killed.
Battle Royale is an unrelentingly savage and incredibly gruesome experience. It can not be stressed enough that this is a manga only for mature readers who are capable of handling extreme violence, sex, and sexual violence in great quantity. I would not typically be this presumptuously insulting to an audience if I did not personally know people who believed that they could handle anything thrown at them, but found themselves sickened or offended by something that happens in this title. And honestly, there is just no reason to submit yourself to something that you either can't handle or would find so extreme that it just isn't appealing.
The first volume is basically the exposition of the story. It introduces you to the main characters, the game, and the rules that they will have to abide by. The story wastes little time kicking into high gear and you are soon witness to the utter depravity of the program. When all of the students start disseminating, two students, Nanahara and Nakagawa, stick together and decide that they aren't going to play; Nanahara especially acts as the wide-eyed optimist that believes that there has to be some way to beat the system. Nanahara vows to protect Nakagawa and the two of them cautiously start to look for other students who aren't playing the game in the hope that they can band together and all leave the program alive.
Aside from the elaborate setup, Battle Royale follows a fairly simple scheme with every chapter almost being a stand-alone story. Certainly they all go towards a total story, but most of the chapters focus on one of the 42 students stuck in the program. Each chapter will start off focusing on one character trying to survive. It will focus on their fears, hopes, or just how they are dealing with the situation, it will then flash back to their life before the program, emphasizing who they were and what they were like when life was normal, and then it will go back to the present and the character will more than likely get murdered. It's a pretty predictable pattern, but what becomes of it is usually a potent, emotional sucker-punch. Plenty of times you will find yourselves daring to hope along with the person being highlighted in the chapter, only to be crushed when they are taken out in an unceremonious manner.
The emotional strength of this pattern isn't uniform, though, as there is more than one occasion where there is just too much pathos and the story is simply maudlin. When the stories err on the side of saccharine and then they combine with the inevitable murder and lugubrious tears it all acts as an incessant hammer of bathos. Conversely, when all of the elements are properly dosed, the effect comes across quite well. So while most of the time the story is very emotionally investing, it isn't perfect as its overextension tends to subvert the tension that it builds.
Battle Royale is an extreme manga, and it is this extremity that makes this story both good and bad. This manga is defined by how it pushes your boundaries. Typically, when something is as outrageous and controversial as this has been proven to be, it is because it shows us something about ourselves or our society that we don't like and don't want to admit. If this manga didn't show how any of us, even seemingly innocent ninth-graders, could end up being despicable murders, or how those seemingly innocent ninth-graders aren't as innocent as they seem to be, then it wouldn't really be as remarkable. This title pushes you look at horrible acts and subtly suggests that you would do the same thing. Hell, if push comes to shove, you will be just like Kawada, the battle-hardened student who is on his second tour through the program. The problem is that it doesn't know when to stop. It's those moments when the fantastic, with only tenuous ties to the realistic, just decides to wander into the ridiculous and you have no choice but to roll your eyes. It's when you main antagonist stops being a self-centered, heartless, 15-year-old bitch (no problem for some 15-year-old girls), and starts being a prostituting, pimping, murdering, blackmailing, drug-using, thieving, super model, sexual predator, self-centered, heartless, 15-year-old bitch that you have to step back and realize that that is just stupid. Bad guys don't have to have every vice in the world for it to be clear that they are evil and you aren't supposed to like them. This is the kind of extreme that pushes things in the wrong direction and breaks the suspension of disbelief. While there isn't a lot of this going on, there's enough to keep this title from being something truly great. So pick this up if it is something that you think you will like and can handle, but realize that it is an astute, yet flawed creature.
Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: C+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Size: 9.2 x 6.3in
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition