Battle Royale Vol. 1

Written by Koushun Takami
Drawn by Masayuki Taguchi
216 pages, black and white
Published by TokyoPop

A couple of years ago, it seemed every time I turned around I couldn’t escape from talk of Battle Royale. A movie rapidly approaching cult status, everyone kept talking about its brilliant satire of television and violence and how everyone really had to see it. Viz recently published a translation of the original Battle Royale novel (the basis for the manga and then the movie), and now TokyoPop has gotten into the action as well with the first volume of the manga. Having just finished reading this first volume, I can’t decide if I need to rush out and pick up the novel and DVD, or if I should wait so I don’t have the rest of the manga spoiled for me…

Sometime in the near future is Japan’s greatest television show ever, “The Program”, where the finale is so important that it supercedes all other television to make sure that everyone watches it. The thrust of the game is simple—a high school class is kidnapped and brought to an island where they must kill or be killed. Only one person will be allowed to survive, and if a student isn’t killed at least every twenty-four hours, the explosive collars on everyone’s necks will detonate, killing them all. As a result, there is no option of not playing the game, because even if some people refuse to participate, there are others who will gladly kill their former best friends if it means that they can still stay alive. But in this class, several of the students hope to prove them wrong…

A wicked nod at reality-based television and game shows, Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi’s Battle Royale will almost instantly charm you with its simplicity and elegance of a setup. There are finer details, sure, but the basic premise itself is pure evil. Now I’ve admittedly only read the first volume so far, but I think that this lives up to the promise of the idea. This is a brutal story, where people you may have assumed were protagonists are dispatched in a way to show you that no one is safe, even as things start heating up. Things are taken to their horrific extremes as well; every potential moment of escape from the nightmare of their lives is dashed on the ground and proven to have been a false ope. Maybe that’s why one becomes so intrigued with the eventual ending of Battle Royale, because at any given moment this wonderfully unpredictable story is going to leap in a direction that you never saw coming. The only real complaint I had was that we’re introduced to a large number of characters pretty quickly, but considering that in less than 100 pages we’re already down from 42 to 38 students, I don’t think that will be too much of a problem…

Taguchi’s art in Battle Royale makes me think of some sort of synthesis between Japanese and Korean art styles, with their big thick locks of gelled hair falling over large eyes and eyelashes. It’s a very energetic style of art, almost leaping from one panel to the next, critical for such a potentially fast-moving manga. Almost equally important is how well it portrays emotion; you’ve got to really believe that these students are terrified, and that’s just what Taguchi gives us. From the looks of shock and horror as the first student is killed by the administrator to the hysterical terror that’s taken over Megumi as she hides under a table, you can tell what each student is feeling at a moment’s notice. It’s a rich, expressive art style with its heavy inks, and it’s really beautiful to watch illustrate such a dark script.

Takami and Taguchi’s descent into the terror of Battle Royale is breath-taking, and most definitely not for children. It’s really nice to see such a brilliant concept executed so well; if this holds up (and I have no reason to believe it won’t) I think there are going to be a lot of readers breathlessly waiting each new volume. I know I am. Battle Royale Volume 1 (and 2!) are now on sale at better comic book stores everywhere.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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