Book Review: Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 1 by Koushun Takami (Manga) (Series, #1)
A Note on Me and Graphic Novels:
This, believe it or not, was my first foray into the world of graphic novels. I was spurred into this new territory by my intense love of the movie Battle Royale. I know that there’s also a traditional book out there, but I’d heard the manga is what the author feels really fulfills his vision of the story. I received the first volume of the ultimate edition, which contains the first three mangas in the series, for Chrismukkah. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy reading a graphic novel. I tend to associate them with superheroes, and I’m not generally a fan of superhero stories (except Ironman. Robert Downey Jr., *swoon*). But this. This was a story I already knew I liked, so I came at the genre with a much more open mind than the once or twice I flipped through a superhero graphic novel. You guys, I absolutely love the feeling of reading a graphic novel. I could literally feel different parts of my brain working at it than that work when reading a regular book, playing videogames, writing, or watching a movie. It’s like a portion of my brain was like “Oh hai. You finally remembered I exist!” I love that I’m only reading dialogue, because I hate extensive descriptions in books. I love that the drawings are art that I actually enjoy looking at the fine details of. I love it that when I flip back to show scenes to other people, I notice things in the drawings I didn’t see the first time around. I’m officially a convert to the genre, but you still won’t see me reading about superheroes anytime soon.
In an alternate history of Japan, Japan comes under the rule of a totalitarian, isolationist government after WWII. The government rules through terror, and part of that terror is selecting, supposedly via lottery, one 9th grade class every year to compete in a televised game where it is kill or be killed. Shuuya never expected to win this lottery, but when his class goes on a field trip, upon arrival they discover that they are this year’s participants on an island location. They discover collars on their necks that will detonate if more than one is left alive at a certain point and also if they wander into the randomly assigned and changing forbidden zones. As the teens attempt to survive the game through various methods, flashbacks tell the story of the 9th grade class members.
I absolutely love this story. I love violent, gory stories, and there are creative deaths galore here. For instance, the weapons include a scythe, and that scythe gets used. In one particularly memorable scene, a girl desperately attempts to stuff a boy’s brains back into his skull. It’s freaking amazing. There’s also graphic sex, ranging from rape to love. I don’t like my books to pretend like sex doesn’t happen in the real world, because um, it does. The fact that sex can be wonderful and about emotions or horrible and about power is wonderfully depicted.
The manner of introducing these characters tossed together in a horrible situation then expanding on who they are via flashbacks is very reminiscent of Lost. Of course, here the characters knew each other, at least somewhat, before the game. The flashbacks fit in perfectly with the action of the game, and they reveal just enough about the characters without revealing too much. From a cooking class that solidified a friendship to crimes committed to lessons learned from an activist uncle, the flashbacks are endlessly fascinating.
Seeing these characters in what most certainly feels like a hopeless situation orchestrated by a powerful government far bigger than they are is truly powerful reading. It leaves the reader wondering not only what makes people do bad things, but also how to define what is good and bad given various situations. Is it actually good to team up and attempt to buck the system or will that just cause more pain in the end? Is suicide a bad thing when it’s kill yourself or kill others?
If you enjoy Lost, The Hunger Games, violence, psychology, or even just graphic novels, you will enjoy this book. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to read the next volume!
5 out of 5 stars