The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Fairy Tale Battle Royale
What's It About?Aoba Kunihara is a bullied, put-upon loner whose only solace is found in fantasy world, particularly Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. Kunihara loves these simple stories so much she one day aspires to write her own children's books.
On the day of a contest, however, Kunihara's much cherished work is torn apart in front of her by her abusers. Picking up the pieces, she find something odd; a contract, claiming to grant Kunihara a wish of her choice. On the off-chance it could be real, she writes that she wishes to be friends with everyone in class. The next day her bullies apologize to her tearfully, and all her peers suddenly, desperately want to spend time with her. Taken aback, Kunihara rushes home, only to be spirited away by the contract to an alternate dimension, where she is clothed as her beloved Alice and zombified versions of The Red Queen's soldiers roam an empty husk of Wonderland.
Kunihara runs away, finding other children clothed as fairy tale characters and even greater mysteries. What is this place? And what of the books that these children are given, told to complete a narrative set about by this realm? One thing is certain: if Aoba Kunihara is to survive and obtain answers, she has to adapt and do as the dark architect of this place wills her to do. Or else, she could perish in this dark world of fairy tale previsions, leaving behind only an unfinished story and an unsolvable mystery to the world outside.
Fairy Tale Battle Royale is an original manga series by Soraho Ino. It is published by Seven Seas, retailing for $9.99 digitally and $12.99 physically.
Is It Worth Reading?
I don't quite know what to make of Fairy Tale Battle Royale. It's difficult to parse what it's even about. Is it Battle Royale with fairy tales as the cover implies? Is it a slice-of-life thing about the darkness in using fantasy to escape from a harsh reality? Is it a mystery where our initial assumptions about what's going on are to be overturned by later revelations? It's all of these things and none of them. It never seems to dedicate itself to one style of story for long, bouncing between dissonant tones and genres every chapter. This makes for a frustrating, difficult reading experience.
My major sticking point is that inconsistency. This is a manga that opens with some bullying that's played like it's A Silent Voice, all wallowing in human cruelty and misery. But by Chapter 2 that's erased, and the pain that defined our lead is suddenly gone. She literally is said to visualize every person in her life as characters from Alice in Wonderland to cope. This seems like crucial character-building, but it goes completely unmentioned after it is initially brought up. It would be one thing if these details related to the story that Fairy Tale Battle Royale became, even in a small, symbolic way, but the manga's parts are so disparate as to be entirely different animals, thematically and stylistically, meaning all of the story's established facts carry no narrative weight.
In spite of that, I think there is merit here. There are some very striking panels (even if the paneling overall is hard to follow), some captivating moments of intrigue, and the main character's social anxiety occasionally feels authentic. But by the time I was starting to get interested in the story, the main volume was over. It had transitioned to some periphery material that was mostly comic interludes about the main character. Plenty of manga have this, but here it feels a little egregious. A first volume is, in many ways, an elevator pitch. I should have some idea what the manga is about come the final page, but here I have almost no clue. Again, there are bright spots, but they're hard to see underneath all the awkward paneling, indistinct character designs, and confusion. Maybe it'll pick up in later volumes, but as is, Fairy Tale Battle Royale is off to a weird, weird start.
The first volume of Fairy Tale Battle Royale takes its time in establishing the rules of the titular battle—which is still mostly a mystery by volume's end—but it does enough to keep the reader curious about where things will go from here. The core of the concept has a lot of promise, but more time is spent on Aoba's school life thus far. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see at least one person (her teacher) truly in her corner when everyone else is bullying her or turning a blind eye, as it seems in these types of stories it's usually the whole world against a protagonist. There's also an intriguing element of “be careful what you wish for” in that she wishes to be friends with everyone in class without thinking much about it and then feels overwhelmed and wants to run from their attentions when the wish is granted. However, the story's more exciting elements—the zombie figures in the fairy tale world, the Red (Black?) Riding Hood monster hunter Aoba and Noah encounter—are teased without delivering more than a few scary, hectic chase scenes. Ideally, the manga would balance character development with plot more equally, but it's early yet, and it's definitely fair to say the audience will have a clear sense of who Aoba is by volume's end. This will likely prove crucial to rooting for her during her fight as Alice.
Ina has a talent for illustrating fairy tale scenes drenched in horror, though the real world is the more frequent setting in this volume and it's well-drawn enough, though not particularly memorable. The character designs are a little too cute for the horror tone. Even Aoba's bullies are more cute than intimidating.
Fairy Tale Battle Royale volume 1 is a captivating start to an action fantasy adventure, though it's slow to build up momentum. The “be careful what you wish for” element—not just in Aoba's particular wish, but the fact that she's so obsessed with fairy tales that she wishes she could live in one to escape the real world—augments the horror elements in a story that promises to deliver more action and adventure in volumes to come.
It's kind of odd to me that this is titled Fairy Tale Battle Royale when the creator clearly has done their research and knows that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a classic fantasy novel, not a fairy tale. I guess “Kiddy Lit Battle Royale” just didn't have the same ring to it. In any event, this major glitch aside, Soraho Ino's story of people essentially signing a devil's contract and becoming the protagonists of fable, folklore, and children's literature definitely has me intrigued. In part this is because of how Aoba becomes “Alice” in the first place – she's being horribly bullied at school. In an unusual move for manga, her teacher is not only aware of it, he's also trying to stop it, which may be why Aoba's wish is “to be friends with everyone in class” rather than “for those bitches to suffer.” It may also be an indication of the innocence of the character, part of what suits her for becoming Alice – despite what she's been through, Aoba wants people to be happy and wants to believe that they can all get along. She's lonely more than angry, and part of her, in a classic bullying victim's move, feels that she may be responsible for what's been happening to her. That mirrors Lewis Carroll's Alice as she's often interpreted – the innocence and curiosity of childhood embodied.
Of course, the Wonderland Aoba finds herself in is anything but idyllic and innocent. It appears to be crumbling, and a girl who looks a bit like Tenniel's Alice falls to dust in Aoba's arms. A girl who may be Little Red Riding Hood appears to have made it her mission to kill the zombie-like people living in the book worlds, and it makes me wonder if this isn't somehow a statement on how fewer people read, and so the books and stories are becoming dusty and forgotten, similar to the middle grade novel The Great Good Thing. That would be an interesting approach to take, especially since Noah, the other person Aoba meets, is an admitted non-reader.
Noah may prove to be a catalyst in more ways than one for Aoba. When he turns out to be a famous boy band member, it seems likely that Aoba's newfound peace and friendship at school could be erased. Would that nullify her contract, since technically her wish won't have really come true? Or is this all part of some whole devil's bargain? It's intriguing, especially since we don't know what Noah's wish was – or why he was given a less-than-heroic character to play in the story world. Even though the art isn't terrific – it feels messy and the characters look too young for their given ages – this is very intriguing, even without my love of children's literature. If you're looking for a new take on Alice, I'd check this out.
A lover of Alice in Wonderland and escapism, 9th grader, Kuninaka Aoba is transported to a gruesome version of Wonderland after signing a bizarre contract that allows one wish to be granted. After years of bullying, Aoba is suddenly popular and loved by her classmates. As exciting as it is, once she gets home, she finds herself stuck in Wonderland facing decaying Trump Card Soldiers and other spooky people, until she meets another human named Noah. Together they realize they're protagonists of classic books and must restore their stories to what they once were.
Juggling her new life of being suddenly popular and having to face a harsh unknown Wonderland, Aoba learns to navigate all of this the best she can. With the help of her new friend and learning from the mysterious hooded girl with a gun, Aoba and Noah must work together to complete their contract.
Using Alice in Wonderland as the backdrop is kind of disappointing. Fairy Tale Battle Royale uses several different fairy tales through out the first volume and I wish Soraho Ina used a more obscure story. Though Wonderland is well loved, I feel like it's an overused setting and something that's become something way too mainstream to properly connect to. Anime like Black Butler and Ouran High School Host Club have Alice in Wonderland-centric episodes, and even in this Fall 2018 Review we have Yugo Ishikawa's Wonderland! Not to mention both are licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.
Overall, Fairy Tale Battle Royale looks promising, albeit slightly generic. It has promise and appeal, and I hope to see it exceed all of my negative criticisms. Soraho's dedication to her characters is charming and is shown greatly not only in her work but also in all of the extras at the end of the volume.
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