Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Battle Royale -Ultimate Edition-
Class B's island death match continues unabated, and the middle school students have already been winnowed down to about a third of their original number. Tensions ratchet upward as the survivors' true colors begin to emerge. Sugimura finds his childhood friend Takako and learns something terrible about the behavior of Mitsuko “Hardcore” Souma. And when Noriko comes down with a fever, Shuuya and Shogo are forced seek medical attention for her. But their respite is painfully short-lived when the abandoned clinic they have been sheltering in becomes a danger zone. What danger—or which classmate—is lurking outside with a machine gun? Meanwhile, Mimura and Yutaka have begun to initiate a Program of their own…one that involves building a bomb. Which, if successful, could have an explosive impact upon the outcome of this horrific battle royale.
The epic manga adaptation of Koushun Takami's controversial novel Battle Royale is still going strong in volumes four through six, reprinted in a lavish “Ultimate Edition” by American manga publisher Tokyopop. This seinen series is an excellent place to begin for those new to the prolific franchise, yet it is plenty strong enough on its own terms to be enjoyed by those who are already fans of the novel and/or live action films. Unlike any number of manga series based upon franchises that began in a different medium, this is no watered down hack job; artist Masayuki Taguchi is able to deftly balance the need to offer veterans something new, while keeping the essential spirit and intent of Battle Royale intact.
For the most part, the three volumes anthologized in the Battle Royale -Ultimate Edition- track the overarching plot of the novel pretty closely. Indeed, they are among the most gripping on offer and thus sure to entertain. Key events include Noriko's fever and the boys' fear that her wound may be infected. They spend some downtime in relative peace on an abandoned medical clinic on the island and help to solidify their trust in each other. They are even briefly united with the martial artist Sugimura. Unfortunately, as soon as they leave their sanctuary, they have a truly horrific head-on encounter with Kiriyama, who appears to have gone completely 'round the bend—machine gun firmly in hand. Meanwhile, Mimura, whose uncle was secretly a freedom fighter and government dissident, is plotting one of the students' major gambits against the Program. With the help of the loyal, though not particularly useful, Yutaka, he cooks up something big—a bomb that will take out the adults' headquarters. If he can just pull this off, all of the surviving members of Class B will be home free…
Of course, readers are also treated to several long combat scenes between various students, and they are well laid out and visually rendered. The two page spread of Hirono's death by drowning is especially awful (in a good way). Shades of The Ring, anyone? More interesting, though, and what makes this manga more than just another teenage blood and guts throwaway are the continuing succession of flashback interludes that explore the various characters' pasts. These exploits and tragedies are pretty similar to the original novel. Highlights include Takako Chigusa's final moments with Sugimura and Sho Tsukioka, the only openly gay character, attempting to stalk Kiriyama and ultimately finding himself doomed by his own perversity. There is also a long-awaited dive into Shogo Kawada's back story and the complicated relationship that he had in his younger days with female friend Keiko.
Taguchi's horror- and seinen-styled artwork maintains its impressive quality into this second trio of volumes. Unfortunately, some of the character designs strike this reviewer as particularly ill-chosen. Yutaka in particular is too cartoony, and when placed beside the sardonic Mimura as he is, it's just a hair too close to looking like something grossly racialized. Tsukioka is also beyond the pale, more some red state homophobe's nightmare of a too-mature cross-dressing homosexual than the sort of young person that you might expect to find in middle school. The Battle Royale manga's penchant for making the characters all look much too old to be believable is one of its biggest liabilities. Perhaps this was to deflect criticism about youth violence…but still. Outside of its original cultural context, the effect is just jarring and bizarre.
This volume of the Ultimate Edition, the second of five, thankfully boasts much better image reproduction than the previous one. None of the pages are blurry, although a lot of the gray tone subtleties were lost when they were all blown up to fit the tome's larger trim size. Fortunately, it's not too noticeable unless you are familiar with the original Japanese editions. There are also eight handsome full-color pages. Keith Giffen's English adaptation is enjoyable, if over-liberal. Purists will rue all of the textual changes that have been made, particularly to the ways in which the characters address each other, but I do not think these alterations compromise the story as a whole. Some readers will prefer this aggressive adaptation, while others will not. It is mostly just a matter of taste—but I would advise those inclined to be picky not to let their prejudices get in the way. Battle Royale is an excellent manga series and not to be missed.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Gripping action and violent melodrama that will sear you to the core.
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