Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Battle Royale: Angels' Border
Readers and viewers of Battle Royale remember the six girls who hid out in the lighthouse on the island, trying to sit out the Program. This volume, from the pen of original author Koushun Takami, explores the histories of two of those girls, Haruka Tanizawa and Chisato Matsui, bringing us a clearer, more tragic picture of lives recklessly destroyed by the government's game.
There are few things more horrible than a senseless tragedy. Koushun Takami's 1999 novel Battle Royale (recently reprinted with a new translation in English as Battle Royale Remastered) presented us with a dystopian version of Japan known as The Republic of Greater East Asia. Every year, the government carries out a military experiment known as The Program, which picks a random class of ninth graders to transport to a remote location, where the children are forced to participate in a killing game. All the students must strive to murder each other until only one survives, and that survivor, “the winner,” is the sole child allowed to go home. If the students refuse to play, they will all be killed when the government activates the bomb collars they are forced to wear. If you haven't read the original novel, definitely do so, or watch the film, before reading this manga spinoff. (The book is also worth reading for the impact it has had on subsequent anime, manga, and light novels, but that's another issue.) While the basics of the “game” are explained here in a detailed summary, and to a degree within the stories, it is assumed that you know who the characters are and what they are trying to accomplish, and you'll miss a lot if you go into this blind.
Angels' Border is comprised of two roughly hundred-page stories, each drawn by a different artist. The first section is drawn by Mioko Ohnishi, whose style is much softer than Youhei Oguma's, and in some shots the faces bear a distinct resemblance to Hayao Miyazaki's heroines. (Generally this is when the girls are looking down.) For the most part it does not matter that the stories are about the same characters drawn by different people; the only odd note is that Chitose is drawn with dark hair in the second story and with white hair in the first. Since she is a side character in the first story and the main character in the second, this isn't as big an issue as it could have been.
Both stories are laced with tragedy, a product of our knowledge of what is to come. In this respect, the second is a little sadder. It looks at the relationship between Chitose and Shinji Mimura, one of the main characters in the novel. We know him from the book and film as the smart boy whose one fatal mistake spelled the death of his brilliant plan to put an end to The Program, and this story expands on his character by showing us his secret friendship with Chitose. In between scenes of their pre-Program lives, we are shown what happens to them on the island, reminding us that no matter how nice things seem, how hopeful, in the end it will all end in blood. The final pages of the story really drive this home as they bring the duo's shared day to a close and explain something that we have seen pop up throughout the story. It is at this point that the significance of opening the second half of the book with Chitose thinking about the joint suicide of two classmates becomes clear with all of its sad implications.
The idea of lost possibilities and lives cut short is much more of a theme in this volume than in the novel, which focuses more on the cruelty of the government and the politics of fear. We see this play out differently in the first half of the book, which takes Haruka as its narrator. Haruka tells us almost immediately that she is “not normal,” by which she means gay. Although she remains in the closet for the entire story, through her exclusive narration we come to understand the depth of her feelings for Yukie, the only one of the girls we really get to know in the source material. This goes a long way to fully explaining Haruka's actions when things in the lighthouse turn sour and adding another note of sadness to the tragedy. While this story has the stronger art, it doesn't have quite as compelling a story, largely because it is more one-sided, but also because it follows the events of the novel more closely. While it does expand our knowledge, it lacks the depth of the second story in that it doesn't really give us much of the girls' pasts that we didn't know, Haruka's orientation aside. Despite this, the story is still moving and tragic, giving life to side characters and expanding the story's world.
Battle Royale: Angels' Border is not a light story. It is a bleak tale building on the dystopia presented in the source material, giving it a more human edge than it had in its novel form by showing us that Shuya, Mitsuko, Kawada, and Shinji were not the only people with stories behind them. It paints pictures of lives senselessly cut off, and while one is definitely stronger than the other, both stories are very effective. Takami's original scripts for the chapters are also included, as well as a reflective essay, adding to the interest here for franchise fans. Angels' Border, like Battle Royale itself, is a book that will stick with you, haunting you after the last page is turned with its lonely whisper of what if?
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Both stories expand characters and enhance the tragedy of the original book and film. Each section is differently strong, included scripts are interesting.
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