Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Depressed, annoyed, and unemployed, twenty-two year old Ryouta Sakamoto spends his time playing the online third person shooter Btooom while hoping his sempai can get him a job at the company that produces it. He's the leader of the team ranked tenth internationally and increasingly his life revolves around his game stats. Then one day he wakes up dangling from a parachute harness in a jungle. Has his favorite game become reality? And can he bring himself to play Btooom when it's for keeps?
At this point in anime and manga history, the video-game-becomes-real-life story is something of a cliché. The same is beginning to feel as if it holds true for the survival story, and thus the temptation to pass Junya Inoue's Btooom! off as a combination of two of the current “hot genres” is great. Random tropical island with no amenities? Cage of Eden. Life or death matches in a video game world? Sword Art Online. The list could keep going, but to simply look at Btooom! in the context of contemporary trends is to render the story less enjoyable, for while it does contain many familiar elements, Inoue's story is still an interesting and exciting one in its own right.
The plot follows twenty-two year old Ryouta Sakamoto. When we first meet him, he's dangling from a tree in a jungle, totally unaware of how he came to be there. He's got his bag and the food he remembers buying, as well as a fanny pack filled with weird cubes, but other than that, he seems to be on his own. Frightened and lost, Ryouta wanders around until he comes to the shore, where he meets another man...who promptly tries to kill him. Ryouta learns that what he has in his fanny pack are bombs and he is forced to defend himself from the other, ultimately killing him. It is at this point that Ryouta suddenly realizes the similarities between what he's living and the game that he enjoys playing, an online third person shooter called “BTOOOM!” (And if the audience hasn't gotten it yet, Inoue uses the title as the sound effect for a bomb exploding.) As the volume goes on, we are treated to flashbacks that show us the depths of Ryouta's obsession/prowess at the game and eventually find out how he landed in a live-action version of it. This, however, feels secondary to what Inoue wants to discuss – whether or not people are able to kill each other in order to save themselves.
As motifs go, this is not a subtle one and Btooom! is not a particularly subtle story. Ryouta often thinks about the moral complexities, giving the impression that he is narrating the author's goals, and the first player he encounters is tailor-made to give him fewer qualms: a thug stereotype who enjoys violence and pops pills until he froths at the mouth. If any human were created to seem sub-human, this is the guy. Inoue tries to make his protagonist more complex when he meets up with an older real estate agent who helps to fill in the blanks in his memory and suggests they team up. Ryouta ponders how helpful the man will be to him in the long run and whether or not he'll be a threat if spurned. Given that Ryouta was moments ago expressing horror at the set up of the world – and will resume doing so within mere pages – this feels a bit artificial. Hopefully the series will gain in subtlety and stabilize the protagonist's personality as it goes on, however, because otherwise why make it clear in the flashbacks that Ryouta was a player others looked up to?
All in all this feels like a bit of a rocky start to what might ultimately prove to be an engrossing story. Apart from Ryouta's contradictory character it is clear that Inoue has spent a great deal of time thinking about the mechanics of the world and how gameplay is meant to be carried out both in fiction and reality. From a flashback we know that people of all ages and genders play the game, and we do see two females in this volume. Only one speaks, however; the other, a nubile high school girl, is shown in a state of semi-undress before fleeing. It's a bit too early to cry sexism, however, and from an objective standpoint the only real complaint here is that mystery girl's crotch shot makes her look slightly less female than her ample cleavage suggests. It is a point in Inoue's favor, however, that both females present have different figures rather than a “one size breaks all backs” image. Artistically he has some issues, such as too heavy a reliance on dark tones, which obscures some details, but overall the book maintains a pseudo-gritty style that works well for the story and the man can draw a recognizable intestine, which turns out to be more important than you might think.
Violent and desperately trying to say something about it, Btooom! doesn't turn in a perfect first volume, but it is a promising one. The profanity-packed translation works well for the situation the characters find themselves in and while the concept may feel overused right now, Inoue still does a fine job with making it work for his purposes. Yen Press' cover makes it look more like a video game than a book, which is a nice touch, and there are some fun little gaming references thrown in that have an “easter egg” feel. This may not be the best introductory volume out there, but it certainly does throw you right into the action and foster curiosity. If volume two can build on that, this could be a series to watch.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Nicely put together book on Yen Press' part. Pulls you right in and does provide some answers. World appears well thought out.
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