Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Ryouta Sakamoto is facing off against an enemy he really doesn't want to kill – a high school girl who seems to be suffering from some sort of anti-male vendetta. She's not the best player, but she is determined, and it will take some serious strategy and luck on Sakamoto's part to defeat her without killing her. Then when he returns to “camp,” he and Taira find that humans aren't the only monsters on the island...and they may be much easier to deal with than what nature has in store for them.
Ryouta Sakamoto still doesn't know why he's on this island engaged in a real-life simulation of the online game Btooom, nor does he know if he can trust his companion, the middle-aged businessman Taira. All he knows for certain is that he wants to get out of this with his moral center intact, without having killed any of the other players unnecessarily. His latest opponent is going to make that difficult – the high school girl in the camo skirt is draped with weapons, souvenirs of her own ruthlessness, and she appears to have something against men. Sakamoto has an inkling that this might have something to do with the half-naked corpse he and Taira discovered at the end of volume two, but he'd like to avoid killing the girl no matter what. Watching him struggle to subdue her without causing her undo bodily harm makes for a more interesting fight scene than the previous psycho gore fests, while also highlighting what sets Sakamoto apart from the other characters in the story – clear use of strategy and a (slightly tarnished) moral compass. This is something that comes across as a theme in this particular volume, as Sakamoto, Taira, and the girl all struggle with their choices and their need to trust someone, no matter how poorly that might turn out.
One thing you can definitively say about Junya Inoue's BTOOOM! - it earns its “M” rating. While volume one offered mostly violence, albeit of a fairly graphic nature, volume two upped the game to include rape, and now volume three carries on from there, giving us sexual violence from the victim's perspective. It is disturbing, even if it doesn't actually take up that many pages, and one sequence where Sakamoto nearly gives in to his own darker side is quite nerve-wracking, as is the way we get a fair amount of shots of the as-yet-unnamed girl's underwear-clad crotch. It is almost as if Sakamoto is inviting the reader to question his own response to it – would he be Sakamoto, or would he be the monster in the girl's memories? For the female reader, it would be easy to cry sexism, but Inoue's use of the male gaze really seems to have a point beyond simple fanservice. This may turn out to be far too hopeful on the part of this reviewer, but the fact that the girl is trying to be more than the boobs of the operation, and in fact really doesn't want to be seen as sexual, would seem to support that interpretation.
Another interesting facet of this volume is the relationship between Taira and Sakamoto. Readers may have been leery of the older man's motivations since he first offered himself up as a teammate, especially since he refused to disclose his BIM type. This volume continues to probe the question of his reliability, making him seem both an ally and a potential user, and the way Sakamoto feels about him can serve as a mirror for how the girl feels about Sakamoto. There is no real trust in Btooom, and the uneasy character relationships testify to that, as do the glimpses we get of the game's orchestrators. There is an increasing sensation that Sakamoto may have been chosen for the simulation even had he not been “sold” into it by his mother (as we learned in volume two).
Inoue's art is better when it comes to backgrounds and animals than people, as everyone has a sort of plastic quality to their faces that makes them look a little too unreal, even by manga standards. Sakamoto's face can look too feminine at times, and noses sometimes look sharp enough to cut cheese. The girl's clothes tend to cling to her breasts in a wholly unnatural way, but she is not unrealistically built, which is a major plus in a story that seems to pride itself on natural looking viscera. There are good details in other parts of the artwork, however, like the way clothing takes a while to dry, the build of the animals the group encounters, and the landscapes.
Btooom is not going to be a series for everyone. A darker take on the “real life video game” genre, Inoue doesn't skimp on horrific details, be they violent or sexual. This volume explores issues of trust, and really covers very little ground as far as the game itself goes, but it is still a pretty absorbing read. As Sakamoto's team moves forward, it will be interesting to see how they work together to avoid committing violent acts (and if the girl is even interested in that). It's gross on several levels, but Btooom is still hard to walk away from without knowing how things will turn out in the end.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Issues of trust are explored between the characters, we learn more about what's going on in the outside world. Good detail in the backgrounds.
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