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Battle Royale – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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While the immense controversy surrounding the Battle Royale franchise has slowly diminished throughout the years, its unsettling exploration of a dystopian society who utilizes the murdering of junior high school students as a form of governmental oppression still lingers within the minds of those who have read the novel and/or seen the films. It was uniquely barbaric in its premise to say the least, with such an approach providing the foundation for countless imitations throughout a variety of mediums. Nonetheless, it has remained a momentous entry within the “death game” genre, further establishing it as a franchise worthy of being at the forefront of the genre as a whole. Using the  basis of the original story from novel author Koushun Takami, illustrator Masayuki Taguchi contributes his own rendition of Battle Royale through the manga series, delivering an interpretation that is often overly exuberant and excessively grotesque for all the wrong reasons.

While retaining many of the qualities that have made the original novel and films so impeccable in regards to their elements of social commentary, Taguchi envisions this version of Battle Royale more so as his own unethical playground in which to showcase the truly bizarre simply for the sake of it. While certainly elaborating on many of the characters and their respective backstories – a choice that makes us genuinely sympathize with the fates of several of them – Taguchi portrays a majority of his characters as simply quirky psychopaths showcasing little-to-no moral judgment at all. It would appear that Taguchi is wanting to make each character as distinguishable as possible – an appropriate decision considering the extensive cast of over 40 characters within the narrative – but he resides in just producing the most outlandish character traits possible in order to do so.

This approach works for the first dozen or so chapters, but it soon becomes all too monotonous as characters become increasingly more strange as well oddly eliciting superhuman abilities in order to defeat each other. Concerning the bizarreness of the characters towards the latter half of the manga, Taguchi certainly raises the violence and sexual actions within the narrative to a rather significant degree. This decision does not seem entirely out of place considering the climatic intensity of the narrative as fewer and fewer characters remain alive in turn forcing them to reassess their dire circumstances, but when Taguchi elaborates on the sexual acts and violence for pages upon pages, it is simply a strained attempt to prolong the narrative through excessiveness. Coinciding with this is Taguchi’s portrayal of some characters – mainly Shuuya – as being entirely overzealous and optimistic. Again, this would have worked out perfectly fine given the context of the narrative, but Taguchi often spends pages detailing Shuuya’s and others willingness to win “the game” by not playing it. Readers will certainly appreciate their optimism, but when almost entire chapters are dedicated to their long-winded tirades on friendship and teamwork, it becomes equally as boring and annoying.

Turning to addressing the superhuman nature of some of the series’ more battle prone characters, it is here where the Taguchi really falters at delivering a truly believable tale of survival. Unlike the original novel and film adaptations, Taguchi’s version of Battle Royale showcases elements that one would not be surprised to see straight out of a Dragonball Z episode. Characters showcase ki techniques, supernatural jumps, and even phenomenal speed in some rather nasty duels that are kinetically satisfying, but as these are certainly welcomed from a visual standpoint, they seem entirely out of place given the serious scope of the first half of the manga as well as the tradition of the franchise in taking a realistic look into young students participating in a deadly game of survival. When some characters are seemingly able to jump 50-feet into the air or survive a hailstorm of bullets (after actually getting hit by most of them), the narrative loses much of its potential at being a true survival game where weapons, intellect, and natural bodily abilities were the primary facets of survival, the manga produces some rather outlandish scenarios that are highly dramatized solely for visual effect alone.

From a visual standpoint though, Taguchi delivers a harsh spectacle of death that is certainly not for the squeamish, enlarging and focusing on numerous scenes of bodily damage with an almost joyous fascination. Intricate detailing of an individual’s face getting blown to bits or getting their fingers sliced off garners the series as one that is not afraid to showcase the traumatic and devastating nature of physical combat, which is one of the main reasons that made the Battle Royale franchise as terrifying as it is, with Taguchi fortunately following suit here. The particulars surrounding these moments of violence certainly promote the series as one that is strictly within the realm of the mature, and even though it is somewhat overstated towards the concluding chapters, it achieves a level of gravitas that makes each death seem important as well as memorable. It all seems strangely befitting regarding the content at hand, and it is one of the elements that succeeds within the series as a whole.

Unlike its counterparts, the mange adaptation of Battle Royale is essentially an experience that offers more of Taguchi’s vision of the respective universe more so than Takami’s. This is not entirely a negative aspect of the adaptation, as Taguchi offers up a wealth of backstory for many of the characters that was only hinted at during the course of reading through the novel and/or having viewed the films. This decision undoubtedly benefits how we view and understand this characters as a whole, even if their motivations are often times highly exaggerated for the sake of Taguchi wanting to simply differentiate them from one another. Ultimately one can certainly see that Taguchi’s version of Battle Royale is a much darker in tone than other adaptations, in turn producing an experience that is still highly amusing to read despite some rather significant setbacks.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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