Sunday, April 02, 2006

Battle Royale (manga) vol. 15

(I said I was going to talk about comics, right?)

Those who know me in person tend to believe that my personal taste in manga and anime is mostly shojo-based. I can’t blame them because there was a time in which all I read was shojo, with a few romantic shonen manga in between, like Oh My Goddess!, Video Girl Ai and similar stuff. The truth is that I’m also a fan of gore and ultra-violence so… you can imagine my personal collection is weird.

I found Battle Royale, like practically everyone, for the hype the movie got. Before I could see the movie, however, I had the chance to go to the San Diego Comicon for the first time, where casually TokyoPop had an offer of buy 5 and take 6. Long story short, never give me a credit card. Among the stuff I bought were the first six volumes of BR.

Fastforwarding in time, we arrive to this Wednesday, when I finally bought volume 15, because, yes, the story caught me. So much that now I have the movie, and the novel. So you can imagine how much I love the story (Spoilers follow the cut, btw…)

Battle Royale’s premise is more or less easy to explain. In an alternative Japan under a totalitarian government, among the multiple ways they have to keep the people under thumb there is ‘The Program’, where they take high school groups chosen at random, take them to secure and isolated locations and… basically they tell them that they have two choices: Kill their classmates, or let their classmates kill them. There can be only one survivor, so, get on with the killing.

Even without reading the novel, or seeing the movie, there isn’t a lot of mystery over who will be the final survivor because even when Masayuki Taguchi (Writer of the manga and author of the novel) does give each student at least a chapter for themselves, it’s obvious that he focuses in Shuuya Nanahara as the one who won’t kill and will try to save some of his friends, and on Kazuo Kiriyama, aka. the Terminator because the guy, without any emotion (literally) does kill more or less a third part of the class without help.

After 14 volumes, we finally get to the final confrontation between Kiriyama and Shuuya (Who is accompanied by Noriko and Kawada). Since volume 12 more or less, BR had gotten ‘slow’ dedicating entire chapters to nothing happening and this volume is the worst offender. In the first page, Shuuya has Kiriyama, point blank.

In page 80, he finally pulls the trigger.

Now, yes, I do like the way in which manga can use decompressed storytelling and use six or seven pages for a minute of ‘real time’, but this was too much.

Kiriyama killed many of Shuuya’s friends without mercy, including his two best friends outside Nobu, and by this time in the story, tried to kill Shuuya three times, tried to off Noriko twice and spent more or less all volume 14 in a high speed chase trying to get Shuuya and his group.

Shuuya, however, stops to think about it for 80 pages.

80 pages of Shuuya thinking about all the students who were murdered by Kiriyama (Some who weren’t killed by Kiriyama, but, well, when one is in a roll…), and Nuriko, and the love everyone felt for her (Although I’m willing to say that the last part was a translator change because I seriously doubt Sho, for instance, had any interest in Nuriko since he was gay) before he pulls the trigger. And it’s not a case of ‘lets see how much can we decompress 10 seconds for 80 pages’ because even the other characters tell him to stop thinking about it and that he has to shoot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Battle Royale, the manga. I loved it particularly up until volume 8 where my second favorite character bites it, and I can ignore the needless and excessive fan service. But reading Shuuya feeling bad because Kiriyama is dead was a bit too much for my taste.

Why? Well, because even if as readers we know why Kiriyama acted like he did, Shuuya doesn’t know. Shuuya was defending himself and Nuriko from a dangerous psychopath who had killed at least ten people to Shuuya’s knowledge. Maybe even more. A pshycopath who even half dead had been still trying to shoot him. So Shuuya stops and performs CPR on him?

Yes. Shuuya is presented as an eternal idealist who will not shoot even if a gun is put to his head. In the movie, the final battle is Kawada versus Kiriyama. In the novel I’m not sure, but I think Nuriko is the one who shoots. The point is that Shuuya doesn’t kill. The fact that in the manga he does, the fact that he is the one who will defend Nuriko, it is an important point for the character... but the point gets messy when he tries to save Kiriyama. Yes, Shuuya has principles, and he didn’t want to participate in the game, and he was forced to, and I have no problems with him crying after Kiriyama is dead, because it’s Shuuya. He’s not crying for Kiriyama, but for the loss of potential that the game created. I have problems with him trying to save Kiriyama because in perspective it looks silly. As a reader, we know up until the last minute that if Kiriyama reacts, he will kill Shuuya, Nuriko, and if he manages, Kawada too.

By page 100, the rhythm goes back to normal, and Kawada’s plan climax doesn’t feel cut short or rushed. In fact, even if it would have helped to have a couple extra pages, it is perfect. Of all the different versions of the same, it’s the one with the more full epilogue, and I won’t lie, the way in which our heroes get to New York made me tear eyed because it gave a fitting ending to my second favorite (Yes, the one who dies in volume 8)

In general, my great beef against BR is not present in this particular volume. I mean the fanservice. I understand that mangas marketed to the male readers must put girls showing skin, with big breasts and short skirts, not to mention the panty shots, but BR went a little to far. Mitsuko got naked at the briefest excuse, and volume 10 is almost pornographic. But when the only girl left it’s virginal Noriko, well, we weren’t going to see her naked. At times the art looks grotesque, but that’s something that has been happening since volume 1, and it fits the story.

To sum up, Battle Royale is over, and it was a truly interesting trip. I highly recommend it to everyone who is an Orwell fan, doesn’t has problems with extreme violence and can stand realistic drawn intestines. On the outside of the body.

However, if you’re a woman... naked girls are the dish of the day, and women die as violently as men. If someone wants to sell the idea that manga is ‘friendlier’ toward women than American comics… Battle Royale is not the manga to do it.