Battle Royale -- Volume #1-15

Jody Macgregor

The slide from titillating to ridiculous happens very quickly.

Battle Royale -- Volumes #1-15

Publisher: TokyoPop
Contributors: Original Writer: Koshun Takami, Artist: Masayuki Taguchi
Price: $9.99
Writer: Keith Giffen
Length: 208-224
Issues: 1-15
First date: 2003-04
Last date: 2006-04

TokyoPop used to have a reputation, and in some circles they still do, as a publisher of "girly" books. When other English-language manga publishers concentrated on shōnen, the boys' books more likely to appeal to existing comics readers who presumably expect fistfights and cheesecake from their comics, TokyoPop were translating many of the shōjo titles for girls, series like Sailor Moon and more recently, Fruits Basket, which have the cheesecake but less of the fistfighting. Obviously there are readers who don't fit the stereotype and don't care whether they're in the right target market for a book, but with a series like Fruits Basket, which is about people who transform into animals when given hugs, it's safe to say that TokyoPop know they aren't aiming at the average Batman reader. It's a gamble that has worked, and the publisher has built a loyal readership out of fans who were being ignored by typical Western comics publishers.

Given this, when Tokyopop announced they would be publishing Battle Royale, based on the book that also inspired the excellent film directed by Kinji Fukasaku, it came as a surprise. Battle Royale is about a Japan that has become a fascist state where the youth are kept in line by having one class of high-school students each year selected to participate in a deadly game. Each student is given a random weapon and an explosive neck collar that is set to detonate if they leave the playing field -- the year of the story it's an island -- or if they fail to kill each other off until only one is left. It's a cross between Lord of the Flies and The Running Man, and is clearly not a hugs and kittens kind of book.

Fan-favorite Keith Giffen was hauled in to rewrite the translation for flow and naturalistic dialogue. Giffen is known for his mainstream superhero work, especially a popular run on Justice League that treated the stories with a humorous, light-hearted touch. Getting Giffen's name on the covers was obviously a move to help market the book to the mainstream. Unfortunately, some clumsy dialogue slipped past him, including exchanges like:

"You watch that tone, young man!"

"I'm looking like I care?"

It's also unfortunate that Giffen's trademark humor is absent from Battle Royale. His usual light-heartedness wouldn't be at home here, but some of the black comedy that enriches the movie would have been nice. Instead, the manga opts for sentimentality, and is filled with portentous speeches about staying true to yourself, the power of love, protecting your friends, and other such mush that is oddly jarring when it alternates with the violent scenes. And there are a lot of violent scenes. The artist seems to have a thing for gruesome acts visited upon eyeballs, and the number of eyes that are popped, split, or cut in the course of the story is high enough that a Battle-Royale-eyeball-damage drinking game would probably end with your stomach being pumped.

There's a lot of gratuitous nudity and sex as well, especially involving Mitsuko, the femme fatale of the series. It's a card that gets overplayed, and honestly I don't need to see her masturbating as often as she does. By the time she ditches the school uniform for something sexier I was shouting at the page, "High heels are not a good idea for battle to the death, Mitsuko!" The slide from titillating to ridiculous happens very quickly.

The story is broken up with lengthy flashbacks showing the students' ordinary lives before the contest, scenes which detract from the flow of the story and have an oddly alienating effect. In the movie there was less time to develop the characters, and their simple, believably teenage reactions to the events made them easy to empathize with. The flashbacks, which show students mastering kung fu or joining a gang to beat up Yakuza, distance us from them. As with most horror fiction, identifying with the characters is vital in a story like Battle Royale.

Despite all of these flaws, or perhaps because of some of them, Battle Royale, sells well in the comics shops. It is usually sealed in plastic to keep its contents safe from the eyes of children, but it sells anyway. As an exercise in rebranding a publisher it is a success. This doesn't mean it's actually any good, though.

The next time there's a moral panic about what entertainment is exposing our children to, this will likely be one of the comics dragged out to be pointed at by accusing fingers. And it will be hard to defend as an adult work when its exploitative tone is so clearly geared towards a juvenile audience and it is completely lacking in authentic messages or any other redeeming qualities.





Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.