Battle Royale and the many faces of love

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Love is a dangerous thing at the best of times, but in The Program, it comes with an extra bit of baggage. Battle Royale volume four spends a lot of time focusing on this most fickle of emotions. We get to see how it can give us strength and how it can devastate us. This was the most heart-breaking volume so far, with plenty of punches straight into the gut along the way.

There is less gore and far less brutality in this volume than in previous entries, but this was the first time that Battle Royale has reduced me to tears.

The highs and lows of love in Battle Royale

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Volume four of Battle Royale opens up with Takako Chigusa locked in a fight against the sadistic and perverted Kazushi Niida. Injured and running on fumes, Takako can barely hold her own. She is about to give up any hope for survival, but she remembers her faith that her best friend, Hiroki Sugimura, will come and save her. We get plenty of backstory about the two of them, from her success on the track team at the expense of her personal life to his budding resolve to become a great martial artist.

This is the first statement about love that this volume of Battle Royale makes. Takako’s love for Hiroki is what gives her the strength to fight off her attacker. She powers through the pain and overcomes him, eventually killing him in brutal fashion, saving herself as she resolves to see Hiroki once more.

Of course, this is Battle Royale, so no victory lasts forever. Mitsuko, who has built a reputation as an angel of death, arrives just in time to snatch victory away from Takako, shooting her in the back. Hiroki arrives just in time to hold the woman he loves and confess to her before she dies.

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The theme of love isn’t done with us, however. We get to see Kaori Minami slowly losing her mind, speaking to her pendant that contains a picture of a pop star. It’s something we can all relate to, but the strain of being on The Program is taking her love for this singer to a whole new level. First, it drives her to kill a helpless cat. Soon, it would push her to try to kill multiple other students.

At first, the image of Junya gives Kaori words of encouragement. By the end, it is mocking her in a voice that only she can hear, driving her to kill. As much as love can give you the strength to endure, it can also drive you absolutely insane. Kaori’s misplaced love for this singer twists itself into an excuse to let her worst and most basic instincts out.

Finally, we get to see our hero Shuuya show how much love can make us want to be a better person. Noriko has fallen ill, likely because of the wound to her leg. Shuuya begs Kawada to take her to the infirmary, but he is hell-bent on staying put and letting the other players wear themselves out. Shuuya, with his insatiable need to do what is right, sets off on his own to save Noriko.

We see how this sense of right and wrong isn’t quite as innate to Shuuya as he might want people to believe. As much as he wants to help people and as much as his faith in other people is unshakable, we see that his faith in himself is much less strong. It is Noriko, weakened and ill as she is, that makes him want to be the best version of himself. When he is ready to give up, he remembers that she is always watching and he cannot think of anything worse than disappointing her.

That drive nearly gets him killed, which seems to be a running theme in Battle Royale when it comes to Shuuya. He tries to talk down Kaori and Hirono Shimizu, who are engaged in a standoff. It is only the timely arrival of Kawada that saves Shuuya. Because it isn’t just being in love that can inspire someone to be the best version of themselves. Sometimes it is enough to simply see love in action to fill us with the drive to succeed where otherwise we would fail.

Shuuya stops short of a full confession of love, but it is remarkably clear how he feels when he is speaking to Kawada as Noriko recovers in the next room. So clear that even she manages to hear while she is meant to be sleeping.

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Battle Royale is a manga that is well known for its brutality, so it is refreshing to see a spark of love come to life on the pages. This volume gives us every aspect of love, including the bitter pain of loss and the toxic mania that comes when it turns obsessive. But I’m an old romantic at heart, and I love to see it sprinkled into tense situations like The Program.

The reunion between Takako and Hiroki is particularly touching. They get a long, drawn-out goodbye. Considering that these are characters we’ve hardly seen at this point, it shouldn’t feel so poignant and painful to watch as she dies in his arms, but the characters, simple as they often are, have just enough to them that we desperately want to see the good ones win and the bad ones fail.

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We watch Takako struggle for her life, fighting as hard as she can to overcome the crazed boy attacking her. She succeeds because of her own strength and we celebrate her for it, which makes her death just a few moments later hit that much harder. This is the chaos of battle incarnate, with every victory frustratingly temporary.

I didn’t expect to care as much about these characters, but here we are. This was the first time that Battle Royale moved me to tears, but, with eleven volumes left to go, I suspect it will not be the last. This manga seems intent to show us every good and bad facet of who we are.

Battle Royale volume 4 can be tough to get hold of today, but if you want to try your luck with Amazon sellers, try here!

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