In my ongoing dive into the world of the Battle Royale manga, I have reached volume 3. The art of the manga continues to be excellent, but at this point it takes a turn toward some of the most disturbing images the series has offered so far. These chapters seem far more intent on showing the horror and brutality of The Program, with considerably more sex and gore than we’ve had up to this point.
If volume 2 was all about having hope and faith in other people, volume 3 is all about why that can be a terrible idea.
Hope is shattered in Battle Royale
At the end of volume 2, our hero Shuuya and his small crew listened in as two of their classmates were gunned down by the terrifying Kiriyama. Shuuya refuses to believe that they did everything that they could — until Kawada explains why he knows so much about the game and seems so well-equipped to win it: he’s been here before. A year earlier, his class was selected for The Program, and he was the one who came out of the ordeal alive.
Trapped on the island again, Kawada is intent on making it out alive once more, this time without losing himself to the game along the way. Meanwhile, Shinji Mimura, who has been introduced as a basketball ace in earlier chapters, is hard at work putting together a computer virus able to take down The Program from the inside — specifically, by making it possible to get the collars off the students and allow them to band together without the threat of their heads exploding.
All that hope comes to nothing, however; Kamon, the grotesque government employee who has been pulling the strings behind the scenes, has been listening in to all the conversations and stops the hack before it can go ahead.
Throughout this volume of Battle Royale, we get to see more of people’s lives before they appeared on The Program. We see how Souma manipulated her friends into a life of drugs and prostitution before turning on them at the first opportunity on the island. And we get to see Mimura and his uncle plot the overthrow of a corrupt government from the comfort of a seedy bar.
The truth is that not much to advance the overall narrative actually happens in this volume. Many of the pages are simply filled with horrific scenes of murder, with blood and brains scattered across the page, or scenes of sex and manipulation from many of the contestants. The most poignant moment comes from Kawada as he wonders about the nature of heroes, and if they are truly people to aspire to. (Sounds familiar – Ed.)
Hearing Yumi and Yuki’s death doesn’t seem to impact the big man as much as the others. He remarks that their plan — making a lot of noise so that other students can find and join them — was dumb from the outset, but he also says that he thinks they were right to at least make an attempt in this regard.
Hope is a fragile thing in this world. Risking their lives to give others hope was a dangerous move but it was, ultimately, the right thing. The result was, of course, that they died doing what they thought was right. Does this make them heroes? Perhaps, but that title doesn’t make them any less dead — and it doesn’t restore the hope that was shattered when they were gunned down together.
This idea has a big impact on Shuuya, who has been the greatest source of positivity in the manga to this point. He questions, as we all have to eventually, if his ideals are worth fighting, killing, and potentially dying for. How firm do you hold onto those values once true danger shows itself?
The Battle Royale manga doesn’t offer a simple, immediate solution to this question. Much like the way it allows the reader’s eyes to wander and linger on the sight of a young woman scooping the brains of her lover off the ground, we are left to ponder the answer to these questions for ourselves at our own pace. Shuuya, in his moment of doubt, becomes all of us as we are forced to wrestle with the often-muddy distinction between right and wrong.
In the hands of less skilled writers, the horrors on the pages of Battle Royale could have become the focus of the manga. Gore for the sake of gore isn’t appealing to read for more than a chapter or two. Instead, the writers here use that gore as a backdrop. Sometimes it is more effective than others — but at no point does it feel gratuitous.
The ending of the volume hints at an eventual team-up between three of the students: Shuuya, who seems capable of winning most people over to his side; Miruma, who is a peerless athlete and a whiz with a computer; and Hiroki Sugimura. Sugimura hasn’t been seen since the opening scenes in the manga, where he was introduced as a top martial artist. He has spent the past few days searching for someone, running from one point on the island to the next to find out if they are still alive.
The Program is slowly but surely whittling down the number of participants, often in a brutal manner shortly after being introduced. By this point in the series, 17 of the original 42 students are dead, and no-one is any closer to escaping with their lives. The truth is that some of these young people might not want the game to end just yet. Kiriyama, for all his brutality and lack of empathy, seems to be thriving in this environment, to give just one example.
There is a sense throughout Battle Royale that the longer The Program keeps these students there, the more they will lose a part of themselves to it. Kawada mentions that he won the previous game because he offered more of himself than others, further cementing the idea that the hope we were given in volume 2 might be gone for good.
Battle Royale asks a lot of questions of the reader and offers no solid answers, which is exactly the point. Who can you really trust when the world is against you and what can you do to prove that you should be trusted? While very little plot-wise happened in this volume, the sense of looming dread is hanging over everyone even as the last page is turned, making it all the more intriguing to see what might happen next.
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