The nature of friendship in Battle Royale volume 5

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The Battle Royale manga is filled with highlights for me. Volume four reduced me to tears at a particularly painful separation, but each book has had a particular message to it. Sometimes it’s about the necessity of hope in the direst situations, at others the foolish acts that people will do when hope is all they have to cling to. After four volumes of pontificating on love and hope and the human spirit, volume five sees fit to slowly move the plot forward.

Battle Royale volume 5: Friendship is Magic

Battle Royale vol. 5

The volume starts off with a bit of backstory for the relationship between Yukata Sato and Shinji Mimura. These two boys are currently on a quest to blow up the school on the island, which serves as the base of operations for those controlling The Program from behind the scenes. Yukata and Shinji both met back in school. Yukata, being small enough to appear like a child compared to the rest of the kids in his class, is attempting to fend off a group of bullies by… peeing on them.

The boy gets points for creativity but super effective the attempt is not. It is only thanks to the timely intervention of Shinji and his near-superhuman athleticism that Yukata escapes unharmed. The pair strike up a quick friendship, despite their differences, and it has carried forward into the present as they concoct a plan to help everyone escape.

Really, it is Shinji’s plan. He is both the brains and the muscle of the outfit, while Yukata is the bumbling sidekick at best. It goes to show that not every friendship has to be transactional and I never once suspect Shinji’s intentions to look after Yukata, but I also don’t have any faith that Yukata will survive to the end of this story. I can already see the tearful moment when he finally begs his friend to let him be the hero and sacrifice himself.

I see what you’re doing, Battle Royale, and I don’t like it.

Battle Royale vol. 5

In between seeing these two setting up the next explosive moment we can expect, we get treated to a handful of random deaths. Sho Tsukioka, who is revealed to have been a drag queen with an oral fixation before The Program, plots the sweet release he’ll feel from his last cigarette while he is stalking the class sociopath, Kazuo Kiriyama.

Once again, we get to see a snippet of Sho’s backstory before he is lured into a trap by Kazuo. Despite his plans to follow the violent boy until the inevitable conclusion of his rampage across the island, Sho’s sole purpose in the story is to reveal the cunning that lies behind the expressionless face of Kazuo. Pretending to use a public toilet that he found on the island, Kazuo distracts Sho and sneaks up on him.

We find out that the two had a relationship before The Program. Sho was part of Kazuo’s gang who managed to avoid the slaughter that awaited everyone else when they believed Kazuo would spare them. However, “friendship” with Kazuo is a temporary alliance at best. There is no compassion or guilt in his expression as he ends Sho with a spray of bullets.

Of course, no volume of Battle Royale is complete without catching up with Shuuya and his crew. While Noriko struggles through a fever dream, Shuuya and Kawada plot their next move which is to build up their ranks of people who aren’t playing the game and come up with a plan to escape. Mimura is top of their list of potential allies, even before they realise that he’s set his own escape plan in motion.

First, they decide, they need to bring Hirono Shimizu into their little faction. Last we saw her she was limping away with a gunshot wound in Battle Royale volume four. That wound has gotten infected and, in her quest for water to quench her fever, she falls victim to another student, who pushes her into a well.

Battle Royale vol. 5

In her dying moments, Hirono fantasises about the friendship she never got to have with Shuuya, Noriko, and Kawada. Their faith and persistence would have won her over. She would have joined them and found a way off the island. This is the image that fills her mind as she drowns at the bottom of the well.

Battle Royale knows that it is our friendships that really define us. Even a seemingly useless friend can give welcome and necessary support in our time of need and we never feel more alone than when we let a friendship slip through our fingers. Hirono’s death, while happening largely out of sight here, is the saddest of this volume because it is defined by regret.

There is still a lot of setup happening in this volume. Kawada continues to be mildly mysterious but overall helpful. Shuuya seems to be content to keep his feelings for Noriko to himself, which is a clever move considering every other love confession in this manga has preceded a painful death. And we know that Shinji’s plan is to zipline a bomb made of fertilizer and petrol onto the school before igniting it.

This volume of Battle Royale was the most uneven for me. While there is plenty of setup for future actions, the manga has fallen into the unfortunate pattern of introducing characters merely to have them killed off shortly after. Sometimes that is effective but only in small doses. Used so frequently and it robs the death of its impact. Takako’s death in volume four hit hard because we hoped against hope for the power of love to save her when it never would. Hirono’s death was likely meant to hit in the same way but instead felt inevitable.

Friendships will be tested and strained as The Program continues. Pressure like this can’t be sustained and people will start to snap, which is the whole point of the manga. Battle Royale might have toned down the sex and violence in volume five, but there hasn’t been a moment’s respite for these kids so far.

Battle Royale volume 5 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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