Onward to volume six of Battle Royale, where the different plots and pieces running around finally start to come together, albeit slowly. The downside of having so many moving parts and characters running around is that the plot usually falls to the wayside as new characters are established. Especially since this manga insists on giving everyone a bit of backstory before they are allowed to do anything important.
Volume five tried and failed to tug at our heartstrings, killing off characters before we got a chance to even learn their names. This was good to ratchet up the tension and drama for a while, but eventually, the story needs to put characters we care about into danger if the stakes are going to remain high.
A turn toward action in Battle Royale volume six
Fortunately, this volume gives us some of the more fluid, well-laid-out action scenes that Battle Royale has had to offer thus far. First, we get a quick but violent exchange between Sugi, the martial artist who is still reeling from the death of his beloved Takako in volume four, and the ever-paranoid but always prepared Kawada. This fight is short; it only takes a few pages of the manga, but it gives us a glimpse at what these two are capable of.
Sugi is a blur of motion with his staff while Kawada seems to have an endless supply of guns to aim at the guy bouncing around the place. Fortunately, they manage to stop each other before shots are fired and they are able to come up with a plan. As has happened several times already, Shuuya is the lynchpin in keeping the group together. His unbridled optimism and faith have been the glue keeping their group together throughout the series thus far, and that doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. He gets the two fighters to stand down, though tensions remain high.
However, it isn’t Shuuya’s constant faith in the better side of his friends that gets Sugi to open up to them. This time, it is Noriko, who is generally quiet but pipes up just long enough to encourage Sugi to lay a few insults on Shuuya in the way that teenage boys do with their friends. Some gentle ribbing helps everyone relax a bit after a tense situation.
Though he would be a welcome addition to their cadre of survivors trying to find a way off the island, Sugi quickly leaves Noriko, Shuuya, and Kadawa to their own mission of staying alive and out of sight. He has lost Takako already but it seems he is not done searching for someone named Kyoko. We don’t know who that is just yet other than the fact it is another girl in their class with whom Sugi has a connection.
We get a second display of action when Kadawa, Shuuya, and Noriko are set upon by the most frightening member of their class so far: Kazuo Kiriyama. This cold-blooded killer took down his own gang at the start of The Program and has killed several others on his way in order to secure his own survival. The fact that he hasn’t shown the slightest bit of emotion or care yet is part of what makes him one of the more dangerous players out there. He doesn’t seem to care who he kills or even if he survives the encounter. There is no emotion behind his cold eyes.
The fight is an intense one, with Kiriyama lobbing a few grenades at the trio to start. Shuuya shows off some of the super-human agility and athleticism that everyone has accredited to him throughout the manga to swat the first one away. Kadawa manages to shoot the second grenade out of the air with a shotgun, which is one of the coolest sentences I’ve ever been allowed to type. The three students flee and take cover behind a ravine.
There is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief here, with Kiriyama throwing down a lot of gunfire with his submachine gun that looks very impressive on the page, but which wouldn’t make for an effective tactic against the three students. He seems to have an infinite amount of ammo and requires almost no reloading time, a fact that even Kadawa brings up with great frustration. It feels like it undermines Kadawa’s greatest strength, which is his tactical planning, but it does make for some fun visuals.
Shuuya becomes the distraction the team needs, using his athleticism and speed to attempt to outmanoeuvre Kiriyama and give the other two a chance to escape. This exchange is probably the first time that there is a sense of tension as to whether or not Shuuya will survive. Up until now, he has been surrounded by plot armour and protected either by Kadawa or the simple fact he is clearly the main character of the story. Here, however, we see him take a pair of bullets to his side.
The interesting moment here is that Shuuya doesn’t seem to want to reach out to Kiriyama in the way he has every other person he’s come across in Battle Royale. He doesn’t express his hope or faith that he will make the right choice. He doesn’t even really acknowledge any conflict with attempting to kill his classmate. The memory of Yumiko and Yukiko’s deaths at Kiriyama’s hands is enough to strain even his endlessly hopeful outlook.
It isn’t until Sugi arrives to save his butt that Shuuya seems to have any hope of surviving the encounter. Sugi, still armed with his staff, manages to mostly disarm Kiriyama before being forced off a cliff with Shuuya into the water below, where they wash up on the shore with several injuries and are surrounded by a menacing troop of girls from their class.
The idea of friendships under strain seems to be the main focus of this volume. We see Mimura snapping at Sato’s increasingly frustrating incompetence and Kadawa’s annoyance at Shuuya’s plan of action. The Program, it seems, is designed to strain friendships and relationships to their absolute breaking point. That is why they take a whole class in this story rather than a group of random students from across the country.
Those strained relationships are more effective at increasing the tension in Battle Royale than all the seemingly gratuitous deaths that we’ve witnessed so far. Death in itself isn’t the source of drama here. Neither is the violence. The drama of this story is the people and how they react to the fraying of their most important relationships. In that way, this feels like the start of a big moment for this manga, like it is gearing up for its next heart-wrenching moment but hasn’t quite reached it yet. Hopefully, by the next volume, we get to see the payoff from two volumes of build-up.
Battle Royale volume 6 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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