Battle Royale Volume 11 offers the smallest sliver of hope

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The end game of Battle Royale is rapidly approaching, with a sense that some of the most dramatic confrontations are just over the horizon. By the time we start Volume 11, only two students are left playing the game while the other five are just trying to survive and find their way off the island. There are only five chapters left so questions are really piling up for those looking to survive The Program.

Exploring the quiet tension of Battle Royale Volume 11

Battle Royale Kayoko and her flowers

Pacing has always been a funny thing in the Battle Royale manga. Volume 9 was likely the bloodiest volume to date, with a total of six students meeting their end on those pages. Volume 10 was positively peaceful compared to it, with only two characters dying as Shuuya journeyed across the island in search of the resolve to keep fighting.

Volume 11 of Battle Royale is an oddity in the series because no one is killed along the way. However, that doesn’t mean that it is peaceful.

Since the death of Takako way back in Volume 4, Sugimura has only had one thing on his mind. He has been searching desperately for Kayoko Kotohiki for reasons that aren’t explained but are heavily inferred throughout. He loves her, in his own weird, awkward way, and he will do anything he can to keep her safe. Even if it means having multiple run-ins with the deadly Kiriyama along the way. Finally, in Volume 11, our resident martial arts expert finds his girl and the two have the most adorable teenage reunion ever. It is really well done and one of the best reminders in the entire manga that these are just kids.

I would say that this volume feels out of place with the rest of Battle Royale, but giving us a lot of backstory and flashbacks in between the action is exactly what this manga has done all along. We see Sugimura before The Program as he is pining for Kayoko. His kung fu sensei senses it. His friends all sense it. But Sugi’s anxiety and lack of decisiveness hold him back from acting.

Considering this is the first time that Kayoko appears in the manga, they do a good job of giving her plenty of personality straight away. She is blunt and a little clumsy with her words. She cares about people more than she should if she wants to survive The Program. She likes anime and is an unashamed nerd about it. We see her dancing and skipping and being almost playful in a situation that certainly doesn’t warrant it. She never comes out and says it but she is clearly happy to have someone to distract her from whatever traumatic events she experienced in the past few days.

No one makes it to this point in The Program without running into some sort of trouble.

Between all the awkward teenage romance happening, we also see a lot about what makes Sugimura so afraid of the likes of Kiriyama. To Sugimura, who feels so intensely all the time, the emotionless and cold Kiriyama feels inhuman. As different from the rest of his classmates as an alien from another world. Where Sugimura needs to feel in order to act, Kiriyama needs only to have a reason to act. Hence we see him pull his gym teacher’s eye out of his socket to satisfy his curiosity about the fluid inside.

Kiriyama doesn’t feel and has no regard for others or even himself. It makes him a perfect foil for Sugimura and gives away the ending to this volume pretty early on.

All the time that Sugimura is building up the courage to tell Kayoko how he feels, Kiriyama is trailing just behind them. When they pause to clumsily dance around their feelings in what is the most accurate depiction of teenagers in this whole series, Kiriyama gets closer. It is honestly the tensest volume in Battle Royale because we know exactly what is going to happen but we just don’t know when.

Of course, it happens when Sugimura finally works up the courage to confess his love for Kayoko. It has to happen when it is most dramatic or what is the point of all that build-up? To Battle Royale’s credit, it is an effective setup that manages to deliver on the tension and fear that it was trying to create. Sugimura is a good person and you want him to have at least some amount of happiness before it is taken away from him.

Before Volume 11 closes, we get to see the first round of the conflict between these two skilled fighters. Their initial clash leaves Sugimura down an eye and missing a few fingers, while he has only been able to land a few glancing blows on Kiriyama. Things don’t look good and it will clearly take some sort of intervention from outside the two for things to get better.

Disappointingly, there is a certain amount of meta-knowledge that stops me from having any real hope for Sugimura. I know four volumes follow on from this one and Kiriyama has been set up to be the main villain among the students. Surely, they won’t kill off their best baddie with so many more chapters to fill, right? However, Battle Royale has managed to defy expectations before, killing off clear heroes like Mimura several volumes ago just to show that no one is safe.

Things look bad for Sugimura, but maybe there is a surprise in a future chapter. That is probably the best thing about this manga – there is a sense that no one is ever safe. All my genre savviness and experience dissecting every angle and plot point to see what writers are setting up mean nothing in the face of a writer who embraces chaos. My brain knows it is hopeless to root for Sugimura and yet there is still the smallest chance that he could survive and I am clinging to it.

At least until next time when my heart gets broken all over again.

Looking to get your hands on Battle Royale Volume 11? It is pretty tough to find these days but you can always try your luck on Amazon.

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