Battle Royale volume 7 proves that no one is safe

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Battle Royale has always been about the bonds between the students playing it, and no bond has proven to be more intense and more durable than the one between Shinji Mimura and Yutaka Sato.

Yutaka is a bumbling, awkward, inept kid, with few strengths and plenty of weaknesses, which makes his friendship with Shinji Mimura – usually called Mim by his friends – all the more interesting. So interesting, in fact, that almost the entirety of Battle Royale Volume 7 is dedicated to exploring it.

No one is safe in Battle Royale

Battle Royale volume 7

The last volume of Battle Royale left our heroes in a bad way. The painfully optimistic Shuuya had barely survived his encounter with cold-hearted killer Kazuo, while Mim’s friendship with Yutaka had become painfully strained over a misplaced pulley. Volume 7 opens up with the two coming face-to-face with another player. This time it is Keita Iijima who is looking to join their little group, unaware that they intend to take the fight directly to the government agents that oversee The Program.

Keita isn’t keen on making his way through the island alone and insists he isn’t playing the game like some of the other students. But moments like this are what makes Battle Royale so special compared to some of the other titles in this genre of fiction. Unlike Squid Game or Hunger Games, this is a group of people who actively know each other. They are all in the same class and have a history together. So, when Keita asks to join Mim and Yutaka, he doesn’t come with a blank slate.

There is a flashback to when Mim and Keita squared off against each other in the arcade, with a gentleman’s wager of a Coke on the line. Mim won, as he often seems to, and Keita went off to get their drinks. A couple of thugs approached Mim shortly afterward, demanding his money. Mim calls them “yakuza”, but I don’t know how many yakuza shake down high school students for their spare change. Mim manages to defend himself and comes out largely unscathed.

That’s when Keita shows up, drinks in hand, but Mim finds it all too suspicious. He didn’t appreciate being hung out to dry over a bet, and he’s carried that grudge into The Program. He refuses to let the smaller boy join them, despite Yutaka’s urging. If he can’t trust Keita to keep his word over a Coke, he can’t trust him to have their back when people are trying to kill them.

Battle Royale has been filled with tense moments, but what follows is one of the best so far. Mim uses the gun to fire a warning shot at Keita, trying to scare him off from following them anymore. There is relief on Mim’s face that he was able to fire the shot at all; earlier, he’d expressed doubt if he’d be able to use the weapon at all. But the next time, something goes wrong. The bomb he is carrying pulls his arm to the side and, instead of firing wide of Keita, he hits him. As the young man is pleading with the pair to let him join them, Shinji shoots him in the head and kills him.

Battle Royale Petty Shit

The weight of his actions immediately falls on Mim. The casual swagger he’d always carried himself with all this time is cast off and he has to deal with the sudden and painful realisation that he has taken a life, even if it was an accident. He has a visceral reaction to it, but so does Yutaka. Suddenly, the pair who have been closest throughout the game have their whole relationship questioned.

It is one thing to see conflict between strangers. That has no stakes, really. One will win and one will lose and that will be the end of it. Here, the battle is between two best friends. Two individuals who care deeply for one another. There is pain in their argument, which is highlighted by the stylised way that Battle Royale, and many manga, portray characters who are crying. It is an intense moment, filled with grief and both of them going back and forth until they both realise that they can’t do this without the other.

One rule that writers like to follow is to imagine the worst thing that can happen to a character and then make it happen. In this case, that is Kazuo, fresh from his encounter with Shuuya and Sugimura, hearing the gunshots that Mim fired, and coming up on Mim and Yutaka as they finally make up. Without warning and with the cold, calculating precision that has made him the deadliest participant in The Program, he opens fire on the pair. Yutaka is killed immediately and Shinji is gravely wounded.

Battle Royale Shinji and Yutaka hug

For the first time since Battle Royale started, I am unsure who is going to come out on top. I even let out an audible gasp at the image, which was full of the graphic details that the manga never shies away from when it comes to its violence. It feels wrong for Mim, who has been a central player in the action up till now, to fall less than halfway to the end of the manga’s run, but we’re at the point where characters we love will die.

It doesn’t matter that we know Kazuo isn’t going to be taken down easily. It doesn’t matter that, as a reader, we know you don’t kill your villain off halfway through a series. Mim is so littered with bullet holes that he is held together by literal duct tape, but he keeps fighting and we keep rooting for him until the very end. He realises that he won’t be able to use his bomb against the organisers of The Program, so he settles for using it to get revenge for Yutaka instead.

Battle Royale Kazuo returns

But you don’t kill your best villain halfway through a series, so Kazuo survives. And he kills Shinji without feeling a thing. It is brutal and efficient and not even a last-second clutch play from Mim is enough to stop it. In the end, three more contestants are dead.

It is fitting that Battle Royale gave almost every page to the relationship between Mimura and Yutaka. The pair were inseparable for six volumes; they deserved a proper send-off. It sets the remaining volumes up to be more straightforward. There aren’t as many divergent plots to manage anymore. Shuuya is recovering after being rescued. Sugimura is headed off on his own again to find someone named Kayoko. Noriko is with Shogo as they try to make their way to safety.

I don’t expect all of them to survive to the end, but that doesn’t make the inevitable any less worrying.

Battle Royale volume 7 can be tough to get hold of today, but if you want to try your luck on Amazon, have a look here!

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