Battle Royale volume 8’s deeply disturbing subject matter

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The Battle Royale manga is over halfway through and, fittingly, more than half the original 42 contestants have met an untimely end. Volume 8 opens up fresh off one of the most emotional departures, as Mimura failed to take down the organisers of The Program with his homemade bomb.

But the show must go on!

Battle Royale’s haunting depiction of sex and violence

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It has been a while since we saw the supposed protagonist of Battle Royale, Shuuya. Back in Volume 6 he was rescued from the deadly Kiriyama by Sugimura and has been recovering in the presence of Yukio and the other heavily armed girls in their class. Sugimura has left to search for another that he holds dear, leaving Shuuya’s friends Noriko and Kawada to wonder about his fate.

Though Volume 8 of Battle Royale opens up with a conversation between Noriko and Kawada as they worry about their overly-optimistic friend, the focus quickly shifts to the newest villain to play the game. Battle Royale volume 8 is easily the most disturbing collection so far, focusing almost exclusively on the unhinged Mitsuko Souma and her manipulative efforts to survive in The Program.

The violence in this manga has always been front and centre, with the gruesome end many of the students meet part of the point of the story. These are kids being put into a terrible, inhuman situation and we see their humanity stripped away slowly, with each kill and each death. But Volume 8 introduces more sexual imagery into the mix, with scenes of rape and assault mixed into an already disturbing story.

These subjects, which are thankfully not overtly glorified in the manga, are incredibly graphic and are all centred around Mitsuko. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen her; she’s stepped in to kill several of her classmates before, usually taking advantage of their lapse in concentration or judgement to make her move. However, up until now, she has always been more of a background player in The Program. We’ve seen how she operates and how she uses her sexuality as the most potent of weapons, but we didn’t know why.

Mitsuko has a run-in with Sugimura and we see the bizarre way that sex and violence have mixed together in her psyche. The act of manipulating Sugimura into lowering his guard, even for a moment, gives her an unbearable sexual thrill. When she flees further into the woods, her need for release overwhelms her need for survival. It is clear from the earliest moments of Battle Royale Volume 8 that there is something deeply wrong with Mitsuko.

Battle Royale volume 8

She stumbles upon Tadakatsu Hatagami and Yuichiro Takiguchi, two male students that haven’t been introduced before. Tadakatsu, normally called Katsu by his smaller friend, immediately distrusts Mitsuko. Considering she bursts from the treeline and tries to kill him while he is having a pee, it is hard to blame him. But Yuichiro, in the kind of trusting act that almost immediately gets someone killed in The Program, convinces his larger friend to spare her life.

The bulk of this volume shows Mitsuko’s attempts to drive a wedge between the two boys she’s happened upon. It becomes clear that she doesn’t need to be so manipulative. She could kill one or both of them early on in the conversation thanks to the collection of hidden weapons she has on her person, but she chooses not to. For her, the act of killing is a secondary need. The act of gaining their trust and using it against them is the true goal. She needs their trust so that she can control them because, as we find out in disturbingly graphic detail, that is what her step-father did to her.

Battle Royale Trust issues

Even as Yuichiro assures her that he can see the glimmer of good in her, she is planning her next attack. He shows her kindness and respect in a way that feels alien to Mitsuko. There are moments when we’re meant to think that his actions will thaw her heart, but that isn’t to be. A graphic sex scene later and she bursts out of the woods again, this time naked after her failed attempt to cut Katsu’s throat during the act.

Mitsuko’s lies and manipulation lead to Katsu accidentally shooting Yuichiro in the stomach just before he is cut down by Mitsuko’s sickle. She is about to finish off Yuichiro as well but has something of a change of heart. The kind words he shared with her and the trust he willingly gave her cause her to not actively kill the boy.

What follows is one of the most graphic and disturbing depictions of sex and violence I have ever seen in any medium. Mitsuko decides she doesn’t want the boy to leave her and, in her deeply traumatic experience the only way to make a boy stay is with her body. As Yuichiro is bleeding from a painful gunshot wound in his stomach, Mitsuko performs multiple sexual acts on him, all while we get a barely censored depiction of her past.

The acts of sex and violence have become so mixed up in Mitsuko’s mind that they are essentially the same thing. She begs Yuichiro to stay even as she is actively bringing about his death. It feels more like a compulsive act than one of love or pleasure. The writers are trying to explore incredibly dark themes here, things that should make the reader deeply uncomfortable. The imagery used, particularly to show the fear and trauma that comes from childhood sexual abuse, is striking, upsetting, and effective.

By the time the act is done and Yuichiro lays dead on the ground, Mitsuko is back to her usual cold self. The tears are gone and she walks away, stating that the entire encounter had been “fun.” It is an almost surreal moment to end the volume on but I suspect that is part of the point. There is the shock value to be had in Battle Royale, but failing to look beyond that surface-level interpretation of the story will only mean missing out on an exploration of one of the most disturbing acts imaginable.

I am both glad that I have read Battle Royale Volume 8 and also very certain that I will never read it again. Even if I do go back and reread the manga at a later date, chances are good I won’t want to subject myself to this part of the story a second time.

Battle Royale vol. 8 can be tough to track down today. Try your luck with Amazon sellers here!

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