The dark parade of Battle Royale continues with volume nine. The previous chapter left me moderately scarred, so I needed a bit of time before continuing the story.
Mitsuko is still free to hunt and kill the men on the island, while Kiriyama remains an unstoppable and unfeeling creature of slaughter. This volume opens up in a place where it feels like the villains far outnumber the heroes. Things feel bleak, but it is those moments where hope is most important.
Battle Royale makes a series of callbacks
This volume is an absolute rollercoaster. We start with our friend Sugimura as he tries to find his friend’s whereabouts using the collar tracker in his possession. What he finds, however, is Hirono’s body at the bottom of a well after her gruesome death in volume five. As he regrets his inability to save yet another victim of The Program, he is assaulted by Toshinori Oda, the young man who killed her.
As has often been the case with Battle Royale, we get a chunk of backstory on Oda before we get to the fighting. Turns out Oda isn’t just a slimy, manipulative little toad – he’s a slimy, manipulative little toad from a very rich family. He’s spent all his time in school looking down on those around him and judging them for having the poor taste to not be born into wealth. Safe to say, we’re not rooting for him at this point.
After a bit of back and forth, Sugimura sees through the charade that Oda puts on, but can’t bring himself to kill the boy himself. That’s when Kiriyama suddenly shows up with his sub-machine gun. Sugimura manages to escape but Oda tries to play dead to take his chance to kill Kiriyama. It ends poorly and he ends up taking a barrage of bullets directly to his testicles.
Most of the deaths in Battle Royale have meant something. They’re intended to teach us something about the characters, ourselves, or both. Oda’s death happens in probably the most undignified way possible, and feels like it was more cathartic for the writers than anything else. The boy feels like a stand-in for every rich jerk that bullied them or looked down on them in their lives.
His death feels deserved but also gratuitous, not serving any purpose other than to show that, at least in this manga, the rich don’t always get away with it.
The second half of this volume is far more hopeful, at least for a time. We finally see our hero Shuuya once again. After a near-death experience and a hallucination where his dearly departed friends urge him to return to life, he awakens at the lighthouse. Sugimura dropped him off here way back in volume six, intending for him to be cared for by the group of girls who had occupied the building. Turns out they’ve built a little commune here, with watches and cooks and a growing sense of trust between them.
The leader of this peaceful band of contestants is class president Yukio Utsumi. Her charisma and ability to convince people of her good intentions were what brought the girls together in the first place. Now there are six of them and she is the glue that keeps them all going. Shuuya is the outsider and they need to be convinced that he isn’t a depraved lunatic waiting for them to drop their guard.
The problem is that one of the girls in the lighthouse has reason to suspect our boy might be up to no good. Yuko saw Shuuya in the aftermath of his fight with Tatsumichi in volume 2 of Battle Royale. As a reader, we know that Shuuya was acting entirely in self-defence, but Yuko only saw him pulling a machete out of another boy’s skull. A misunderstanding, to be sure, but Battle Royale is the kind of world where anything can get you killed.
Yuko begins to view Shuuya as a demon who needs to be killed even as the rest of her companions see him as someone to trust and even admire. In an attempt to do “God’s will” and protect her friends from this demon, she poisons the food they’ve prepared for him. Her misguided idea is that he will die and they will be able to continue living as they have been.
Things don’t go as planned and another girl ends up trying the food before bringing it to Shuuya, dying almost instantly. This sets off a chain reaction where we see just how delicate trust is in a high-pressure situation like The Program. One moment the girls are all laughing and joking, eager to see if Shuuya can deliver on his promise to help them off the island. Within a few minutes, they have all slaughtered each other to try to find out who poisoned the food.
The cruellest moment in this volume of Battle Royale is how hopeful everyone seems to be. We’re told that the biggest hurdle will be convincing the girls that their guest can be trusted, but that obstacle is cleared within moments. It feels like the start of a great alliance between the two largest factions on the island, setting up for an endgame confrontation with Mitsuko and Kiriyama, who remain the most dangerous contestants.
What we get instead is a glimpse into how quickly things can fall apart. Five girls dead in a matter of seconds. All dead because of a misunderstanding earlier in the manga. It is a clever way to bring back some of the earlier action in the series, but it is harsh to offer us hope only to take it away again so quickly.
As we approach the next volume, Yuko is alone in the room with her friends that her paranoia got killed, convinced that it was the work of God’s will. Shuuya, hearing the gunshots, believes Kiriyama has found him and intends to finish him off. Yuko is stuck with the one person she fears most on the island, which should make for a fun bit of drama as the series starts toward its finale.
Battle Royale volume 9 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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