Battle Royale: Angels’ Border

Battle Royale: Angels' BorderAuthor: Koushun Takami and N-Cake
Illustrator: Mioko Ohnishi and Youhei Oguma

U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421571683
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2012

In 1999 Koushun Takami’s controversial cult classic Battle Royale was released upon the world, the novel soon after spawning a fifteen-volume manga adaptation illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi and inspiring two live-action films. I became a fan of the original novel after reading the 2009 English translation, and so was very interested to learn that Takami (with the assistance of N-Cake) had returned to Battle Royale with the manga Angels’ Border. Released in Japan in 2012, the collected volume includes two related episodes about the young women whose efforts to survive a brutal government sponsored death match by grouping together end in tragedy. The first story is illustrated by Mioko Ohnishi while the second is illustrated by Youhei Oguma. I was happy that Viz Media licensed Battle Royale: Angels’ Border, releasing the manga under its Signature imprint in 2014. Angels’ Border makes a nice addition to Viz’s other recent Battle Royale releases: The Battle Royale Slam Book, and a new English translation of Takumi’s original novel.

Every year a class of ninth grade students from the Republic of Greater East Asia is selected to participate in the Program. The students are given a small survival pack, a random weapon, and forced into a situation where they must either kill or be killed. In the end, only one person will survive. This year’s Program pits the forty-two students of Shiroiwa Junior High’s ninth grade, Class B against each other. Under the leadership of Yukie Utsumi, six of the girls band together, taking shelter in the lighthouse on the island serving as the Program’s arena. There they hope to avoid and wait out most of the violence. The group includes her best friend Haruka Tanizawa, who has recently come to the realization that she is in love with Yukie, though she hasn’t been able to confess those feelings. Another girl at the lighthouse, Chisato Matsui, has her own secret—she shares a special connection with Shinji Mimura, a star basketball player with smarts, good looks, and dangerous anti-government tendencies. But because she has joined up with the other young women for safety, it is unlikely that she will ever see him again.

People who have read the original Battle Royale, or who have experienced its adaptations, know very well how the incident at the lighthouse plays out; those who haven’t can probably very easily guess. Most (but not all) of the violence occurs off-page in Angels’ Border, but the characters still have to deal with its aftermath. The atmosphere at the lighthouse is strained but relatively quiet; the tension, fear, and despair is present even as the young women are resigning themselves to their fates. They witness the deaths of their fellow students and try to come up with excuses for the classmates who have resorted to killing one another, partly because they are in denial about what is happening and partly because the entire situation is incomprehensible to them. For a time they are safe, but every decision that they make for their own survival has an impact on the survival of everyone else forced to participate in the Program. The alliance formed by the six young women and their trust in one another are extraordinarily fragile things. None of them want to kill, but none of them want to die either, even though they know it will be impossible for all of them so survive. The result is a highly stressful and volatile scenario.

Generally, Angels’ Border can be read on its own, but it will probably appeal most to those who are at least familiar with Battle Royale. I hadn’t anticipated it when I began reading Angels’ Border, but both of the manga’s episodes are actually love stories. Granted, because they occur within the context of Battle Royale, they are both dramatic romantic tragedies. The first story is told by Haruka as she deals with what she sees as the futility of her feelings for Yukie as well as with the futility of the situation in which they find themselves. She reflects briefly on their past friendship, but generally the episode’s focus is on their unfortunate present and bleak future. The second story is seen from Chisato’s perspective. Much of it is devoted to a single encounter between her and Shinji six months before the start of the Program. Both episodes are more about the characters’ interpersonal relationships than they are about death and violence, although those are certainly a constant concern and bring those relationships into sharper focus. Both stories also talk about “forever,” which is heart-wrenching; “forever” for these young people will be a tragically short period of time.

The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami

The Battle Royale Slam BookEditor: Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421565996
Released: April 2014

Battle Royale has recently seen something of a revival in North America in recent years. Koushun Takami’s controversial novel was originally published in Japan in 1999. Both the novel and its manga adaptation illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi first appeared in English in 2003. The novel was released again with a slightly revised translation and additional supplementary material in 2009 by Viz Media’s speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru. (This tenth anniversary release was my introduction to Battle Royale.) However, it wasn’t until 2012 that the film version of Battle Royale and its sequel Battle Royale II: Requiem received an official release in the United States. And now, in 2014, we’re seeing the releases of a new English translation of Takami’s novel by Haikasoru, the recent Battle Royale: Angels’ Border manga illustrated by Mioko Ohnishi and Youhei Oguma, and The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami, which is also notable for being Haikasoru’s first foray into nonfiction. Takami’s original novel left a huge impression on me, so I was very excited to read all of these new Battle Royale releases.

The Battle Royale Slam Book, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, collects sixteen essays (seventeen including the introduction by Mamatas) which examine various aspects of the entire Battle Royale franchise. The core of that franchise is of course Takami’s original novel, but The Battle Royale Slam Book also explores many of its manga and film adaptations as well. The contributors to the volume include award-winning writers, academics, fans, and many others from around the world—the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and even Japan itself are particularly well-represented. I was specifically excited to see an essay by Toh EnJoe included in the volume, but the rest of the lineup is great, too: Nadia Bulkin, Carrie Cuinn, Raechel Dumas, Isamu Fukui, Sam Hamm, Masao Higashi, Brian Keen, Gregory Lamberson, Kathleen Miller, Konstantine Paradias, Jason S. Ridler, Adam Roberts, John Skipp, Steven R. Stewart, and Douglas F. Warrick. All of their essays were written specifically for inclusion in The Battle Royale Slam Book.

The Battle Royale Slam Book includes several types of essays ranging from academic ruminations to literary and film criticisms to the authors’ more personal experiences with Battle Royale in all of its iterations. The topics of the individual contributions are also varied, though some recurring themes do emerge. Many of the essays focus on some of Battle Royale‘s most controversial aspects, such as extreme violence and the deaths of school-aged youth, gender portrayals and sexism, and so on. Other essays position Battle Royale within a greater context, exploring its place within and relationship to not only Japanese popular culture but Western popular culture as well. School literature, professional wrestling, teen films, and other similar subjects are all addressed. The volume also examines the historical context of Battle Royale and its themes. The Battle Royale Slam Book shows how the Battle Royale phenomena has been influenced by, uses, and challenges literary and genre conventions in addition to showing its impact and continuing influence on individual people.

Several assumptions are made with The Battle Royale Slam Book, primarily that the readers are adults already familiar with Battle Royale, have a basic understanding of the novel’s premise, or have been exposed to at least one of its adaptations. It’s also helpful but not absolutely necessary to have some grounding in literature and film, and especially with speculative fiction and horror. The Battle Royale Slam Book will probably appeal most to those who are already interested in or who have already experienced Battle Royale in some form. Though the contributors don’t hesitate to point out the flaws and challenges presented by the Battle Royale novel, manga, and films, it is very clear that they are all either fans or are fascinated by the material and the responses to it. There is criticism to be found, but in general the volume tends to take a positive approach. The Battle Royale Slam Book was written for people like me who want to learn more about Battle Royale, its influences, and impacts. I found The Battle Royale Slam Book to be utterly fascinating and would highly recommend the volume to similarly minded individuals.

My Week in Manga: November 12-November 18, 2012

My News and Reviews

Two reviews went up last week. The first was for Jirō Nitta’s historical novel Phantom Immigrants. It’s about Jinsaburo Oikawa, salmon fishing, Canada, and immigrant smuggling. The novel is somewhat difficult to find in print, but the translator has made a digital edition available. For the most part, I picked up Phantom Immigrants because I wanted to read more of Nitta’s work. (I read another of his historical novels, Death March on Mount Hakkōda, not too long ago.) The second review I posted was part of my Blade of the Immortal manga review project. This month I took a look at Blade of the Immortal, Volume 15: Trickster. Although I was a little disappointed with some of the fight scenes, I’m still enjoying the series.

Speaking of disappointment, Digital Manga has announced that it would be putting almost all of its print releases on hiatus (the exceptions are those works that were funded by Digital Manga’s Kickstarter projects). Digital Manga’s president Hikaru Sasahara stressed that the licenses haven’t been canceled, just that the print releases have been delayed. Digital Manga has also indicated that at least some of the titles will be available digitally before they’re available in print.

It’s a late notice, but Matt Blind has posted the call for participation for November’s Manga Moveable Feast to be hosted at Rocket Bomber later this week. It’ll be a short Feast, running from November 21 to November 25. Since the Feast will coincide with Thanksgiving in the US, we’re doing something a little different this month, focusing on manga that we’re thankful for, so do check it out!

And one last side-note: October’s manga giveaway winner Stephanie recently posted about winning at Rodeo Bucket (and said some nice things about Experiments in Manga, too)—Right-Brain Living & Winning!

Quick Takes

Battle Royale: Ultimate Edition, Volume 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) written by Koushun Takami and illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi. I love Takami’s original Battle Royale novel, but it took me a while to get around to reading the manga. The loose English adaptation, which attempts to establish the program as a reality television show, is unfortunate; I wish the story had been left alone. I also wasn’t particularly fond of the more sexualized elements of the Battle Royale manga. And the manga’s program administrator is my least favorite version of that character. Taguchi’s artwork is at its best when portraying extreme violence and gore. The “ultimate edition” includes some great extras, including an interview with Takami.

Full House, Volumes 1-4 by Sooyeon Won. After reading Won’s manhwa series Let Dai, I made a point to seek out more of her work. I was looking forward to reading Full House. The first volume was okay, but I can’t say I enjoyed the series much at all except for the character designs. Even for a romantic comedy (at least that’s what I think the series is supposed to be), the plot makes little believable sense. The main character is an absolutely terrible person—she’s malicious, vindictive, and incredibly selfish for no good reason. I couldn’t bring myself to like her or to even feel sorry for her plight, which could easily be solved if she would simply be honest. Only the first four volumes of Full House were released in print in English but more are available digitally from Netcomics.

K-ON!, Volumes 2-4 by Kakifly. I’ll admit that I enjoy K-ON!. But although the first volume of the series made me tremendously happy, I wasn’t quite as taken with the rest of K-ON!. As a musician, I personally enjoy the series the most when music is somehow involved which, as it turns out, really isn’t all that often. As far as yonkoma go, K-ON! is fairly story driven which I can appreciate. Granted, there’s not much of a plot to the series. It mostly consists of a group of high school girls enjoying each other’s company; I don’t see anything wrong with that. At four volumes, I think K-ON! is just the right length. Yen Press also has plans to release both K-ON!‘s sequel K-ON! College and its spinoff K-ON! Highschool.

Secretary’s Love by Tohko Akiba. If I hadn’t picked up Secretary’s Love for a couple of bucks way back when Borders was shuttering its doors, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to reading this boys’ love one-shot. It simply wasn’t a title that I was particularly interested in. And I was right. Secretary’s Love is incredibly boring. It could have been cute, but instead of focusing on Tanemura and Tanizaki’s relationship, Secretary’s Love seems to be more about their being secretaries. There’s not much romance to be found in the manga, mostly a few chaste kisses in the workplace and vague allusions to more carnal nocturnal activities. If it wasn’t explicitly stated, it would be hard to guess that the two men have been dating for eight years; there’s just no passion.

Manga Giveaway: King of Thorn for Keeps

It’s time for Experiments in Manga’s monthly manga giveaway! This month you can enter for a chance to win a brand new copy of the first volume of Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn as was published by Tokyopop. The contest is open world-wide, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to enter!

I was probably in middle school, or maybe even younger, when I first became interested in survival stories. I have yet to grow out of that particular fondness which is why manga like King of Thorn, where the characters’ struggle to survive is an important part of the plot, appeal to me. Survival stories can be found in just about any genre or flavor. You have survival “games” in manga like Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi’s Battle Royale in which characters face off against each other for the right to live. In manga like Dragon Head, by Mochizuki Minetaro, characters struggle not only against each other but against apocalyptic and catastrophic conditions. Characters pit themselves against nature itself in manga like Baku Yumemakura and Jiro Taniguichi’s The Summit of the Gods. But no matter what the genre, they do what it takes to survive. It can be both terrifying and inspiring.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win King of Thorn, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me about your favorite survival manga. If you don’t have one, you can just mention that.
2) To earn a second entry in the giveaway, simply name a survival manga that hasn’t been mentioned yet by me or by someone else.
3) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

So that’s it! Each person can earn up to three entries for this giveaway. You have one week to submit your comments. If you have trouble leaving comments, or if you would prefer, you can e-mail me your entries at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll then post the comments in your name. The winner will be announced and randomly selected on March 7, 2012.

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Contest winner announced—Manga Giveaway: King of Thorn for Keeps Winner

Battle Royale

Author: Koushun Takami
Translator: Yuji Oniki
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421527727
Released: November 2009
Original release: 1999

Although I was quite familiar with the basic plot and premise of Battle Royale, I had never read Koushun Takami’s original novel, seen the film based on the book, or read the manga adaptation. At least until now. 2009 saw the tenth anniversary of the first iteration of the story as well as the publication of a new English edition of the novel by Viz Media under their Haikasoru imprint. In addition to a revised and updated translation by Yuji Oniki, the Haikasoru edition also includes a fantastic new cover design, a forward by Max Allan Collins, an interview with Kinji Fukasaku (director of the film Battle Royale), and additional material from the author Koushun Takami. Both the novel and the film, and probably the manga as well, were highly controversial due to the subject matter and graphic violence, but became cult hits. I have been meaning to read Battle Royale since I first learned about it as an undergrad student and now I finally have (and probably will again). I also plan on tracking down the film and manga, too.

Every year in the Republic of Greater East Asia, fifty junior high third year classes are selected to participate in The Program—a battle royal style fight to the death. With a perverted sense of equality, each student is given a day pack with basic supplies and a random weapon. The class is taken to an isolated area and warned about forbidden zones. As the game progresses more are added, forcing confrontations between the players as the playable area becomes smaller. If there are no deaths within a twenty-four hour period, the students will all be killed as the explosive tracking collars around their necks are detonated. The goal is simple: become the only survivor. Shiroiwa Junior High School Class 3-B with forty-two students has been chosen. The students, some who have been friends since childhood, are now forced into a situation where they must either kill each other or die. They all question how well they know their fellow classmates, who they can trust and to what extent, who will be willing to play, and when it comes down to it, what are they willing to do to survive.

There are nearly fifty named characters in Battle Royale and Takami made me care about each one of them. I was never confused by who was who and was able to keep track of everyone pretty well, quite an accomplishment on the author’s part. However, some of the descriptions associated with a given character were occasionally repetitive or overused. The story primarily follows Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa, but every student has at least one moment in the spotlight, however brief. Each chapter ends with a countdown of how many students are remaining. This assisted in building tension, especially when someone has been wounded but the number hasn’t decreased, giving hope that they might pull through. I was impressed that Takami was able to mostly avoid relying too heavily on stereotypes. When they were used, it was usually within the context of one character’s view of another, which is something I would expect from a bunch of teenagers. Unfortunately, the history and purpose of the program is never concretely explained, although the students do discuss several theories through the course of the book.

Battle Royale is gripping and intense to say the least; once I began reading I didn’t want to put it down. Many people probably consider Battle Royale simply exploitative, but I think it is more than that. The book is incredibly layered and can be approached on many different levels—there is more to the story than blood and death, including tremendous psychological elements. Through the thoughts and experiences of its many characters, Battle Royale provides commentary on humanity, society, the game itself, and the personal lives of individuals, each informing the further understanding of the others. However, if you do have a problem with the fictional depiction of teenagers brutally killing their classmates, stay away from Battle Royale because it is incredibly graphic and violent. I was mostly happy with Oniji’s translation, but I do think some of the font choices were rather odd. And I really need to brush up on my metric. The 2009 Haikasoru edition is quite nice, and I appreciated the inclusion of the additional material. Battle Royale is most definitely not for everyone but, if you can take it, it’s fantastic.