In all honesty, I was kind of dreading this volume.  I knew the showdowns with Mitsuko and Kiriyama and the wind-down weren’t going to last three volumes.  So… yeah, there was a lot of talking involved.  A LOT.  At one point, there was two chapters dedicated to the extreme mental battle Shu was waging with himself during the split second he had to pull the trigger and shoot Kiriyama through the head.  There’s a long speech at the beginning about how Shu wants to believe the good in everybody, including Mitsuko and Kiriyama.

Shogo also gave lots and lots and lots of speeches.  He has a flashback, but he may give a long speech before the flashback, he gives a long speech to his girlfriend during the flashback, and then he gives a long speech after the flashback.  Then another one when the game is pretty much finished.  You know the type of thing.  Moral stuff, what Shu should keep in mind, how he should protect Noriko… the same stuff we’ve been hearing through the entire series.  Again, maybe my patience for this is less since I’m reading three volumes at once, but I kind of hated both of the last two mega-volumes for the lectures I got over and over and over again.

Shogo’s flashback wansn’t actually that bad.  He fights with his girlfriend right before his class gets drafted into the game, and he scares her off when he actually plays and kills a great many of his classmates.  In the end, something terrible happens that he can’t forgive himself for, which he then decides to use as a lesson for Shu and Nori.  Later, we find out that the government got him addicted to morphine in order to ensure his cooperation with the media blitz surrounding his win, and they also gave him an STD for no real good reason.

The fight between Kiriyama and Mitsuko was pretty disappointing.  It was cut with flashbacks for Mitsuko and a lecture from the Shogo camp.  It was also pretty one-sided, and Mitsuko kind of cracks up in a weird way right away.  For whatever reason, Kiriyama just watches her mind go, and… I don’t know, sympathizes with her ravings?  I wans’t exactly sure what was going on here.  There is a head explosion scene which is one of the most detailed and graphic illustrations I’ve ever seen in a comic.

The fight between Kiriyama and Shogo et al is pretty cool, though I groaned the entire way through as Kiriyama literally kept pulling a Michael Meyers act and getting up and somehow avoiding every major trauma.  I mean… shooting the guy through the head didn’t bring him down.  His flashback is slipped in here somewhere, and it’s somewhat unsatisfying, but explains him well enough.  After he sustains major damage, I’m not exactly sure what Kiriyama is doing, he sort of floats through the air in an extremely contorted position for a few chapters.

The end of the series is decent, though I preferred it with the fake-out ending, only because I like Shogo and I really, really didn’t want to hear anything more out of Shuuya and Noriko.  The ending actually reminds you of why the series is cool.  It’s a good idea, and it brings up all the weird totalitarian government stuff again, along with the politics of the game.  Battle Royale is an awesome idea, and of course people reading it are going to be looking for the extreme violence that the series is good at dishing up.  It just… it should never have been stretched out as long as it was.  The filler is honestly terrible.

This has degenerated into new levels of depravity and ridiculousness.  My roommate and I were debating over whether or not it was serious about it or not.  It keeps a straight face when characters do things like manipulate ki and then reference the fact that it’s not something that they should be able to do, but I’m pretty sure the series itself is self-aware enough to know that these things are pretty stupid.  It would have to be.

This has gotten pretty hard to read, though.  The deal breaker for me is the repetition.  Sugimura finally finds Kayoko, and the two of them eventually face off against Kiriyama.  During the ENTIRE fight, Sugimura is a broken record about how Kiriyama has no emotion and he needs to do this for Kayoko, Shuuya told him to come back, Kayoko isn’t going to die like her other friend, he needs to sieze the moment, et cetera.  There is at least one chapter, maybe two, but for all intents and purposes, dialogue is repeated ad nauseum from the time Shuuya figures out what is going on in the lighthouse to the time he rejoins Shogo.  This part is particularly bad, because there isn’t anything going on BUT dialogue repetition.  I know this is supposed to be a character building moment, but Shuuya doesn’t do anything but repeat himself and replay scenes we’ve seen over and over again through his head.  There is no development.  The only thing notable that happens is that he finds Mimura on his way back to camp.  I can see this strengthening his resolve (and it does), but it makes the rest of the repetition unnecessary.  Sometimes the same things are repeated every three pages.  It’s just… it’s hard to read.  The fights are still pretty cool, but the dialogue just kills them.

There are parts where you have to roll your eyes too, where the series crosses the line from extreme into stupid, like I mentioned earlier.  At one point, Kiriyama is shown reading a book called “Introduction to Judo,” implying that he has never practiced martial arts before, then he proceeds to beat up the gym teacher, a seasoned practitioner, and pluck his eye out.  As I mentioned, the Kiriyama/Sugimura fight has moments where they channel Dragonball (and mention that this is what they’re doing), which is sort of uncalled for. Really, anything having to do with Kiriyama steps over some sort of line.  The fight with Sugimura, even without the Dragonball stuff, is pretty ridiculous.  Elsewhere, Mitsuko… is just gross.  I mean, she’s leaking.  And then she… tastes.  Eww.

But then there are parts where Mizuho, one of the last random characters, freak out, and sometimes you think that reading this far is worth it.

So basically, Shu makes it back to camp, Sugimura finds Kayoko, and Sugimura and Kiriyama face off.  I’m a bit disappointed that Kiriyama and Mitsuko haven’t fought yet, but I’m pretty confident this is the very next thing that will happen.  There are still awesome things going on, but you sort of have to forgive the series its terrible dialogue.  Which is hard, because this is some of the worst dialogue ever, but… yeah.  There are only three volumes left, and I’m pretty confident we won’t need a lot of the repetitive filler that we got in this volume since there’s still a lot left to finish up.

These take a while to read since they’re actually three volumes in one.  I may have complained last time that there weren’t that many deaths.  I know I at least thought it.  This time, damn near everybody was killed.

The first book in this volume dealt with the pair that was rigging up explosives to blow up the school.  Some really horrible things happen, and the basketball player/computer hacker messes things up badly when a new kid joins the pair and the hacker tells him to take a hike because he doesn’t trust him.  The kid doesn’t listen, and the little wimpy kid with the hacker doesn’t understand why they can’t all just ban together.  The kid refuses to leave, and things happen that nobody can take back.  While everyone’s trying to sort this stuff out and hustle out of there in order to blow up the school before it’s surrounded by unsafe zones, the yakuza kid comes through and does what he does best.

There’s a total bullshit scene where the hacker tries a last-ditch effort, with his guts duct taped in his body, to blow up the shed he’s in and kill the Yakuza kid.  The yakuza kid survives in an extremely unlikely fashion, and then survives again when shot at, like, point blank range.  This guy is immortal.  I really honestly hated him A LOT until I read the next book in the volume, which made this one look saintly.

I’ll be honest with you.  I can’t handle Hardcore Souma.  I can handle all sorts of blood and sex and violence and bad characters, but for some reason, I just can’t handle them in the combination she dishes out, possibly because she’s been created to be the most amoral, horrible person ever.  I just read a book with Lucifer as one of the main characters, and not even he was this bad.  Every time Souma shows up, you have to pray that the least that will happen is that someone will be disembowled.  No such luck, and there’s an entire volume of her manipulating two geeky boys, tempting both of them with sex, and then trying to kill them.  It goes into her backstory, where she was molested as a child.  Let me tell you, this doesn’t make me like her any more.  It’s really, really horrible, I promise.  She also masturbates over the dead bodies.  Holy shit was this volume gross, as well as crossing-the-borderline pornographic.

Somewhere in this volume, there is a scene between the yakuza guy, the martial arts good guy, and a rich kid wearing a helmet.  The rich kid was really insane, and I thought this scene was pretty good.  For once, I sort of agreed with the yakuza kid.

The third book in the volume dealt with the main character and all the girls he wound up shaked up with.  They all formed an alliance right out of the school, pretty much every girl who wasn’t Hardcore Souma or the girls she hung around with.  This was a pretty good volume, as the danger element is sort of slowly built up by having one of the girls be a somewhat poorly balanced religious fanatic that sees the main character as a demon.  Her weapon is also total bullshit, but the scene at the end of the volume was truly hardcore and amazing in a violent sort of way.  I think this is probably one of the most Battle Royale moments in the series so far,  and I would go so far as to say the best if I didn’t think that would make me sound like a bad person.

There are six volumes left and about ten people still standing.  There’s one group who hasn’t been shown yet, but I’m not sure how the series is going to maintain the huge amount of action that was in this volume with only ten people.  And when I say action, I mean killing, because that’s why I read this.  You can always have Hardcore Souma play with them one by one for the rest of the volumes, and I’m sure that would fill stuff out, but I would rather other stuff happen.  Like her being killed immediately.

Yeah. For some reason, it’s taken me over a month to write about this, partially because I don’t really know what to say. I’m sure just to spite myself, I’ll wind up making it longer than usual, though.

On one hand, I felt like things kind of slowed way down compared to the last volume. I suppose had the death rate remained as high as the first three volumes (or the one mega-volume I read), there would be no way for the series to last 15 full volumes. While there were still plenty of casualties, the in-between parts (the flashbacks and whatnot, both for the side characters who were getting wiped out and for the main characters) were starting to stretch themselves out.  I think this contributed to my general mood of finishing the volume and feeling like nothing happened, even though plenty did happen (a few deaths, like I said, along with a new contact for the main character’s group and some progress with Mimura’s plan elsewhere).

I think the one thing about it that contributed most to the latter feeling of nothing happening for three volumes was the fact that Mimura mentioned a plan at the end of last volume, and 600 pages later the plan has still not been executed.  There was plenty of progress on the plan, and the story kept cutting back to Mimura and his pal while other things happened, but this was what I was most interested in, and the fact I kept getting strung along for what was three volumes made me a little mad.

It still manages to be a pretty action-filled story though, even with all the non-violent flashbacks.  I appreciate some of the flashbacks a little less than I did last volume just because they start to get in the way of the progress of the story in the present, but most of them tell pretty good stories of their own.  I still like Battle Royale a lot, but Mimura’s plan better go into action next volume.  I’m just saying.

These huge omnibus editions are AWESOME!  Unfortunately, many of the ones that are being released by various publishers are things that I have read, but I love it when I can pick one up.  Especially Battle Royale, which is something I’ve just needed a little push with for years.

There were a lot of extras included with this volume.  Unless it’s something I’m a really huge fan of (and even then not always), character prelim designs are not something I’m terribly interested in.  The updates as to what went on where in the island included between “volumes” were extremely helpful, but I don’t know if they were part of the original release or not.  There were a few character profiles included, but they didn’t add much to the story save for the fact that it mentioned what the original weapon was for the characters.  The interview with the series creator in the back wasn’t very informative, and I also didn’t really like the character analysis included either, though that was one of the most creative extras ever.  I may sound slightly disappointed, but all this stuff taken together was super great and I’ve never seen so much stuff pumped into a single volume of manga before.  There is a lot of love there, and I really appreciate it.

One of the reasons I stayed away from Battle Royale for so long was because you have to really convince me that a tournament-style manga is worth my time.  This may seem hard to believe since I read so many, but I need convincing each time I start one.  Battle Royale seemed sort of unremarkable save for its violence, the plot an excuse to have a tournament, and at 15 volumes, it wasn’t something I was excited about committing to.  But I was totally wrong.

Most people point out the violence in this series as a standout quality, like I mentioned earlier.  Now, I read a lot of violent manga, so it takes a lot to shock me when it comes to graphic violence, and it’s rare when a manga can stand out because it is grotesque.   Battle Royale does, though.  It was almost a slap in the face every time a death occurred, and there are graphic depictions of people’s heads exploding, eyes popping out as a bullet passes through the socket, handfuls of brains being scooped from skulls, and arteries being severed.  This would be enough for me really, but the weapon array is truly astounding, and sometimes the shock comes from the method of execution, some of the more surprising being a crossbow, scythe, and even common knives being plunged into skulls.  It’s also jarring because this series doesn’t revel in its gore in the way other series I read do.  Gross things happen in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but you can laugh it off in that series because it’s so over-the-top.  This is relatively straight, there’s a lot of crying and reflection when a death occurs, and a lot of the murder scenes are really heartbreaking.  Well, almost heartbreaking, at least.  The violence is still pretty cartoony, but it is harder to take when it’s serious like this.

There are 42 characters to start the tournament.  The disadvantage to most tournament-style series is that mostly the opponents are glossed over in favor of developing the main character’s personality or skills or whatever.  While the characters here aren’t exactly the deepest you’ll encounter in a manga, they are surprisingly developed given their number thanks to frequent flashback scenes showing you their favorite memories, usually right before they die (but not always).  This gives them more of a face for whatever trial they’re about to go through, and it is extremely effective.  There is a main character, but most of the battles in this volume do not happen to him, and its other characters that engage in combat… though Shu gets his fair share of flashback and memories too.

The last chapter is really disturbing.  That is one twisted, sick, despicable girl.

Also, there are a few manga allusions made throughout the series which are varying degrees of obvious.  One of the ones that made me pull a face was a really obvious allusion to “Baron Gong Battle,” one of the other series the artist draws.  The other two were more subtle and I’m not quite sure I pegged them right… “Wild 7″ is the brand of cigarettes smoked in the series and also the t-shirt design Shu sports on the cover.  “Wild 7″ is also the name of a really retro action manga series from the 60s featuring a lot of violence and motorcycle gangs that fought with an array of weapons, though I’ve never read it to draw any parallels between it and Battle Royale.  The third is something my roomate picked up on.  He says the character that Shu is watching on TV on one of the first pages is the main character from “Apocalypse Zero,” though identified by a different name.  I’m willing to believe that, they look enough alike, but I don’t think there was any TV series version of “Apocalypse Zero,” if that makes any difference.  Just an OAV.

But yes, this volume is totally worth your time if you’re at all into the violent, gory stuff.  There’s not much there for people looking for a deep story since the story is fairly simple and the characters don’t have that much depth, but I suppose it also works on another level as a relatively realistic (as opposed to… I don’t know, comedic or over-the-top) take on what would happen if you dropped that many teens on an island and made them hunt each other.

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