I have been a fan of Battle Royale since the English translation of the novel hit stateside back in 2003. Much later than most, I saw the film after having read the novel. While I could certainly see what people liked about the film, it was still hard for me to reconcile the various shifts from the original story. When I first saw the manga in the store, I was slightly turned off by the character design and slight deviations from the original story so I put it on the back burner to-read list. However, with Tokyo Pop’s recent Ultimate Edition versions coming out here I was intrigued. The mention of more of the original material being added to make it closer to the Japanese release as well as bonus content was impetus enough for me to check it out.
First off, the the new cover on Volume 1 of the hard bound Ultimate Edition was much more stimulating then the first volume of the U.S. release. The first volume manga cover always reminded me of a weird comic version of Mt. Rushmore where the faces of key players in Battle Royale replaced past presidents. Once inside, I found that art style was still, as I remembered, much too odd in parts (the worst example being the sadistic “Program” instructor Sakamochi looking somewhat like a jolly yet deformed version of Sylvester Stallone). However, I was nonetheless buckled down and ready to read through this solidly bulky graphic novel of blood, guts and grit. Surprisingly, the story was much closer to the original novel than the movie. Although neither really addresses the “Program”, in which a class of junior high students are pitted to fight to the death against each other, adequately. In the movie the reasoning behind it is referred as the Battle Royale Act and in the manga it is presented as a twisted game show for the public’s entertainment. In the novel it is primarily a governmental tool of control used to cultivate fear in the masses as well as quell organized rebellion. However, some creative license is often to be expected despite the disappointment of many fans of the novel.
Taking into consideration minor story changes, the biggest difference from the novel is that the Ultimate Edition now includes previously removed graphic and sexually explicit content making this even less of a read for anyone under the age of 18. The gore is embellished beyond the original novel and even the movie, although this may be expected for such a graphic novel. The bonus back story for the character of the viciously cold seductress Mitsuko Souma, seemed an overt attempt to glean the hormone charged teen or porn obsessed adult audience. Gratuitous at best, the Ultimate Edition added character back story lends no real help to the narrative and actually in my opinion detracts from the imagination factor.
Overall the packaging is attractive, the a few parts of the bonus material are interesting enough and despite a English adaption that is somewhat steeped in controversy the story still holds up as rather solid and runs decently close to the original novel. Unfortunately, for myself and potentially other readers the gratuitous hentai additions to the story are graphic to the point that they can easily become a deal breaker to anyone not interested in over the top anime porn. Give me a good old blood and guts story any day but I just don’t get my jollies from hand-sketched girls having sex acts in black and white. But if this is not a problem for the average potential reader then I leave up to them to decide for themselves.