Battle Royale Angels Border coverIn the world of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, which includes a novel, manga series, and film series, the Republic of Greater East Asia chooses a class of ninth graders each year to participate in a game of murder. The students are taken to an isolated location—this time an island—armed with assorted weapons and rations, and are instructed to kill at least one classmate every 24 hours or else the collars around their necks will explode. In addition, sections of the island become forbidden zones that will also activate the explosive collars. The tension heightens as students encounter one another and make split-second decisions. Who is playing along and who will resist the game?

This franchise blew up well before The Hunger Games, but where does that leave this standalone addition? During the Battle Royale island battle, six girls banded together in a lighthouse and stood guard for each other as casualties were announced to the game’s survivors. Their situation served as a brief side story in the main series, but it is fleshed out in this book as readers catch a glimpse of the girls’ lives before the game began and what went through their minds before betrayal tore them apart. Readers who liked the novel and/or manga will enjoy revisiting the cast, especially the truncated timeline of major events, but will it resonate with a new audience? The biggest strength of the story is the same as that of the original material: humanity is stretched to the breaking point and simultaneously nurtured in bonds of friendship and love. I am curious whether reading this graphic novel first would lead someone to appreciate the primary series more, and I think readers would appreciate that the girls’ lives are given the same weight as everyone else’s.

The book is divided into halves: the first focuses on the friendship between two girls before and during the lighthouse standoff, including a budding secret love. Each chapter in the first half ends with a snippet of story from the lighthouse betrayal and breakdown, leading readers step-by-suspenseful-step into mayhem. The second half focuses on an almost-date between another of the girls and one of the guys, coming to a climax with a death scene that references the earlier plot. Each half is drawn by a different illustrator. Though they are similar in style, Youhei Oguma uses more hatching and granular fill effects, making the second half look more stylized and less traditional than Mioko Ohnishi’s cleaner illustrations. Despite the story’s horrific premise, the violence is limited to brief flashes of corpses and a few gruesome injuries. The true villains here take the form of limitations in the girls’ public lives: self-doubt that keeps one from admitting her feelings for another; a businessman on a train who refuses to give up either of his two seats; and the looming threat of fascist intervention in their families’ lives.

The characters in Battle Royale are driven by two beliefs: the lighthouse group determines “we share our hope” despite overwhelming odds, while one student advises another, “when you fly, leap for yourself.” Takami has said in interviews that his goal is to warn teens to think and act for themselves, lest they be forced to live under orders (specifically from a government regime). Whether it be for new or returning readers, that message will not be lost in Angels’ Border.

Extras include an afterword by Takami and the text of the script.

Battle Royale: Angels’ Border
by Koushun Takami
Art by Mioko Ohnishi, Youhei Oguma
ISBN: 9781421571683
Viz, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (Older Teen)

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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