by Whitney Grace
How many times have each of us dreamed about trading our monotonous lives for the exciting adventures that exist in a videogame world? Count me among them, but my desires were more along the lines of a gentle Nintendo world like Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, or Pokemon. Ryouta Sakamoto gets tossed into a far more violent world than Nintendo’s happy places. Ryouta is a deadbeat, who spends all of his time playing the all-immersive first person shooter game Btooom! He has become one of the ten top ranked players in the world and he plans to be number one, except his mom wants him to get a job. Ryouta refuses, but do not think this manga is going to slip into comedy mode, because instead if being kicked out the house in hijinks-filled storm our hero is kidnapped and tossed onto a tropical island.
Instead of babes and bikinis, Ryouta gets bombs and a battle royal. Somehow a group of people were kidnapped, stranded on the island, and forced to combat each other reminiscent of the game, Btooom! Ryouta quickly decides not to become a mass killer and teams up with middle-aged Kiyoshi Taira, who wants to follow the same moral code. Ryouta’s gaming skills soon become the team’s biggest asset as other players attempt to kill them, including a mysterious schoolgirl who becomes an unwilling ally. Ryouta and his teammates slowly learn more about how they were selected to co compete on the island and who is behind the sinister game.
The mature-level rating on the book and the gratuitous female imagery made me reluctant to pick up Btooom! I thought it would be a story about a gun-touting guy flaunted by school girls with overactive mammary glands and way too short skirts, instead the manga offers a compelling story about what would happen if videogames used real people. What makes a battle royal-esque manga succeed or fail is the depiction of the characters and how they react to the situation. Our heroes are, of course, taking the moral high road and there has to be at least one character that enjoys the “liberation” from civilized rules (depicted as a crazed fourteen year old murderer). The in-between characters are where the real action takes place and we have yet to be introduced to many. As soon as someone new is introduced, they often get blown to pieces, but that makes it interesting trying to figure out who is meant to stay around.
As the manga progresses, we can be sure that some of the main characters are going to take a beating. So far the melee has been very restrained and the traditional manga “everything will be all right” and “let’s do our best” still shines through in at least one page of each volume. While the characters have a less than positive situation at the moment, something even more sinister is creeping up behind them.