Manga-ka: Junya Inoue
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: February 2013
Synopsis: “Ryouta Sakamoto is one of the top-ranked players of Btooom!, an online battle game. But no amount of simulated warfare could have prepared him for what is to come… Ryouta wakes one evening to find himself dangling from a tree by a parachute with no recollection of how he got there. Before he can orient himself to his unfamiliar surroundings, Ryouta is attacked. As a barrage of explosives rain down on him, Ryouta realizes that he too has a pack of bombs…bombs that look very similar to the ones used in Btooom! Ryouta may have mastered the online game, but can he come out on top in this real-life game of survival?!”
Btooom! is one of two very similar books to come out from Yen Press recently. Both Junya Inoue’s Btooom! and Yoshiki Tonogai’s Doubt share the same basic premise – a group of individuals are captured and forced to survive a real-life version of a video game they enjoy. Unfortunately for Btooom!, it is the weaker of the two.
In Btooom!, the story follows a man named Ryouta Sakamoto who is a confident ace of a game where players kill each other using a variety of bombs. After a brief introductory chapter, he awakens to find himself dangling from a tree-trapped parachute on an unknown island. His cell phone doesn’t work, he seems to be all alone, and a strange device has been implanted in his hand. It doesn’t take long for Ryouta to meet another of the island’s new inhabitants, and simultaneously enter into his first fire fight. Inside his bag he discovers a case full of small cubes that he learns are timed explosive devices, and he’s forced to use them against this violent individual who already seems to have a good grasp of what’s going on.
The manner in which we as readers are told what’s going on makes this book a dull experience; this despite page after page of explosions, death matches and conspiracy. The initial chapter does a good job of introducing us to the video game that will later dictate the story’s events, but after that things quickly begin to feel lazy. We’re being spoon-fed plot instead of experiencing it. Scenes as simple as Ryouta escaping his parachute feel silly when shown with a panel change to him suddenly being free and simply saying “Ow… I finally got free”. It hurts the tension of a scene meant to make us feel as disoriented and helpless as him. Throughout the book it also seems weird how much he talks out loud to himself like that. There are several moments that would’ve been more effective if he was silent, emphasizing him being alone, or readers not being dumb. “Okay, I think I can make it if I hug this cliff face,” he says as he walks along a cliff face. We could’ve figured that out.
The book also uses a lot of flashbacks to show us about characters, but they come at weird moments. Within a dozen pages of Ryouta being on the island, we’re already flashing back to his past when we really need more time to let the severity of the current situation set in. Even more of that personable feeling is lost when the same flashbacks occur for other people – such as the man Ryouta goes bomb-to-bomb against first – immediately taking away his mystique, and drawing us away from Ryouta being a character we centrally follow.
Then again, it soon becomes clear that caring about Ryouta isn’t something to worry about. This guy is a piece of work – unemployed, game obsessed, cocky, condescending and abusive to his Mother, it’s hard to find any reason not to think he’s getting what he deserves. Maybe this will be a book about redemption, about being traumatized into being a better person, who knows, but for now we have some random jerk that we’re supposed to care about being okay. It’s hard.
Ryouta’s external dialogue and the awkward plot exposition is helped somewhat by the end of the book where he meets another man trapped in the same situation. The two make a quick alliance and Ryouta is told about the events leading up to his delivery here. This still isn’t a creative way to explain the plot, but at least it makes sense – if anyone met someone else in this situation, of course they’re going to ask what happened. All the same, a following sequence, where Ryouta learns more details about this kill-or-be-killed game by watching another player, does volumes more for atmosphere and education, and in a much more natural way.
Even though a fair amount happens, this book is a really brief read. There was nothing that really inspires a reader to slow down, to savour or, frankly, to care. What the book does at least offer are some good action sequences. The artwork works great for the story. Nowhere in this volume does everything come together better than when the artist is drawing Ryouta desperately trying to live through bomb explosions while figuring out how to fight back. There’s a great sense of movement and reaction when things get heated. The style errs on the side of realistic and the dark, detailed backgrounds do a good job showing off the environment.
Btooom! has a concept with lots of potential, but the lack of substance this book had left it all feeling flat and shallow. What mysteries that exist are given up to readers too easily, and the main character – while sadly not a hard to imagine individual – isn’t someone we want to root for. If Btooom! doesn’t start spending more time making readers care about the events and not just the explosions, then it’s a lost cause doomed to be seen as one of the most boring potentially-exciting reads ever. Or this uncreatively delivered first volume might just be a euphemism for the qualities of some video games it’s based on. Who’s to say?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes