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Btooom! Manga Quarterly Review

(Hey, Batoto‘s layout changed! So last night, when I was writing this post, I was going to Batoto to get some screenshots but SUDDENLY, MAINTENANCE! ):

I should now be on vacation (hopefully not at the setting of Btooom!), so wow I’m rushed to write posts (and man, this post is loooooooong). Five posts to write today (from the Criticism post hopefully to Buyuden 21).

Blame bad branders, but boy, Btooom! begins by ‘b’, just like Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, Bakuman, Beelzebub, Bleach, Blood Lad, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, and Buyuden.

I’ll begin in chronological order, just because the plot is COOL and COOL and COOL and BTOOOM!

Sakamoto Ryota is 22 years old and unemployed. He loves playing this game, known as Btooom!, an international MMORPG developed by Tyrannos where teams of up to four don’t use guns, but throw explosives, known as BIMs (Big Incendiary Mines?), to kill opponents. You win when you collect a certain number of glass pieces embedded in the hands of defeated players. Along with Nishiyama, Yamawaki, and Moriyama (who probably won’t ever appear in this manga), Ryota is part of the strongest Japanese team in Btooom!, and the 10th best team in the entire world.

The main strategy in Btooom! is not to immediately kill the opponent – skilled players are able to hide and slip away from the opponent, killing them in surprise attacks. There are many different BIMs – a cube-shaped Timer-type BIM explodes for high damage when the timer counts down to zero; a spherical Cracker-type BIM explodes for low damage when it hits any object (like a firecracker); a flat, disc-like Mega Hole-type BIM that sucks in air to create a void vacuum that destroys virtually everything in its vicinity, but without an explosion; and a cylindrical Gas-type BIM that releases a lethal chemical upon activation. Though each person starts out with only eight randomly selected BIMs, you can take the BIMs of enemies that you kill, resulting in deep strategy late-game as people guess what BIM types their opponent has.

Eventually, Tyrannos’s Iida-senpai invites Ryota to be a playtester – unfortunately, Iida can’t (or doesn’t want to) hire Ryota for a full time job. Ryota’s mom, Yukie, tries to get him a job but he refuses Angry German Kid style, as he thinks he can become a full-time playtester for Tyrannos. Yukie commits suicide and tells Hisanobu, Ryota’s stepfather, that he doesn’t need to worry about Ryota anymore, as Hisanobu wonders what the fuck Yukie did to Ryota.

Suddenly, strange men come and grab Ryota, forcing him on a cargo plane with 20-30ish people from all walks of life. A strange fat guy tells them that they’ll be abandoned on an uninhabited island in the Pacific, unless they ‘win the game’ (that you just lost). A glass plate is embedded in everybody’s hands that acts as a radar (to detect other people) and the ‘objective’ of the game – it’s impossible to remove while the person’s still living, but if the person’s heart stops beating or their lungs stop, the plate is easily removable. However, the radar does not detect people who are not moving, and using it will reveal your appearance as well – it works the same way as the in-game radar in Btooom!

Parallels with the game are quickly drawn – everybody gets eight BIMs, without instructions of how to activate them. BIMs can only be activated if you ‘own’ them – that is, have killed the previous owner. The only way to win the game is to collect a total of eight radar plates – meaning, you have to kill seven other people to leave the island alive. Ryota steps up and disparages the strange fat guy (in Keima’s words): ‘Games are games. Reality is reality. Those people who try to link them are the ones who can’t tell the difference!!’, but the strange fat guy’s accomplices send him a shock to the head and he faints.

He comes to in the middle of the island, hung to a tree by his parachute. Overcome by amnesia, he remembers nothing of the events that happened on the plane. As you would expect, he’s pretty shocked when suddenly, somebody starts throwing bombs at him! He’s playing Btooom!… IN THE REAL WORLD!!!

His opponent is Imagawa Yoshiaki, a 24-year-old pimpin’ gangster. Apparently, he needs to take pills to keep his sanity or something – which is bad, because there are no pills on the island. Y’know, uninhabited islands generally don’t have pharmacies :v

We don’t really get to find out what happens when he doesn’t get pills, as Ryota dispatches him using the Timer-type BIMs he received. Ryota, who missed the instructions, doesn’t take Yoshiaki’s radar-plate, but takes his Cracker-type BIMs. Although shocked before, now he completely accepts it – that he’s playing Btooom! in real life, and that if he makes one mistake, he’s dead.

Constipatin’ like a boss

The next day, Ryota wakes up and follows this girl that he found, since he wants to eat her… food. He’s starving now, and uses his radar to find a fat person instead: Taira Kiyoshi, a moustached, middle-aged, constipated man. Kiyoshi briefs Ryota up on their current situation, as he firmly believes that there’s a way out of this without killing seven more people.

They team up, but refuse to tell each other what their BIMs are, as those are their ‘trump cards’ and telling each other that will ‘increase the tension’. Which really doesn’t make sense – after all, you wouldn’t trust somebody entirely who might have a SUPER SECRET WEAPON that could kill you at any time, right? If you knew what each other’s weapons are, not only are you sure that they won’t try to kill you, but you can also use the different BIMs for effective teamwork. Perhaps Kiyoshi has a BIM that doesn’t exist in Btooom! – it would explain why he’s so secretive.

A jet flies by and drops a ration package – after all, there wouldn’t be any ‘fun’ in the game if everybody died from lack of food. Somebody makes a run for the package but gets blown up – after all, placing a trap next to a ration package is an easy way to rack up some kills.

Meanwhile, three other people are dealing with what’s happening. Kira Yoshihisa is an abusive parent, and Kira Kousuki is his teenager son. Yoshihisa abused Kousuki as a child, and due to domestic violence, Kousuki gradually became a criminal, culminating in the murder and (after murder) rape of three women. Being done by a fourteen-year-old, the case drew much attention, and would have put Kousuki in jail for life if not for the intervention of Natsume Souichi, the Kiras’ lawyer, who dramatically shortened Kousuki’s jailtime. For some reason, all three end up on the island, even though only Kousuki is known to play Btooom! – or do Yoshihisa and Souichi play Btooom! as well? That would mean that Kiyoshi plays Btooom! too, and he doesn’t seem like a person who would spend time playing a game like that…

The trio find a ration package, but Yoshihisa keeps it all to himself. After more abuse, Kousuki unleashes a Mega Hole-type BIM on his father, killing him. Souichi obviously runs away in fear, leaving Kousuki all by himself.

“That’s because… I AM KIRA!”

I’m sure people will argue that Kousuki killed those women because of Btooom! or something, but it was probably more because of Yoshihisa’s abuse.

I thought Kousuki might become a protagonist later on as he changes his ways, but he seems to become more and more of a creepy loser antagonist – but an antagonist nonetheless, as it’s pretty obvious that Souichi will save him later on.

Save him?

Kiyoshi and Ryota encounter Kousuki, and a fierce duel ensues. However, Kousuki is no match for the REAL POWER OF A BTOOOM! WORLD RANKER. In fact, every single person so far is Japanese – and who’s the best Japanese Btooom!er? Ryota, of course. Why aren’t there any international Btooom!ers, anyways? Is the entire thing really run by Tyrannos Japan? Or are the other Tyrannoses running similar operations elsewhere? Ryota doesn’t kill Kousuki, as he can’t stomach murdering yet another person (after already murdering Yoshiaki), and so he ties him to a pole, presumably to starve to death.

The 13th chapter ends with Kiyoshi and Ryota enjoying a good bowl of ramen, taken from Kousuki’s ration package (I wonder if the package contains BIMs, too – if all the BIMs run out, people don’t have anything to kill each other with…). However, they soon find a dead body ominously floating towards them…

I don’t get why so much cover art is of that girl, yet she never reappears. Is she only on the cover because she’s a highschool girl with a short skirt and the mangaka drew her with large breasts?

The art for Btooom! is great and obviously from a professional, but it’s the pacing that makes it amazing. This should definitely be made into an anime – the first chapters are just absolutely addicting how it manages to infuse so much strategy and depth into what’s basically just a real-life FPS. It’s especially logical to have Ryota’s main weapon be Timer-type BIMs – those are the most strategic ones, and the essence of a manga isn’t actually in its action – it’s in its strategy.

Notice, in every manga, the winner wins through strategy, not brute force. Even in things like Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, Tsuna and Enma have to work together to… uh.. something to do with black holes. Anyways, it’s strategic, and that’s what makes manga exciting. Though the first fight with Yoshiaki had many explosions, it wasn’t as exciting as the battle with Kousuki, which employed more tactics than the first.

I really did feel like Ryota was Light for a while (the above image really helped), but he’s a lot more hopeless – in the ‘real world’, he’s just a normal person. He’s not a murderer, not a fighter. In the game world, strategy is easy – if your team member (who can’t betray you) can kill two people by sacrificing yourself, it’s the most logical thing to do. In the game world, he would have no qualms about ‘killing people’ – in the real world, well, people die when they are killed Obviously, a whole crop of arguments appear over whether killing people was justified, but those questions have already been dealt with in Battle Royale and its 300 clones.

To be honest, I’ve never read Battle Royale before, but I think the basic premise was around the same as the premise of Btooom! – including the person who would kill people who did ‘prohibited’ things, such as trying to get everybody not to fight. I’ll bet the radar-plate monitors peoples’ movements, and the only way to escape is to stop your heart and lungs for a minute while somebody takes the plate out. People also degrade from being civilized members of a healthy society to just a barbaric ‘survival of the fittest’.

There’s one new character every chapter, from a variety of backgrounds – not just hot guys and cute girls. It feels like Zatch Bell! in that way – especially how they outline what every new character is. However, unlike Zatch Bell, everybody’s most likely going to have the same types of BIMs, so there’s not going to be much variety. Unless everybody /does/ have different types of BIMs… It’s also like .hack// and Yureka in the ‘going into the game world’ concept, so I guess it really isn’t original at all. Perhaps the game concept of throwing bombs in what should be an FPS was new, though.

I don’t get why Ryota has such good throwing aim and has those abs in the cover art when he’s really just a NEET who sits at the computer all day. Being good at Btooom! only gives you the strategy – it doesn’t mean you can aim well, or run fast, or dodge reflexively, or crawl without sound, or resist the pain of explosives. I wonder how Kiyoshi’s going to fight later on, being such a fatass. But Kiyoshi’s cool, furthering my belief that all cool animanga fatass men are cool – Poppo, JK, Kiyoshi, Nakai, Kohta, Daru, Ben, Maverick no that guy’s a loser, Matsushita 5th Dan, Inspector Megure, etc. While I can think of many cool fatass men, I can hardly think of any fatass women – the first person to come to mind is Tamako from Gin no Saji orz

The big plot unfurls as well, what with Yukie’s suspicious actions and Tyrannos behind the entire operation, backed by something much larger, much darker…

Careful what you wish for, I guess?

In conclusion: Btooom! is fun. It’s fast-paced, suspenseful action. I’d definitely recommend it as a read – not as some godly work, but just for a great ride.

And who knows? It might just become the next Battle Royale.

P.S. There ARE no uninhabited islands that big.

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