by Junya Inoue
published by Yen Press; $11.99 US
BTOOOM! reads like a combination of Survivor and Lost filtered through a video-game overlay and the now-expected forced murder plot.
Ryouta is unemployed, which gives him plenty of time to become one of the world’s best players of BTOOOM!, a new online video game in which you kill opponents with bombs, not guns. The next time he awakens, he’s on a tropical island, forced to play the game for real along with a mixed group of others. To be returned home, a player must obtain the markers from seven others — presumably, by killing them.
I first remember seeing the plot of “skilled game player pulled into real-life battle” back in The Last Starfighter, almost 30 years ago now. There’s a reason it keeps recurring. Every game player who reaches high levels of achievement dreams of having it mean more than just an in-game scoreboard, of having his skills accomplish something in the real world.
Meanwhile, the “only one can remain alive” plot is an easy way to add heaping amounts of drama into the story. It’s always disheartening to see how quickly the characters in such situations succumb to killing without particularly worrying over it. Perhaps we’re supposed to think that such a forced decision is so unrealistic that we should simply ride with the adrenaline. However, with recent debates over the level of violence in our society, it disturbed me.
The story is more than a little predictable. I suspect many readers are pleased by feeling smarter than our protagonist, figuring things out before he does. Late in the volume, he runs into another character whose purpose is to tell him the details of the plot, allowing him and us to know what’s going on while still keeping his convenient memory loss.
The storytelling gaps jumped out at me, as when Ryouta, trapped in a parachute stuck in a tree, next panel is shown on the ground, saying to himself, “I finally got free.” Convenient, to move things along without having to draw complicated sequences. That screen time is instead dedicated to long sequences of protagonists battling each other and things blowing up. There’s also a fan-service scene, with an unnamed girl in underwear and schoolgirl skirt. The book is rated Mature, due to the various dismembered body parts.
In spite of the familiarity (or because of it), BTOOOM! is a quick, exciting read. It’s not original, but it’s enjoyable pulp. The anime adaptation is supposed to be available here sometime this year. (The publisher provided a review copy.)