BTOOOM! Vol. 16 by Junya Inoue
BTOOOM! sticks to its guns with excellent art and (mostly) fittingly psychotic characters in its sixteenth volume, even if the plot starts to go off on tangents.
67 %

The stakes are raised in this high tension volume of BTOOOM! Only three survivors will be allowed to leave the island. The game of survival is nearing its conclusion, and the strain is starting to take a toll on the survivors’ minds.

Quick summary: Ryota and his ragtag team panic over the three survivor announcement. Tension rises, and three teams come together for an explosive clash. The fight is interrupted by an encounter that borders on rape between Himiko and Uesugi, and we get a flashback to Soga’s past where we learn how he ended up on the island. The flashback triggers an abrupt personality change in Soga, sending him on a rampage that ultimately ends in his death at Ryota’s hands. In the aftermath, Himiko finally reunites with Ryota, but because of his ally’s death, it may be too late for her to help. Meanwhile, Oda thwarts an assassination attempt on his life involving bare breasts, flashbacks, and literal panty bombs.

Ryota and Oda from BTOOOM!

Sixteen volumes in, the plot of BTOOOM! is struggling to stay on course. An international company with confusingly vague goals looms behind the deadly survival game. They seem to be motivated by money, but it’s not very clear what a bunch of strangers blowing each other up on a deserted island has to do with their profit margin, especially when said company owns priceless military technology that they could ransom off to the highest bidder for the price of a small country. Whatever their intentions and however believable they end up being, though, BTOOOM!’s shadowy antagonists still manage to create a powerful sense of tension by demonstrating just how far reaching and powerful they are.

What BTOOOM! lacks in substantial plot, however, it makes up for with gripping action and suspense. On an island where everyone is armed with handheld explosives, it feels like every character’s life is in genuine danger. Deaths on the island are swift, violent, and unexpected. Fight scenes are perfectly executed with just the right balance of strategy, explosions, and mind games. The plot sometimes feels like an accessory to the intense suspense in every chapter.

But BTOOOM!’s heart-pounding action occasionally finds itself dragged down by unnecessary plot elements. Flashbacks are becoming a frustratingly frequent occurrence, especially when they’re thrown smack into the middle of intense scenes. For example, just as Yoko is putting her life on the line in an attempt to kill Oda, she jumps into a flashback about her past as a pornstar. This comes shortly before another flashback to Soga’s past as a dancer. These flashbacks are mildly interesting, but they’re not necessary to the plot.

The most frustrating of the unnecessary plot elements is the “I see dead people” girl Kaguya. At best, she’s an awkward and out-of-place character. At worst, she’s a brick that shatters immersion in the series. The introduction of a supernatural element with no foreshadowing or pre-established elements of mysticism was a poorly executed move on the writer’s part. Kaguya may have had some place in BTOOOM! had she been introduced earlier and incorporated into the plot; as is, she’s shoehorned into the manga at the climax of the plot without warning or apparent purpose. Fortunately, she doesn’t have too much screen time in this volume.

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With the exception of Kaguya, BTOOOM!’s characters and their characterization feel natural to the series. Junya Inoue does an excellent job portraying the psychological toll all the violence is taking on the characters. Ryota’s mental breakdown after killing Soga feels like a believable response to the tragedy, and the event shows some real promise for advancing the plot. His hallucinations of Oda all indicate that Ryota is about to go into full blown ruthless survival mode. If he does lose it, nobody will stand in his way and nothing will stop him from doing whatever it takes to win. If executed well, that could be pretty awesome to see.

Volume 16 also gave us deeper insight into the pasts of two more characters, Soga and Yoko. The flashbacks that illustrate their pasts are awkwardly shoehorned into this volume and make the story’s progression choppier than it needs to be. However, as far as flashbacks go they’re well done and would have been a good addition as extras at the end of the volume, instead of being used as a flimsy motivation for Soga’s mood swing, or as an interruption to Yoko’s attempt to kill Oda.

Speaking of Oda, he continues to steal the spotlight from the rest of the cast. He’s the only main character who approaches the survival game with practicality and does what he has to do without hesitation. BTOOOM! would be perfectly well off if Ryota was killed off and Oda took over completely as the main character. He’s that much fun to follow, plus his tattoos are awesome.

As a final positive, BTOOOM! continues to shine through its detailed fight scenes and graphic facial expressions. They enhance the manga’s use of suspense and thrill perfectly, emphasizing Junya’s talent for illustrating primal emotions and maintaining BTOOOM!’s atmosphere of unpredictability. It is easy to believe that a character might snap and betray their allies at any time when they look so believably terrified and nervous. This manga’s greatest asset is the art, and Volume 16 is a worthy reading experience for that alone. Junya does go overboard with the forced fanservice, though.

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Overall, BTOOOM! Vol. 16 is a mad fun read. The book’s characterization is enjoyable, the epic explosion art is impressive, and the volume has a great atmosphere of tension and suspense. I’m not really happy with how the flashbacks made the book’s flow feel so choppy, but it managed to avoid being outright confusing. If you’ve been enjoying the series so far, you’ll like this book.

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