Social media is a huge part of our lives and it’s easy to forget we’ve only had Facebook for 12 years. Maybe it takes that long to gestate stories, because there’s a new manga out this week combining a social media platform like Facebook with a Battle Royale death competition. That’s a lot to balance so let’s break this down and see if it’s worth your dime.
Real Account Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Instead of Facebook the world is addicted to Real Account and that includes protagonist and high school second year Ataru Kashiwagi. He’s a bit of a loveable loser who only has friends via Real Account. One random day Ataru and 10,000 other people get literally sucked into the app where a smiley face masked man is calling the shots. They must play his games and if they lose they die. If they lose all their followers they die. If they die all their followers die. It’s a serious situation and while we try to figure out why this is happening and who is behind it the smiley faced madman makes us question the genuinity of social media.
Why does this book matter?
This is basically social commentary meets Running Man meets Facebook — which you have to admit, sounds like a great combination. This is also a more adult manga with blood, gore, and adult themes so if you’re into that kind of thing it might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Your life is on the line.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The story by Okushou does a great job establishing how social media and the social norms around it are fake and unfulfilling. By using this madman who’s somehow sucked the characters into the game Okushou shows us the falsity of the friends and appearances on a social media platform. This is rather obvious on some levels although I’m sure a younger audience who picks this up might learn something; that and it’s fun to see how the smiley faced man proves his points. Take for instance a game where Ataru and others must rank their level of appearance. We quickly learn one of the players wears so much makeup nobody could even tell who she is without it. At the same time the question of how we value our looks and vanity is put into question.
This commentary is then followed up with awful and terrible violence. Characters die in what appears to be incredibly painful ways usually with fountains of blood gushing from their mouths. While the script is punchy and certainly not written as a horror book the visuals are quite shocking. All the while the smiley faced man grins with pleasure. Ultimately it’s similar to something akin to a social media Saw.
Ataru quickly establishes himself as a cunning and witty character and there’s a bit of a twist at one point as he figures a way around one of the challenges. There’s an odd bit focused strangely on how a girl reminds him of his sister and subsequently how attractive he finds her, but all in all he’s an average guy who’s more brains than brawn. He’s established as a loner that I’m sure most of the manga audience can relate to. Most importantly his love and devotion to his sister is established well as we learn they’ve lost both of their parents.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The tone is a bit off and I think it’s due to the nature of the game show mixed with the intense gore. There are bright lights and strong elements of sound and visuals in play which makes the entire experience seem fun and not the least bit threatening. At the same time the characters aren’t losing their minds with fear and confusion which is slightly perplexing given the pain they’re seeing others go through. This adds up to the story’s having a lack of purpose or at the very least hard to get a bead on.
Which leads to the how and why of this strange premise. How can people be sent inside an app? How is it the villain can kill you and your followers with a flick of the wrist? It’s easy to see he’s trying to prove a point but why? These are questions that, if at the very least were hinted towards, could have made this manga much more interesting and complex. Instead the story is is told at a face value that’s meaningful, but not deeply meaningful.
Is It Good?
This manga does a lot of things well, such as raising the stakes for and making some solid points about the vapid nature of social commentary. Ultimately it’s a fun read due to the social commentary and with a strong lead character you too will find yourself turning the pages hoping to learn the why and how of this story.