Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a battle royale type of novel in which 12 warriors representing various Chinese Zodiac animals battle in a fight to the death. Although from Viz, this is not a manga – the only illustrations are collected on the cover and used as chapter headings. The novel itself is what we’d come to expect from a light novel type of story: minimal world building and twisty turns as each contestant is eliminated.
Story: 12 combatants are required to come every 12 years to fight in a battle royale to the death. Each represents a zodiac sign and mysterious ‘god like beings’ bet on the results. Only one is allowed to survive until the end and that person will be granted any wish.
The book is cleverly organized by viewpoints: each chapter starts with a graphic of the character and their background. Then it follows their viewpoint until they either kill or are killed. The killings are, of course, imaginative and each character’s unique (and supposedly hidden) talent/ability/strength is often used against them to create their end.
The world building is non existent – everything is ‘mysterious beings’ etc., who will clear out an entire town in order to create their betting coliseum of death. The focus is more on each character, how they think they will win, and how they eventually die. The special abilities felt lazily written – they didn’t really tie in nicely to the Zodiac sign and I admit I was disappointed that the characters didn’t tie in to the zodiac aspect strongly. The ‘power up’ abilities were more about how the author could find ways to use it against the characters rather than for the characters to win.
The book is a fast read, about two hours. At 250 odd pages, it sounds like a lot but this is not densely worded and the pace moves quickly. You have enough time to get into one character and then they are probably going to die. The shifting POVs allow the story to move at an interesting pace; it’s almost like reading a compendium of short stories though it all unfolds chronologically that day of the battle.
The ending was a bit disappointing and more like an O Henry short story rather than a Battle Royale manga or Hunger Games. The lack of world building and very light tone make this ultimately a quick but fairly unsatisfying read.
There is a companion anime to this released the same time as the English license. Author NisiOisiN is best known for his Bakemonogatori and Medaka Box – psychological thrillers and horror. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.