Despite over-the-top sex and violence that kept it out of most chain bookstores, Battle Royale has been a popular seller in its original 15-volume format. Now Tokyopop plans an omnibus Battle Royale Ultimate Edition, collecting three volumes of the original manga in a single, hardcover volume retailing for $24.99. The new book series debuts in October, and Tokyopop’s editor-in-chief, Rob Tokar, explained why this new Battle Royale edition is more than just an old book in a new cover.

PW Comics Week: What’s the premise of Battle Royale?

Rob Tokar: In the not too distant future, under a totalitarian regime, there is the Program, which is essentially the worst lottery ever. The Program kidnaps an entire ninth-grade class, takes them to a remote location, and gives them food and water and a random weapon. The students are given three days to kill each other until only one is left alive, or they all die. The book is filled with violence and gore, and some pretty graphic sex as well, but really the underlying story is “What would you do in this no-win situation?” as the students hunt each other.

The creators spend a lot of time doing flashbacks of the characters’ lives before they get into the situation, so you really get to know them. It’s not just killing and gore, it’s the characters’ relationships and what they are trying to do in the worst situation of their lives.

PWCW: What extras are you adding for the Ultimate Edition?

RT: It has a cover that was created specifically for Tokyopop by the mangaka himself. The first volume has a new commentary and interview with the author of the original novel that formed the basis of the manga and cocreator of the manga as well. We have original character sketches, and we have also added details about some of the weapons.

Then we have a segment called the Couch, where we have a clinical psychologist do some commentary. The biggest question any reader would have is “If I were put in the Program, what would I do?” She brings up some clinical studies that indicate that very often situations like this don’t bring out the best in somebody, they can bring out the worst. In the second volume, an emergency room physician will explain some of the injuries sustained in the series. Someone is shot through the head with a crossbow, so we want [the doctor] to comment on how exactly you die from that, and how long it takes.

PWCW: What market are you focusing on?

RT: This has sex and violence and gore and plenty of it, so a lot of bookstores won’t touch it. This series has done well in the Diamond stores, comic book shops and such.

PWCW: Why do you think people will buy this in the new format?

RT: We know there are a lot of people who have never read manga, and if they come to the manga section and can’t find the early volumes of a title, they don’t want to start with volume 5 or 8, they want to start with volume 1. This is a way to give them a chance to jump on board and see what it’s all about. And of course, for people who do have it but are real nuts about it, there is some extra content for them