10,000 users of the social networking service “Real Account” are sucked into another world and forced to fight for their lives in a series of death games.

Ataru Kashiwagi is an average high-schooler, but he doesn’t have too many friends he can count on. Thankfully, he has his followers on Real Account (“R.A.”), the hit social networking service sweeping Japan, and is thoroughly engrossed in created his online persona. One day, he and 10,000 other R.A. users have their minds sucked into their phones, finding themselves within the world of R.A. being welcomed by the network’s mascot, Marble. The rules are simple; if a user loses all of their followers, they die, and if a user dies, so do the rest of their followers. With these conditions in place, Ataru is forced to use his knowledge of social networking to survive a series of increasingly deadly games broadcast in the real world as well.

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If you’re a fan of the burgeoning “death-game” genre - think Sword Art Online, Danganronpa, Judge, or the older Battle Royale, you’ll find this series to be an interesting thriller.

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I have to admit it - I rolled my eyes a little bit when the first page of this volume opened up with the good old “if you die in the game, you die in real life!” bit. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the social network themed premise of this world was used throughout this volume, culminating in a thoroughly interesting read. After the story begins with all of the R.A. users becoming trapped in the game, we get to see three different challenges weeding out the participants. These were interestingly constructed and made interesting use of the social media focus of this story to create a thrilling feel, making this volume stand out from the other “Battle Royale” type stories out there even if the course of the story itself was fairly typical. However, it felt like things continued to work out a little bit too well conveniently in general because Ataru would immediately have a solution for each challenge. This made his victories feel a little bit hollow, and I would have liked if they were more earned and less of a natural result of the story needing to move forward.

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While the death game itself is used well to push the story forward, Real Account also uses its setting to deliver a biting dose of social commentary on the dangers of the increasing ubiquity of social media in the real world. I liked that each challenge that the trapped users were forced to participate in related to a different theme based on a criticism of social media because this gave the story a remarkable thematic coherence throughout. The first game did this perfectly, centering upon the divide between “virtual followers” versus real friends in a way that emphasizes a critique of social media while pushing the story forward in a clever way as people fall left and right. Although this criticism of social media was a little bit on-the-nose at times, I enjoyed that this gave the scenario an extra punch beyond what other similar stories have done.

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The characters themselves aren’t overwhelmingly interesting - Ataru is just a pretty standard high-schooler and more or less a stand-in for the audience at this point - but they are established well enough to make the story interesting as they go through the various death games. Ataru is a bit of a bland-protagonist aside from his addiction to R.A. and doesn’t have much characterization at all, but it was interesting to see him think his way out of game after game in a creative way. However, I would have liked if there was a little more context for his talents and moments of bravery in this story, because it felt at times like his actions were purely driven by a need to push the story forward. The few other characters introduced don’t really stand-out either, but are generally pleasant enough and aren’t distracting from the story. The dynamic between Ataru and his younger sister Yuri was a little bit sappy and overdone, but it worked well-enough within the context of the story to keep Ataru moving forward.

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Real Account’s art isn’t anything special, but works pretty well for the purposes of this story. The story is laid out effectively in clean panels, and the art helps to accentuate the undercurrent of horror this volume possesses as people are forced to go through the increasingly deadly challenges. Although the amount of blood and gore in this volume did set this tone effectively, it felt a little gratuitous at times continuing to force this point and portray the characters yet again reveling in terror. The character designs weren’t especially memorable, but they were well drawn with a nice degree of facial expressiveness. This was especially helpful in getting across the emotional beats of the story effectively, as we see very clearly the shock and horror of the participants as they go through the challenges.

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Real Account was a fascinating read, and I’m interested to see where the series will head next in its creative take on the “death-game” format. Neither the characters or art stood out as particularly strong, but they complemented the story appropriately and enjoyably. The execution sometimes left a little be desired especially in terms of the heavy-handedness on the social criticism and the convenient feel some story points had, but I enjoyed that it ventures to do something interesting by criticizing aspects of social media use in the context of a pretty entertaining survival story.

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What do our scores mean?

Real Account Vol. 1 was translated by Jonathan Tarbox and Kazuko Shimizu, and published by Kodansha Comics USA on March 22nd, 2016. Authored by Okushou with art by Shizumu Watanabe, the series is ongoing in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine. Volume 2 will be released in English on May 24th 2016.

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All images taken from the official chapter made available online by Kodansha.

You can read the first chapter of the manga on Kodansha Comics USA’s site!

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