If ever there was a need to refute the phrase "you can't judge a book by its cover", BTOOOM would be (with every pun intended) the perfect title with which to blow it out of the water. In fact, perhaps only "Lots of Really Big Explosions - The Manga" would have been a better (if less snappy) title for this series.
Anyhow, I suppose we'd better start by explaining what BTOOOM is all about aside from making stuff blow up. At the centre of our story we're introduced to Ryouta Sakamoto, an irksome shut-in with only two goals in life - to become the best player in the world at "BTOOOM!", a multi-player action game which has explosives rather than guns at its heart; and to work for the company that developed the title in question.
Such is Ryouta's enduring obsession with the game, it's easy to imagine his sudden appearance on a deserted, jungle-strewn island as some kind of fever dream - of course, it quickly proves to be anything but. How did Ryouta end up on this island, and under what circumstances? Well, that would be to give away a major crux of this first volume, but needless to say there's a decidedly nefarious reason for his sudden shift in location.
The really bad news for Ryouta is that he's not alone - the island is also playing host to a number of other newcomers, all of whom seem to have a far better grasp of their reason for being there and their purpose. Unfortunately, that purpose is a decidedly violent one, and Sakamoto is going to need to apply everything he's learned from playing BTOOOM in this dangerous new world.
Essentially, the entirety of this first volume of the series is preoccupied with laying out its world and premise - something that it does slowly, meticulously and to be frank without any real verve to speak of. Yes, these early chapters waste no time in blowing stuff up or bringing us some overly clichéd enemies and allies for Ryouta to deal with, and they also succeed in quickly turning its protagonist from unlikeable to a decent enough character in short order, but there's still something missing in its treatment of the scenario at hand. Maybe it's simply the fact that Sakamoto seems so dim-witted for much of the first volume, only to show some measure of intelligence later on, or perhaps it's the fact that running around on an explosion-strewn island just isn't as exhilarating as it should be when it's committed to paper, but even as an action series BTOOOM at this juncture doesn't have the same punch or ability to engage as, say, High School of the Dead.
Of course, this isn't to write off the series as a whole - even if this first volume isn't all it should be there's no denying that its setup has the ability to appeal, with some decidedly Gantz-esque vibes in its premise and the possibility of far more interesting characters and relationships just over the horizon. This first volume's art style is also solid and at times surprisingly detailed, while Yen Press' presentation and translation is simple but effective.
Even if it doesn't set the world ablaze (okay, I'll stop with the explosion puns now), if the premise of this series has caught your eye or you were entertained by the recent anime adaptation which streamed on Crunchyroll, BTOOOM could prove to be a worthwhile purchase. Beyond that however, you might want to wait and see in which direction this manga heads before committing yourself to picking it up.