by Koushun Takami
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC
Publication Date (America): February 26th 2003
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Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as a violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.I'm a HUGE fan of The Hunger Games so when I saw Battle Royale on a "What to read after The Hunger Games" list I immediately put it on hold at my Library. When I finally got the book it sat in my room for a few weeks and then I read about half of the first chapter (which is honestly only a couple of pages. Fail) before I had to return it. Over two years passed and I totally forgot about the book until THG movie started getting huge buzz and people got all up in arms over it being a blatant rip off of Battle Royale. Needless to say being the critical thinker that I am I decided that I had to read Battle Royale and judge the ripoffery for myself.
Verdict: Both are similar, different, and AWESOME.
The basic premise of Battle Royale is that 42 Jr. High Students (21 boys and 21 girls) are sent off to a deserted island to kill each other until there is only one survivor left. Each student is given a backpack with survival supplies and a random weapon which can range from a fork (sucks to be you!) or a machine gun. Additionally each student is fitted with an explosive device around their neck. If they try to escape it explodes, if they enter a forbidden zone on the island it explodes and if no students are killed within a 24 hour time period all the remaining students devices explode. This leads to a LOT of carnage within a very short period of time. The book spans only 3 days which is absolutely insane when you think about it. That many deaths in 3 days? Which brings me to discussing the violence....
Battle Royale is dark, gritty, and EXTREMELY violent. I have never read anything as violent as Battle Royale in my life. The descriptions of the death and carnage were so detailed and vivid that I could picture it all perfectly in my head. It wasn't exactly a nice mental picture. There were buckets of blood, tons of bullets, and countless ways characters died. While reading The Hunger Games the violence sort of flew over my head but in Battle Royale it was like a slap in the face. This book is not for the faint of stomach or anyone who is easily psychologically disturbed.
One thing I was worried about going into Battle Royale was the sheer number of characters and the fact that they all have unfamiliar Japanese names. I don't know about you guys but Japanese names can tend to sound the same to me. Fortunately I got the Japanese names straightened out pretty early on (at least of the main characters. There were a few instances when I got confused about supporting ones) so it didn't turn out to be as much of a problem as I expected. In fact I really liked the way the characters were explored in Battle Royale. Shuya, Noriko, and Shogo were decidedly the three main characters but the book wasn't entirely centered on them and their plight to survive. A lot of other characters also had chapters written from their point of view and sure, it was mostly to watch them get killed but it rounded out the novel nicely. I liked getting to step into the shoes of all the different characters, even if it was just for one chapter before they were unwittingly poisoned or had their throat slit. :P
The last thing I really have to point out about Battle Royale is that it is SO psychologically dark. A ton of the characters, from the Battle Royale superintendent to some of the students, were just plain evil. They killed without a thought or care for anyone or anything. It was like they were mindless machines and for one character he literally was a mindless machine because the part of his brain that controlled feelings and emotions was gone. Freaky? Totally. On top of that there is something so terribly heartwrenching about reading about characters who truly want to do the right thing and then end up dying because of their trusting nature or the untrusting nature of others. It may be fiction but it's still so SO sad to read about people dying for no good reason.
Battle Royale is a great book. It's horrifically violent and pretty psychologically disturbing but at the same time it's fairly thought provoking. But the thing is Battle Royale almost seems like it's just too much. This post is not about comparing The Hunger Games and Battle Royale but I feel that I really have to highlight the main difference I saw in these two books. Other people may not agree with my opinion which is totally fine but the biggest difference I noticed was that while The Hunger Games feels like a narrative against the violence Battle Royale almost seemed to be exploiting it. There was never really talk of keeping your humanity or the senselessness of the violence at all. In a way I liked that because as a Christian I do feel that man is inherently bad and will always go back to a baser nature of evil if given the chance but at the same time there really wasn't any hope in Battle Royale. It just felt like violence for violence sake with no real meaning. And the scariest thing of all is that I honestly enjoyed it. Even though it was extremely sick and twisted and terribly violent I still enjoyed Battle Royale. What does that say about me? Maybe I'm reading too much into this but it's frightening to think about.
I give Battle Royale 4 out of 5 ice cream cones.
Because of it's extremely violent and dark content I would not recommend Battle Royale to any young teens. However, if you're older and are looking for a fascinating thriller that's similar to The Hunger Games I would definitely recommend giving Battle Royale a read. Just be sure to know the limits of what you can handle violence wise because Battle Royale cuts it close for me and I can handle a lot.
I guess next up for me after reading the book is to watch the Battle Royale movie though I have to say I am a bit hesitant. If the movie is anything like the book violence wise (and from what I've read it is super graphic) I may end up spending most of the movie looking away from the screen. But I guess we'll see.
If there's anyone who has read the book/watched the movie I really want to hear your opinions so please feel free to leave them in the comments below!