Battle Royale

Battle Royale

Author: Koushun Takami

Publication: 2003, Haika Souru

Pages: 575

Note:  This is the English translation of a Japanese novel first published in 1999 and later made into a movie that became something of a cult sensation.  While the central premise may be somewhat similar to The Hunger Games, you should be aware that this is a far different, and much more violent, story that was written close to a decade before Suzanne Collins’ wildly successful novel.

Overall Rating:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: The 42 members of Shiroiwa Junior High, Third Year Class B have just been chosen for The Program.  They have been gassed while on a school trip and taken to an island.  Once there, each student will be given a backpack with a randomly selected weapon and sent out to kill each other.  The game ends when only one of them is left.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: I admire Takami’s audacity in choosing to write this book.  When Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, she chose to minimize the violence of the actual games and place a lot of her emphasis on the story and characters behind the games, on the build-up, fear, and pageantry.  I think most readers appreciated that approach, and it really contributed to the book’s success.  But there’s something undeniably attractive about the sheer audacity it took for Takami to write a story with a similar premise to The Hunger Games, but where the entire focus is on the game itself and each death plays out in gory detail.

What I Liked the Least: Battle Royale is poorly written – or at least poorly translated.  There’s no other way to put it.  The dialogue is wooden and lifeless, and the book is full of fluff, with Takami continually repeating things you already know – sometimes for the third or fourth time.  He’ll show you something, then tell it to you, and then tell you again just to make sure you got the point.  This may be a 575 page book, but I’m pretty confident that Takami could have cut out a solid 100 pages without losing anything in the way of actual content.

The only other real issue I had with the book is in the make-up of the class.  Among 42 students, at what sounds like a fairly average school, there are two stone cold killers and a fair number of girls who have been raped or prostituted themselves.  Now, you’d expect your share of bullies and delinquents – and they have those in spades – but two stone cold killers and a handful of prostitutes in a class of 42 kids?  It makes for good action and suspense, but isn’t particularly believable.

How Good was the Action? It can get pretty intense.  The fights are packed with great blow-by-blow detail and each one felt well-choreographed.   Even when the action got frenetic it was still easy to follow.  My only complaint in terms of the action is that it often felt distant.  There are a lot of characters in this book, and unlike in The Hunger Games, Takami describes each and every death.   In some cases, they are characters you’ve been following for a while and come to care about, so the fights they find themselves in are full of tension and meaning.  In a lot of cases, though, you only see the characters for one chapter – the one where they die – and as a result you don’t have anything invested in who wins and who loses.

How Engaging was the Story?   I have to admit, I got into this book a lot more than I expected, given the huge number of characters and overall poor quality of the writing.  Takami makes a point of really following perhaps eight of the students, switching back and forth between their various story lines and chapters involving one off fights and interactions between students you don’t know that well.  Coming back to a handful of central characters, with their plans and their struggle to survive, definitely kept me interested.   And the chapters where those main characters are killed off could be quite intense.

On a more basic level, at the end of every chapter Takami lists how many students are left.  And I have to admit that I often glanced ahead.  When I saw a chapter coming up where a large number of students get killed I drove forward out of a grisly desire to see what was going to happen.

Overall Assessment: I can’t really say that Battle Royale is a good book.  It’s far too wordy and poorly written for that.  But it is without question a guilty pleasure, and I can’t help but admit that I was drawn into Takami’s world of violence and death.

Profanity: Most definitely.

Sex: Yes.  I wouldn’t say it gets all that graphic, but there is sex and there are a few references to how some of the female students trapped on the island were raped as children or prostituted themselves.

Violence: Uh, yeah.  If this book were written for adults, violence-wise it’d be in the same league as Silence of the Lambs.   There’s blood and brains all over the place.  Kids get shot and blown up, stabbed, and beaten to death.  One kid even has his eyes gouged out.  Yes, this is violence in the extreme.

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