Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
I was already familiar with the concept of Battle Royale, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the author executed the plot.
The plot takes place in a fictional fascist Japan. The government established a military program, the Battle Experiment No. 68. This program randomly selects fifty third-year junior high school students and forces them to kill each other until one student remains.
This year, the selected group of students are from Shiroiwa Junior High School. They are dosed with sleeping gas en route on a “field trip.” When they wake, they are in a classroom on a vacated island. Psychopathic sadist, Kinpatsu Sakamochi, tells the students they have three days until one stands as the victor. Or else, the metal collars around their necks will detonate.
Armed with a bag of random supplies given to them by the government, each student must come to terms and figure out a way to survive.
Battle Royale was first written in Japanese and then translated into English. It had a manga, movie, and theatre adaptation. It was also Takami Koushun’s debut novel after leaving his job as a journalist in 1996.
Battle Royale focuses on three characters: Nanahara Shuya (last first), Nakagawa Noriko, and Kawada Shogo. But, it also jumps to different perspectives of other students. Thus, our protagonists may not know how some students died, but the reader does.
“By then she was dead. In fact, she may have been dead a while ago. Physically, several seconds ago, mentally, ages ago.”
– Koushun Takami
If you’ve seen a physical copy of the book, a question you may have thought is why is this so thick? Besides knowing how each student died, the author also sheds light on their background–some more than others–and their relationship with their classmates. By the end, you’ll know the class of Shiroiwa High School inside out.
Battle Royale focuses on camaraderie and emphasizes maintaining bonds and trust for one to succeed, an evident theme in Japanese culture. You could argue that is a reason why the author decides to give each student character depth. To learn, relate, and emphasize with the students brings you a little closer to them. And when they are ruthlessly killed, they vanish before you get a chance to familiarize with them.
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Battle Royale and Hunger Games often are compared to each other as their premise is identical. For those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, here is a brief breakdown. The Capitol of Panem controls twelve districts by selecting tributes, a boy and girl, from each district to compete in The Hunger Games. It’s a nationally televised show. The tributes will fight to the death until one person remains.
Having read both novels, here are my two cents on the differences between the two books. The Hunger Games is glamorous; it carries fantasy elements that appeal to a younger audience. Battle Royale, on the other hand, has a historical background which is explained thoroughly near the end. The Hunger Games also adds a prominent romance; the romance in Battle Royale is very soft-pedalled. If anything, it boils down to cultural differences and its impact on a plot’s execution rather than the plot itself.
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games for its premise, I would recommend Battle Royale. In addition to cultural differences, the deaths in Battle Royale are much more graphic than the Hunger Games. Some will make you cringe a little, even more so when you remember they’re junior high kids. There are also mature themes such as attempted rape.
I’ve reread this book twice and will probably do so again in the future.