Review: Battle Royale

Review: Battle RoyaleBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
Published by VIZ Media on February 26, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Thriller
Pages: 617
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

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 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. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.

Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale, published in 1999. Having read and enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ series, I really wanted to read this book to see just how similar they actually were. Certainly, she must have found some inspiration in this story; it seems unlikely that elements of her story are so similar without some familiarity with Battle Royale.

The Similarities:

  • Dictatorship running a rather stupid Program to prevent its people from getting uppity.
  • A character who has been through the game before, won and had to go back.
  • Hesitant romance between main characters.
  • Zones that become unsafe to force characters into conflict, rather than just hiding.
  • Announcements on a regular schedule revealing who has died.
  • The victor receives a more comfortable life and TV coverage after the Program ends.

The Differences:

  • Battle Royale is perhaps even more violent. The kids here get a whole lot of guns and there are almost double the number of kids that have to die.
  • Since they are fighting classmates, the kids know everyone, rather than just one other person.
  • There is no way to volunteer to go in someone else’s place. If your class is chosen, you’re screwed.
  • Battle Royale has a less clear ending.
  • Battle Royale follows all of the characters, not just one, so you know what is going through everyone’s minds.
  • In The Hunger Games, you are eligible to participate from 12-18. In Battle Royale, you are eligible only when you are in the third year of junior high (equivalent to a high school freshman in the U.S.).

Battle Royale was definitely an interesting read. And I enjoyed it, in the way one can enjoy something as grisly and macabre as books about young folks killing one another at the behest of a scary government. The story was great. Unfortunately, the writing is not. What I don’t know is whether it is as poorly written (seriously grammatically incorrect and awkward sentence structure) in Japanese or if it was poorly translated. The copy of the book I have is the first American edition I believe, so maybe the newer one has been better edited? I don’t really know, but definitely watch out for that.

Hunger Games fans should not miss this. Next up for me: watching the live action movie.

One response to “Review: Battle Royale”

  1. I tried reading it, because I thought it sounded more interesting than HG and, you know, the rumors. I just couldn’t follow properly because of the point you mentioned ” it was poorly translated”. I’m giving it another try when my vacations start…

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