Koushun Takami's 'Battle Royale': A Review
If you're interested in books where modern people fight to the death gladiator style, then check out this one!
With all the sudden hype surrounding 'The Hunger Games' there has to be some backlash somewhere along the way. It came with Takami's 'Battle Royale'. Many argue that the story idea for 'The Hunger Games' was stolen directly from 'Battle Royale'. While I'm not one to pass an uninformed judgement, I decided to pick up a copy and decide for myself. While I can't deny the similarities, I can't definitely say, that 'Battle Royale' was, in fact, plagiarized. 'Battle Royale' started as an entry into a Japanese writing contest. While it survived to see the final rounds, it was eventually rejected due to its violent contents. Regardless of not winning the contest, it still generated enough attention, resulting in the novel's publication. Once released, 'Battle Royale' turned into a Japanese pop classic with its own cult following. After two English translations, the novel finally made it over to American shores. While it was adapted into film in Japan, many are anxiously awaiting to see if America gets its own film. Again, with the current 'Hunger Games' hype, I couldn't imagine our audiences not eating this one right up.
Every year, the Republic of Greater East Asia, selects a random class of students to take part in what is known as "The Program". The Program is a game of sorts where each student is given a weapon, dropped in a deserted area and instructed to fight to the death. The game ends when only one remains alive. For winning, the lucky student is relocated with a new identity and given a large cash prize. To complicate matters, each student is forced to wear a metal collar, which acts as a bomb. Sections of the arena eventually become 'forbidden zones', areas that the players may no longer inhabit. When a player enters one of these zones, the collar activates and the player dies. Students are actually not obligated to play the game at all, however, if twenty-four hours pass without a death, then all collars activate and everyone dies. After all, the rules do not state that a victor has to be crowned.
This time around, Third year class B of Shiroiwa Jr. High has the misfortune of being selected as this years contestants. Class B is just like your average group of students. Made up of forty-two students, there are cliques, rivalries, loners and stand outs. As the game begins, players figure out quickly that no one can be trusted, singe your best friend could be the one who puts a knife in your back. The quiet and reserved students become the most vicious killers and some of the more intimidating players are the first to die. Many students employ different strategies, some band together to develop an escape plan, some hide, and others play the killing game outright.
I have to give credit to this novel. As I was reading it, I really questioned my own humanity. If that were my class, what would I do to survive? Could I make that decision to kill or be killed? How would I deal with the guilt and emotions afterwards? Given the situation in which you have to protect yourself, is it still considered murder? Would we still be condemned by society? I've spent a lot of time pondering these questions, and I think you would too. 'Battle Royale' is actually one of the toughest novels I've read in a long, long time. The translation is very well done, but there are a few times where it gets a little confusing. I won't hold this against the author, but be warned, it's a story that you'll have to really concentrate on. I think the hardest part of the story to comprehend are the characters. Being that there are forty-two of them, it's too many for my taste. I understand that you would need a ton of players to make the game interesting, but after awhile, it gets tough to keep them straight. The names seem like traditional Japanese names, and they are tough to follow in the beginning. Especially since they are always addressed by first and last name. I think that if the characters were to be addressed by first name only, it wouldn't have been so confusing for me at first. Eventually though, you'll find a character you can identify with. As they all show a bit of personality as the story progresses. I actually found myself drawn to Mitsuko, one of the books villains. I liked her because she played the game from the get go and she was clever about it. Without a doubt, this is a story for older, mature readers. There isn't a lack for blood or curses to be found. So to me, it did feel like a 'Hunger Games' for grown ups. Do I think the story was ripped off? No. It just seems like bad timing. While the the two books share similarities, there is a lot that separate the two. I'm awarding the book three stars. There are a lot of pages, and some of the chapters are drawn out and verge on boring. The bloody action is great, don't get me wrong, but all the conversations had while hiding in the bushes leave a lot to be desired.