Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Because it’s Magical March this month, I decided to pick this book from my TBR. Many people had been urging me to read this book, after Novroz of Polychrome Interest first recommended the book to me and I was able to get a copy via Bookmooch.

Battle Royale: What it is about

This is the original Hunger Games. I mean that quite literally. This book is from 1999 and The Hunger Games from 2008, and the resemblance is more than a coincidence.

It’s 1997 and the Republic of Greater East Asia is a dictatorship. Japan, where this story takes place, is part of this republic. A school class of 15-year olds is kidnapped by government officials during a school trip and taken to an island where they will have to fight the Battle. Each year, 50 classes are selected to take part (each fight their battle separate from the other classes), and this is all done “for research purposes”. The class has to fight until there is only one survivor, the winner.

Battle Royale is a term that means a fight between people in an arena where everyone fights everyone until there is one survivor. Many against one, or one-on-one battle are all allowed as long as just one person remains.

The children are let out one by one and take a bag with a random weapon. Around their neck they have a steel collars that track their position and register their eventual death. Every few hours, a new part of the island is declared Forbidden and entering such a forbidden zone means the collar will explode. So, the area that the children can use becomes smaller as time goes by.

There are 42 children to start of with, and the reader follows in particular some of the “good” people, that don’t want to play the game and refuse to kill anyone, and the “bad” people, that have decided to play along and kill each and every one of their class mates. Worse, the most psychopathic of them all has the most dangerous weapon: a machine gun.

Slowly but surely, the number of children is reduced, and after each chapter in the book, the number of remaining children is given in bold letterface. Every 6 hours an announcement is made over invisible speakers about who died in the last few hours and what new zones will become forbidden.

There is some hope, as one or two clever children have plans to escape the system. But will they be able to stay away from the boy with the machine gun?

Battle Royale: What I thought

Yes, this book is a little more gruesome than the Hunger Games, where the descriptions of people’s deaths are less vividly described. Still, this is not a horror story full of guts hanging out. But there are a few moments that you’d rather not read about.

This book is too much like The Hunger Games to be a coincidence, but the latter is the better story. There is more variation in the individual battles in The Hunger Games. In Battle Royale it’s a lot of death-by-gun. However, it is good fun to follow the story of the pupils who have a plan to beat the system. The ending is also very good.

Of course, the fact that you read mostly about the “good” and the “bad” kids is a bit predictable, but on the other hand, you can’t have a story with 42 protagonists.

There is betrayal, secret loves, friendship, distrust and unscrupulous behaviour.

The idea of the story is brilliant. While a bit more bloody than The Hunger Games, this story is a lot more realistic. It was set in the current time and life wasn’t all that different form what it is now in Japan (except of course for the obvious, like the dictatorship and the Battle Royale itself).

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I got this book: from Bookmooch

Number of pages: 624

First published: 1999

Genre: speculative fiction

Extra: I read this for the Magical March Challenge by Roof Beam Reader

Extra: Of course, if you haven’t read The Hunger Games, you could read that series instead, or as well.

Magical March Challenge

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

43 Responses to Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

  1. Rikki says:

    Very good timing to read and blog about this, Judith! I have read so much about this book and film in the last few weeks (all saying it is superior), that I enjoyed reading what you thought.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Rikki. The book had been on my shelves so long, and with Magical March I felt I should read it. Nothing to do with the Hunger Games film, really. Which, by the way, I’m going to see tonight. 🙂

      • Rikki says:

        Oh, great! I really liked the trailer, and am now debating with me whether I should read the books. Wouldn’t want to see the movie before reading….But YA just does nothing for me, as I have seen in the past, no matter how much they say it is for adults as well.

      • Leeswammes says:

        Rikki, *Battle Royale* is only one book. It’s not really YA. It’s about 15-year olds but the book is not more suitable for YA-ages than for adults. *The Hunger Games*, in contrast, is more a YA-kind of book, although very readable for adults (I loved the series).

  2. That does sound quite a lot alike, so I wonder if the author of the Hunger Games has ever read this book? As she claims it was inspired on the war in Vietnam and the realityshows that you have on TV right now. If we have another great book to read, it doesn’t really matter I guess 🙂 Good idea to put this book on my to read list!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Roxanne, *Battle Royale* was made into a movie, and it was also an anime story. So it could well be that the author has learned about the story, whether sub-consciously or not.

      I hope you will read this! Let me know what you think when you do.

  3. Nancy says:

    I’ve watched Hunger Games movie last Monday. I found the last few scenes quite, uh, perplexing. Then the following day, while scouring the bookstores, I found a paperback copy of Battle Royale. And when I read the pitch, it sounds very much like Hunger Games. At the same time, it reminded me of Rorouni Kenshin, which is all swords, guns, and lots of blood. It’s nice you’ve read Hunger Games, so you could compare them better. I haven’t read both but I have more feeling that I will pick up Battle Royale than Hunger Games. I’m a realist after all. Great post!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Nancy. I’m wondering what could be in the final scenes of the movie – I don’t remember the story that well. I’ll see it tonight.

      I don’t know Rorouni Kenshin, maybe it’s Japanese to vividly describe blood etc. in a battle? I liked The Hunger Games because I like dystopia, but yes, I liked Battle Royale for being more realistic.

      • Mariana says:

        Battle Royale is also dystopia. To be true, it is an uchrony, but it has lots of dystopic elements.
        I prefer Battle Royale… I find the story much more disturbing and it digs deeper into the core of social conflicts and the characters’ pshychology.
        I’ve also watched both films. The first one is definitely better. I watched them long ago, so my memory may be playing tricks on me. It is true that there is blood… but there is much harder japanese gore out there.
        By the way, I think you may have ment to say that Battle Royale was made into manga. I don’t think there is an anime.
        Sorry for my English, my mother-tongue is Spanish.

  4. I’ve had this book about a year as someone recommended it to me too. I keep meaning to pick it up but haven’t so far. I really must!

  5. bibliosue says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading this book, though it doesn’t sound like it would interest me. I’m still not completely convinced about The Hunger Games either.

  6. Laura says:

    Wow, The Hunger Games sounds like a real rip off now! I’m quite interested in reading this, and I also want to see the movie because Quentin Tarantino said its one of his favourite movies of the last ten years or something, which would probably be completely off putting to some people, but to me it’s a pretty good recommendation! Thanks for your review, very intriguing!

  7. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, but I’m scared by the violence. It is good to know that you enjoyed it and that guts don’t hang out everywhere. I’m also intrigued by how this one ends. I’ll build up the courage to read this one day!

  8. I’ve wanted to read this for a while but haven’t gotten around to it. I’m not too bothered by the similarities, however, as one is a take off another and so on and so forth. I see a much more clear relation to Theseus, and there have been so many narratives spawned from myth that it doesn’t seem to matter at this point.

    That said, I really want to get my hands on this now.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jenn, I hope you get round to it, it’s a good story. I don’t mind the similarities but I think it’s fair to mention it, because people think The Hunger Games is so unique, well, it isn’t.

  9. Loved your review (as usual), so thanks Judith.
    I have the Hunger Games waiting on my Kindle, but am a bit scared to start reading it… What if I don’t like the series? That’s always the danger with books that are so popular that everybody is talking about them.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, what IF you don’t like the series? That’s fine! 🙂

      Some books are just a big hype, but in other cases, they’re hyped for a good reason: because the book is so good – The Night Circus was an example and (for me) Eat, Pray, Love, too.

  10. I have never heard of this book before, but it certainly sounds like the author of The Hunger Games did. The set up for the more recent series does sound a bit more complete — but both takes on the problem would probably too much for me!

    • Leeswammes says:

      It’s quite a brutal set-up, Col, in both books. I was a bit weary but in the end, I found it OK. You have to accept the given, i.e., that children are in a “game” to kill each other. If you can’t handle that, then it’s not a book for you. 🙂

  11. ashleybros says:

    I saw Battle Royale before reading Hunger Games, but I still liked both. BR made me feel physically ill, though, because it was so much more gory. I feel like BR reflects on humanity a lot more than HG, so I appreciated the thought behind it more, but HG is definitely more for teens so it has a different priority. If Collins says she hadn’t heard of BR before writing HG, then it’s a huge coincidence that even the second book in the HG series has the same exact premise as the sequel to BR!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Ashley, I didn’t know there is a sequel to Battle Royale! That sounds like a fun book to read too. Not sure I want to see the BR movie now, if it made you physically ill. Yuck! I saw the HG movie last night and enjoyed it, but didn’t think it was that enormously great as some people want you to believe. Just a nice movie.

      • ashleybros says:

        Battle Royale 2 was originally a movie, but there are some novelizations. It’s not considered to be very good. I guess Collins is the only one who made the premise work, so props for that! But, yeah, avoid the BR movie if you have a weak stomach! Where HG shies away from gory killings, BR exploits them! Almost funny in its gratuity, if it weren’t so sickening!

      • Leeswammes says:

        Thanks for the information, Ashley. I guess you’d call the BR movie a horror movie. Which I don’t particularly like to watch. But I AM curious…

  12. Pingback: Pushed To The Top « My Two Cents

  13. Uniflame says:

    I watched the battle royal movie and after that I didn’t want to read the book. I do plan to read the hunger games and also go and see the movie.

  14. I watched the Battle Royale film when it first came out and was surprised to find myself really liking it. After all, it sounds a bit exploitative (lots of teen girls in those Japanese school uniforms with tiny short skirts) but it’s done very well. I had no idea it was based on a book. May have to hunt that one down.

  15. Aths says:

    I’m reading this one right now (got a copy at a bookstore) and I’m feeling the same thing – the coincidence between the two books is quite glaring. No wonder Battle Royale fans were crying foul over the last month. Still, it’s unputdownable and I like that it has not been YA-ized to make it less gruesome.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Aths, glad you’re enjoying the book! I missed the uproar about the coincidence between the books. But I can easily see why they would be unhappy.

  16. Trisha says:

    I keep going back and forth on whether or not I should read this.

  17. Sarah says:

    Isn’t that generally how it is though? I mean in real life your not going to cut to off screen when a person has their guts ripped out. As much as you wish it to be the case. I think I’ll check out Battle Royale first.

  18. Kandace says:

    I first learned of Battle Royale at the tender age of 14, fresh out of junior high and 2 months away from starting High School. My freshman year, I was consumed with it – I eagerly watched the movie, read the graphic novel series, and read the novel, in that order. The book was truly life-changing for me. I’ve read the Hunger Games, and as a fan of the YA genre, I found it to be a literary abomination, barely better than the likes of “Twilight” and “50 Shades of Grey”. Just a cheap, overrated knockoff.
    I would gladly recommend Battle Royale to anyone who enjoys reading and/or writing. It’s deliciously gritty, realistic, intense, and thought-provoking. I’d go as far to call it a masterpiece.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kandace. I was shocked when I found out there was a book like The Hunger Games that preceded it! I loved THG actually, but I felt a bit cheated knowing there was a similar book already.

      Yes, Battle Royale is a good novel, I agree.

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