Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
March 29, 2012 43 Comments
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.