Battle Royale – Koushun Takami

Published October 11, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

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.

What did I think?:

My sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads bought me this book as a gift as I had been wanting to read it for a long time after watching the Japanese film which has become a cult classic. I read it as part of my August Real Books challenge and was so glad that I finally managed to get round to it as it’s quite a powerful read and stayed with me a long time after I had finished. When The Hunger Games series came out it was compared to this as the premise is very similar i.e. a group of teenagers killing each other until one remains (the victor). But believe me, Battle Royale is a hell of a lot darker and is probably not a young adult read.

Before the story begins the author provides a list of the 42 students that have the misfortune to be chosen to participate in a government experiment that will lead to 41 of them being killed. I have to admit I was slightly nervous at this point due to the fact that they were all Japanese names and I was worried that I would get a bit muddled and not be able to remember whom each character was. The story opens with all 42 classmates who are on a bus on a study trip. Fairly soon, we see this is not the case as each classmate one by one passes out. When they come round they are sat in a classroom and Shuya, who seems to be our main character at this time notices that all of his classmates have a strange metal collar around their necks including himself and when he tried to remove it it will not budge. A man enters the classroom wearing a badge which Shuya notices that means he is affiliated with the government. He informs the confused and groggy students that they are all here today to “kill each other,” and have been selected for the “Program.”

“a battle simulation program conducted by our nation’s ground defense forces, instituted for security reasons. Officially known as Battle Experiment No 68. Program. The first program was held in 1947. Fifty third-year junior high school classes are selected annually to conduct the program for research purposes. Classmates in each class are forced to fight until one survivor remains. Results from this experiment, including the elapsed time, are entered as data. The final survivor of each class (the winner) is provided with a lifetime pension and a card autographed by the Great Dictator.”

Obviously this doesn’t go down too well with the students, and two of them are killed before the “game” officially begins. Let me just warn you that this book is incredibly gory and definitely not for the weak of stomach. It’s probably the most violent thing I have read and yet I couldn’t help myself turning the pages, curious to find out what would happen in the end. Each student is given a pack chosen randomly containing food, water, a compass, a map of the island they are on, and the inevitable weapon. Unfortunately, each weapon differs and depending on the pack they were given, it could contain a rifle or a kitchen fork. Hmm, makes the death scenes slightly different, I suppose? The collars round their neck are also of great importance. First of all, some of the areas of the island will be forbidden at certain times and if a student happens to be in that area at the forbidden time, the collar round their neck will explode. The collar cannot be removed, will explode if it is tried to be removed and is a way of tracking the students by the organisers so they are aware of their whereabouts at any given time. There is also a time limit on the collars, and if no-one is killed within twenty four hours all collars will explode and there will be no winner. Let the “game” begin….

I did enjoy this novel and thought the translation provided by Yuji Oniki was excellent. Each chapter is fairly short which made me want to read on further and I liked how at the end of the chapter an ominous little sentence was provided telling you how many students remained. I was surprised that I didn’t get confused over the mass of Japanese character names, and loved that I got a little insight into a few of the characters personalities, despite some of them being incredibly warped. As I’ve mentioned before, the story is extremely violent and some of the death scenes wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror film so if you’re a bit sensitive to that kind of thing, this book is probably not for you. For me, I’m really glad I read it, the novel is graphic, compelling and quite hard to put down. I can definitely see why it has become a bit of a pulp classic and urge those interested to see the film as well as reading the book.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




12 comments on “Battle Royale – Koushun Takami

  • This sounds like a terrifying read and although I rarely shy away from difficult subject matter I’m not sure I’m brave enough to read this one. That said, your review is great and it’s good to know you were able to distinguish the characters despite the Japanese names.

  • I’ve only seen the beginning of the film before I wimped out, but maybe I’ll steel myself to read the book. It’s influenced a lot of other stuff so I think I need to read it! Great review 🙂

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