BATTLE ROYALE by KOUSHUN TAKAMI
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
If you aren’t familiar with Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, then you might be familiar with its American counterpart, The Hunger Games. Ring any bells? The reason why I’m bringing this up is because Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are cut from the same cloth. Almost the exact same cloth. The conceit of both novels is nearly the same: Teens forced by a brutal totalitarian regime to kill one another while the public is helpless to do anything about it. The bells are ringing now, aren’t they? One very important thing to note is that Battle Royale was published in Japan in 1999, then translated to English in 2003–many years prior to Collins’s Hunger Games. The two works are similar in a lot of ways, but their differences make for a much more interesting discussion…
It’s hard to say whether Battle Royale is a YA novel or not. All of our characters are teenagers, but the violence found in this novel as opposed to THG is intense. There’s a lot of gore in BR, and Takami holds nothing back in his fight scenes. If BR were published in 2019, I’d say it would be classified as a YA novel instead of an adult. The lines between the two age ranges are getting very blurred these days. Anyway, as stated above, Battle Royale is set in a dystopian nightmare version of “modern day” (since this book was published in the 90s, it’s set in the 90s) Japan, specifically the Republic of Greater East Asia. In this republic, citizens are tightly controlled and influence from the outside world (especially the United States) is strictly forbidden.
The novel starts off with a literal bang. We’re thrown onto a bus with our cast of characters–Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa being our main ones–as they’re being taken on a “school trip.” Imagine their surprise when the trip isn’t a school trip at all, but a one-way ticket to “the Program,” a game designed by the government of the Republic to keep a tight leash on its citizens. A big difference between BR’s game and THG’s game is that no one in BR is supposed to know where the Program is or what’s going on within its its confines until it’s over. This gives the novel a much more horrific feeling. Everything happens in secret, nothing is televised, and anything goes. The teens in BR are even fitted with metal collars that will explode if they stay in one place for too long.
Battle Royale is nothing less than a thrill ride. A gory cult classic, it grabs you by the throat from the very first chapter and never lets go. It’s much longer than THG, clocking in at 600 pages, but it never feels long. The pages simply fly by at a breakneck speed because you just want to know what happens next. Rife with gore and graphic violence, BR is not for the faint of heart. Our main female character, Noriko, doesn’t have much to do, which annoyed me from time to time, but we get points of view from many, many different characters throughout the novel, including Takako, who might be my favorite character aside from the tough and charming Shogo.
THG’s dystopian world is more fleshed out than BR’s, but BR’s is far more terrifying. Set in what could very much be the real world and structured after fascist regimes like North Korea’s, the Republic of Greater East Asia feels like a dark prophecy of a could-be future instead of a fantasy world like Panem’s. I loved Battle Royale, and I’m a huge fan of the movie adaptation, too. You can catch it on Netflix if you’re so inclined.
You’ll be able to check out a copy of Battle Royale from the Oreana Library soon!