Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
I knew this book was objectively going to be fantastic, I just thought I wouldn't be the type of person to enjoy it. I am so happy I was wrong! 42 ninth graders are taken to a deserted island where they are given arms and forced to kill each other until there is only one survivor. Translated from Japanese in 1999, Koushun Takami's infamous masterpiece has also become a film which I am now dying to watch! Dystopians generally appeal to me when there is some kind of feminist overtone. E.g Vox, The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments and I generally only see excessive bloody gore in horror books. I knew what to expect somewhat but I had no idea I would enjoy this read as much as I did.
The opening scene is a perfect initial setting, where the students have their fate revealed to them; Takami does an excellent job of conveying the true terror these students face. Throughout, the variety of stories in unparalleled. We see lovers committing suicide together, friends desperately trying to survive together and - most terrifyingly - those who are willing and ready to take part in this 'game' no matter what the cost. The pacing was impeccable, taking into account I don't read many books that are 650 pages long, and I always need to switch up genres throughout the month to stay invested in the story. At no point throughout this whirlwind of a read was I ever bored or complacent despite the length.
There is a similar tone to The Lord of the Flies, a 'dropping off one by one' vibe. At the end of each chapter, the reader is solemnly reminded how many students are remaining. This allowed every chapter to feel impactful even when nothing exceptional had happened. Additional rules are included with certain zones becoming out of bounds to encourage contestants to keep moving, as well as incentives to keep killing or there is a threat they will all be killed. This constant worry and fear is perfectly portrayed.
Something I felt concerned by in the first section of the book was the lack of strong female characters. Initially, the female students were more favoured towards consistently choosing to hide (granted this is exactly what I would choose to do). However, we see throughout the progression of the book that Takami has been very equal in his depictions of the male and female students. Some are terrified and some are ruthless. All the main characters were well fleshed out and easy to distinguish, which is essential with a wide cast you have to follow. As much as it could sometimes be hard to read, I truly appreciated how as a reader, you are able to see the fate of every student, and how they interact with the most followed students. Finally, I think it is important to note this books similarity to The Hunger Games (in terms of the overall premise). I felt rather bitter of the success of The Hunger Games when so few people seemed to have heard of this exceptional original work. After reading Battle Royale, it is very clear something was missing from The Hunger Games. A real grit and fear, mud, blood, dirt and terror. Perhaps the fact that The Hunger Games was aimed towards a younger audience and was released much later results in the exclusion of excessive violence. Having said this, both are young adult novels, but the lack of realism in comparison to Battle Royale is truly emphasised when you have experienced both. Anyone who is a fan of Dystopian books, I would absolutely recommend this book to. And especially those who loved The Hunger Games, and are ready to revisit the messed up authoritarian regime; I would strongly suggest giving the original version credit where it's due and supporting this mind-blowing and thought-provoking novel.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 21 April 1999 (my edition: 1 April 2014)
Publisher: Haika Soru
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
# of Pages: 647