Battle Royale is a horrifying, bloody, and completely wonderful book. Koushun Takami’s highly controversial, and violent, first novel was translated into English by Yuji Oniki in 2003 and has since seen much success.
Besides dealing with all the usual pressures of junior high, Takami delves into issues of mass murder and government oppression.
Battle Royale is set in some unknown future time when the “Republic of Greater East Asia” rules Japan like a police state.
For some reason, that is never clearly explained to the students or to the reader, the government supports a military research program known as The Program or Battle Royale.
In this Battle Royale program a junior high class is taken to an island and forced to kill each other off until only one survivor remains.
Each student is given a different weapon, ranging from a fork to a bullet-proof vest to a machine gun.
It’s a brutal concept, and one that could make for a horrible novel.
But somehow Takami manages to elevate “Battle Royale” from just another violent novel to a story about people and their reactions to extreme situations.
Just as each character is given a unique weapon, each has a unique personality.
He takes great care to explain the background and motives of each of the 42 characters, making each death an emotional experience for the reader.
How would people react to being told they had to kill their best friends and classmates?
How would all the drama of a junior high class unfold if you add weapons and the instructions to kill?
Naturally the bonds of friendship will not dissolve right away, and groups form.
Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, Shogo Kawada make up the main group that the story follows.
Shogo has the advantage of having played and won the game in the past, giving his group the hope of being able to escape the island where the game is played.
Many antagonists exist within the story, some willing, some unwilling to kill their classmates. But Kazou Kiriyama surpasses them all.
He is the hated villain, brutally gunning down his classmates when they try to unite everyone against the government.
“Battle Royale” never fully goes into what the “Republic of Greater East Asia” is, how it came about, or why they force students into this brutal game.
Many of the students have lost family members to government crackdowns on liberals, and these students contemplate ways to get revenge once the game is over.
Don’t be scared away by the 624 page count, the unfamiliar Japanese names, or the extreme violence, “Battle Royale” is a book worth reading.
The character development is phenomenal, and the ending is happier than one student standing on a pile of corpses.