Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Quickie Book Review: Battle Royale

by Koushun Tkami

The Third Year Class from Shiroiwa Junior High School ride their school bus through the city of Takamatsu, the capital of the Kagawa Prefecture, not paying much attention to the fact that they were on a class study trip. 42 students -- 21 male and 21 female -- spending their time chatting and joking around with other while the bus wends its way through the prefecture. At one point, Shuya Nanahara (Male Student No. 15) notices a strange quiet settling over his fellow classmates, realizing too late that the bus driver is wearing a gas mask as Shuya falls over, asleep.

He and the other students awaken sometime later in a strange room. The man standing before them introduces himself as Kinpatsu Sakamochi, their new instructor, and begins congratulating them on being chosen for this year's Program. Though all the students are very familiar with the Program -- every Junior High School within the Republic of Greater East Asia knows of and fears the Program -- Sakamochi proceeds with the formality of explaining the rules. The object of the Program is very simple: to win. However, only one student can emerge as the winner, and in order to be that singular person, the students must kill each other until only one remains. Each student receives a bag when they leave the room, containing food, water, a weapon, and a map of the island on which they are now located. At specific intervals, quadrants of the map will become dead zones, so they must pay attention because if caught in one of those zones, the devices clasped around their necks will explode.

One by one, the students leave the room in order of their class assignment. And the moment they step outside the building, the hunt begins.

The plot of Battle Royale sounds somewhat familiar, but Koushun Takami's novel was first published in 1997 and was immediately decried for its violence. And I can see why. Pitting teen against teen to fight to the death is horrific material. The battles between the students are graphic, filled with blood and gore, and on occasion, a bit of dark humor. One of the best sequences involves the hero of the story, Shuya Nanahara, waking after a bad fall down a hillside to find himself in a lighthouse with six of the surviving girls. Locked in his room, he can only hear the fighting and gunshots after one of the girls makes an incorrect assumption, which plays out like a blood-soaked comedy of errors. Takami makes it even more interesting by showing two sides of the students -- those who don't wish to fight, trying to convince others to band together to escape the island, and those who take quickly and easily to the game. The story evolves into not simply a bloody survival story but a psychological tale, showing how what we see on the outside of a person doesn't necessarily match what's going on inside. Someone who is usually quiet and unassuming turns into an unfeeling and bloodthirsty monster in such a dire circumstance. The story definitely won't sit well with some readers, but it's incredibly engrossing and I highly recommend it.

Battle Royals
by Koushun Takami
Haikasoru/VIZ Media, LLC
trade paperback, 576 pgs.

purchased book


John Gray said...

Loved the film btw

simpleandgayforward said...

This book sounds really interesting! The Japanese are so amazing with creativity and originality.

Greg said...

John: Yes, it was a great movie. That's what prompted me to find the book, and I'm glad that I did.