Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}'s Reviews > Battle Royale

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
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We will kill each other.
We will kill each other.
We will kill each other.

If I don’t kill, I will be killed.
If I don’t kill, I will be killed.
If I don’t kill, I will be killed.


'From a pool of third-year junior high school students, fifty classes were issued an annual death sentence. That was two thousand students that’s if each class consisted of forty students. No, more accurately, that was 1,950 students killed.Worse Yet,it wasn’t simply a mass execution. The students had to kill each other,competing for the title of survivor. It was the most terrifying version of musical chairs imaginable. But it was impossible to oppose the Program. It was impossible to protest anything the Republic of Greater East Asia did.'

A class of 42 fifteen year old Japanese students (50% male,50% female) are kidnapped from a school bus on a field trip to be taken to an island, fitted with collars containing remote-controlled explosives which will detonate if tampered with, given a pack consisting of bread, water, a compass, a map, a flashlight, a weapon (whether it’s useful or not is down to luck, banjo anyone?) and perhaps the weapon’s manual. As the game went on, every few hours announcements were made of the dead and new forbidden zones were introduced (if you get caught in a forbidden zone the collar explodes, say goodbye to your head) so as the number of pupils decreased so does the area in which they can hide and keeps them moving.

At the beginning of the book there is student list and a map of the island with a list of the forbidden zones so it's easier to follow. I copied the student list, crossed them off when they died, added how they died and what their original weapons were.

I found this really difficult to rate. There were both positives and negatives. Some really awesome chapters were filled with brilliant strategies and characterisation, on the other hand the high level of detail in describing computer hacking and rock music were not to my taste and bored me to tears. I tried to skip these.

The violence wasn’t overly done in my opinion. It was described in a few sentences then moved on. It’s gory but not so much that I was going to have horror-filled nightmares for days after reading it. The macabre humour became progressively better until I was chuckling at the way people were dying which I felt a little guilty about.

The personal stories of the students were intriguing. To see the psychology behind their decisions was incredibly interesting. I had fun totting up the victims of the serial killers, in fact my favourite characters were probably the ones to who “played the game”. Chapter 44 was pure genius.

Most if not all of the strategies possible to win this game were implemented by the students, some with more success than others but there were scenes that just blew me away. There were accidents, misunderstandings, suicides, self-defense and cold-blooded murder. Cause of death was sometimes hard to categorise, it could have been a number of events that led to a death.

However, I had some believability issues. First, the reason behind the game was unclear. At one point this is explained to Shogo as serving as a reminder to the people, that it was no use in going against the government, that there’s no point in gathering together and starting a revolution because the government will just shoot them down. This explanation seemed really flimsy, even though The Hunger Games uses a similar explanation - it uses it to better effect. The only real reason I could see was for the sport of high-ranking officials gambling on who would win.

Second, I had a hard time seeing the main narrator, Shuya live for so long. He wasn’t very practical and kept trying to save everyone at great risk to himself and others, and never learned from his mistakes. By rights he should have died early on but then this game is more about luck rather than brains and skill, which was brilliantly demonstrated by the author.

Third, the way in which the main characters were forced together annoyed me. I couldn’t see it, it was cheesy and predictable and totally not in keeping with the rest of the book.

Fourth, the stereotypical roles of class clown, the gay guy, star athlete and so on were all present but the teen issues had me rolling my eyes a few times but I accepted them because if you’re going to die all of those issues will become a hundred times more important than anything else, like trying to survive.

Fifth, the Terminator visuals I was getting from one individual especially when they were blown up was very unrealistic. This character almost never got injured. Speaking of movies, how come Mr. Tarantino hasn't adapted this yet? It's right up his alley.

Sixth, the ending. Hmm, I was really looking forward to something mind-blowingly (no pun intended) fantastic but I was disappointed with the way things turned out. I wasn’t expecting something that seemed so unachievable, no one should have survived the stunt pulled. The actions of one character completely going against his personality. It was a let down.

This is a Japanese-to-English translation, and a number of times that really showed especially at the beginning and became more polished as it went on. As I’m not Japanese there were some cultural references that were completely lost on me, and despite my problems with this book it still deserves kudos for it’s fairly original plot which no doubt inspired Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy which I absolutely adore, and prompted me to ask myself what I would do in that situation.

What would you do?

ETA: I've now seen the Japanese movie, and they made some positive changes. For instance, they gave a solid reason for the game, one that was very realistic. They also added a memorable scene where one of the girls checks to see if the girl she just killed was menstruating. o_O I still prefer the book though. Oddly, it was easier to follow.
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Reading Progress

05/16/2010 page 300
49.34% "Only one death has bothered me in terms of horrificness so far. Fingers crossed I won't get nightmares." 2 comments
05/18/2010 page 392
64.47% "For funniest death see Chapter 44. Vanity kills!"
05/18/2010 page 401
65.95% "This book has some macabre humour. Is it wrong that I like it?"
05/19/2010 page 624
100% "Hmm, rating and review to come. I'm gonna have to think about this one."

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