April 2, 2015

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Review of the novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Battle Royale is fierce, intense and violent. It creeps inside your skin and makes you tremble with the directness all this violence is described. And what makes this feeling even more horrible? The fact that all this violence concerns fifteen-year-olds. But it would be a lie to say that this novel is just about a violent game in a dystopian equivalent of Japan. For me, it felt like a study of human behaviour, friendship, morals, trust and love. Just like a miniature version of a civil war, or even life itself (minus the extremities). 

The third class of Shiroiwa Junior Highschool is selected to participate in this year's Program. The students though are unaware of the fact, they think that they are departing for a school trip, but instead they get drugged in the bus and wake up in a school building in a deserted island. They are informed that they indeed take part in the Program and they have to kill each other, in order to have a winner, the last student standing. They also find out that they wear collars that will explode if they try to take them off, attempt to escape or get caught in the forbidden zones. There are no other restrictions, they can hide, they can run from one part of the island to the other and they can form groups in order to help each other. But eventually they will have to kill each other because if 24 hours pass without a single kill then all the collars will detonate and this year's Program will be declared a failure. 

So, each student departs from that school receiving a single daypack, in which there is a random weapon, supplies of water and bread, a map and a list of the students participating. The weapons given can be from totally useless ones, like darts or a fork to extremely powerful ones, like automatic guns and rifles. All hell breaks loose even before they start departing the building. And thus the game begins.

At first everyone denies that they are in such a situation and they think that the best would be to wait outside of the premises for their friends, in order to protect each other and try to find a way out. But some of the classmates already have decided that they would participate and so seeing the dead body of a former classmate they all get scared witless and run. And those who do find their friends, they always have in the back of their mind the possibility of them being betrayed. It's so terrifying to learn that two students are friends for many years, but when they find each other they are so scared that they reflexively pull the trigger and fight each other. In the class, it's only natural to exist couples, or guys and girls that have a crush on a classmate. For those, this situation is the worst. Their options are either to see each other die or decide to die together by committing suicide at the same time.  

As you have already understood Battle Royale is filled with violence. And I mean that students get killed with every possible way. The question here is whether it bothered me or not. No, it didn't. There were moments where I was holding my breath, others that I was yelling at the characters "Don't go there!", "Stop!" or "It's all a lie, don't be fooled!" and others that I nearly cried. Actually I tried all the time so hard not to like some character because I was sure that I'd end up crying. Even with this precaution, I was still sad at the end of some chapters. But the violence itself never bothered me, it was raw and direct but never pretentious. The action scenes were so well-written that I couldn't stop reading. My favourite scene would definitely be the one where Kazushi tries to rape Takako and they end up fighting.

The characters are all interesting and unique, although some of them are not fully developed. Each one gets to be a narrator, thinks about his past and so we get to know the personalities and their way of thinking. There are those who hate to take part in such a game and think that it would be best to unite and revolt and there are others that are cold, merciless and try to be the winner. The main protagonist (because among those 42 students there is one that gets the attention), Shuya, is really likeable. He has a strong sense of moral, he trusts too much his classmates and has a strong love for the forbidden rock'n'roll music, which he thinks can bring revolution to his country. On the other hand, Kazuo is a guy who doesn't have any feelings, is merciless and he is, in fact, the biggest threat of Shuya and his company.

The writing of this novel was excellent. It manages to balance between intense action scenes with deep emotional ones. The only thing that left me wondering was the fact that so many girls had a secret crush on Shuya. I mean at least five girls out of an entire class had a crush on Shuya. Was it because he was good at sports and played electric guitar? Hmmm...

All in all, Battle Royale turned to be one of my all-time favourite books. In fact, it is possible that it's in that particular category such as The Ocean at the End of the Lane. For me, books like that make me see life in a different light and the feelings stay with me no matter how many time has passed. So, I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to read an action filled, adrenaline-pumped book and doesn't mind a little bit of violence. 

So, my advice is...

Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness/
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul/
Someday girl I don't know when/
We're going to get to that place/
Where we really want to go/
And we'll walk in the sun/
But till then tramps like us/
Baby, we were born to run 


  1. Great review. I read this book last year and really enjoyed it. It’s one of those stories that stay in your mind for a long time after you finish it.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Thank you! The story certainly made an impression on me and it will be food for thought for a long time!

  2. I've been meaning to read this for a while, and I will admit that that's only because there was the controversy surrounding the similarities it has with The Hunger Games. I actually hadn't realised how dark it was though, I thought it was just as tame and safe as THG, but your review has showed me otherwise. I like the way that you the say the author explores the way that the classmates interact when they're forced to kill each other. I'll definitely try this book out if I can find it in my library. Thanks for the review, you changed me preconceptions surrounding the book.

    1. You should definitely read it! I don't know what it took me so long to decide to read it! It's true that because of all the talk a lot of people learnt its existence, but I wish more would read it. I myself knew that a movie existed and I knew that it was extremely violent. Imagine that Tarantino said that he wished he had directed it. Anyway, as a fan of japanese culture in general I quickly learnt about the novel and I'm more than glad that I read it.

  3. Wonderful review and the books sounds pretty intriguing! :-)

    1. Thank you! I totally recommend it! :)


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