Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
translated by Yuji Oniki
Trade paperback, 624 pages (including extras) 2009 edition
VIZ Media LLC, copyright 1999; English translation 2003
Very Highly Recommended
In an alternative future Japan, junior high students are forced to fight to the death.
Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller envisions a nightmare scenario: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan—where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller—Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.
A group of 42 fifteen year old students, 21 boys and 21 girls, from the third year class B of Shiroiwa Jr. High are taken to an evacuated island, given various weapons (from firearms to a fork) and told they have a time limit to kill each other until only one of them is left standing - or they will all die. The students all have explosive metal collars that keep track of them. This intense dystopian novel of an oppressive, alternate future Japan is disturbing and thought provoking. What would you do to survive? Would you kill your friends? Could you trust them? How much would fear and suspicion influence your actions?
I found Battle Royale to be both plot and character driven. You see what happens to each student and are given some insight into each of them At the same time there is plenty of action, sometimes quite graphic and violent, to keep you the story moving at a quick pace. It has been made into a movie and a manga. Also, apparently, there is an earlier English translation of Battle Royale was not as well done as the current translation, the one I read. At the front of the book is a map of the island and a list of all 42 students, to help you keep track of them. At the end of each chapter is a notation of how many students are left alive. This is a hefty book, but I found it to be easy to read. I was also a bit concerned that I would lose track of the characters, but that also proved to be a needless concern - except in a few cases, but I easily sorted them out again.
Very Highly Recommended
Now, a few words about The Hunger Games YA series by Suzanne Collins, which that bears a rather uncomfortably close resemblance to Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I really felt that Collins' books were influenced by Battle Royale and she should have noted this somewhere in her books. Yes, perhaps it's just a coincidence, but it seems a bit too close a resemblance to not note it. Of course there are differences, but the main premise, young teens are forced to fight to the death with an assortment of weapons in a closed off environment, is the same. Also, when reading them, the clear difference between books designated as YA and adult novels becomes quite clear, no matter how many people want to say there is no difference other than YA books have teen main characters. I enjoyed The Hunger Games, but Battle Royal is the better of the books, especially for adult readers.
From the back of the bus, Shuya watched his forty-one classmates, who were illuminated by dull fluorescent lights fixed in dingy ceiling panels. They had all been in the same class the past two years. pg. 7
It was almost ten o'clock when Shuya noticed something strange.
Something weird was happening inside the bus. Yoshitoki, who was on his left, had suddenly fallen asleep and was breathing softly. Shinji Mimura's body was slouching into the aisle. Noriko Nakagawa was also asleep. No one seemed to be talking. Nobody was awake. pg. 16-17
Worst of all, Shuya himself was overcome with drowsiness. pg 17
At approximately the same time, men in black sedans began their late-night visits to the students' families back in Shiroiwa. Alarmed, the parents must have been more shocked when the visitors presented them with documents stamped with the government's official peach insignia. pg. 17-18
Under the moonlight, the bluish-white concrete pier gleamed like bone, and beyond the pier the ship that would transport the players was swaying sluggishly in the open black sea. pg 18
As they woke up their eyes remained out of focus. Everyone was clueless. His eyes met Yoshitoki Kuninobu's as his friend turned back. Shuya pointed at his collar, tilting his neck slightly. Yoshitoki immediately touched his neck. He looked shocked. pg. 21
"Let me explain the situation. The reason why you're all here today - "
Then he said: "- is to kill each other.".....
...."Your class has been selected for this year's 'Program.' " pg. 24
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. pg. 28
"We will have you leave one by one. Each of you will take one of these bags prior to departure. Each pack contains food, water, and a weapon. Let's see, as I said, every one of you differs according to ability. So these weapons will add another random element. Well, that sounds complicated. In other words, it will make the game all the more unpredictable. You will each end up with a randomly selected weapon. As you leave in order, you will take the pack on top of the pile. Each pack also contains a map of the island, a compass, and a watch...." pg. 43
Sakamochi grinned. "The collar monitors your pulse in order to verify signs of life and transmits this information to the mainframe at this school. It also pinpoints your exact position on the island for us. Now, let's return to the map."
"This same computer will also randomly select forbidden zones. And if there are any students left in the zone after the designated time - of course dead students won't matter - the computer will automatically detect anyone alive and will immediately send a signal to his or her collar. Then -"
Shuya knew what he would say.
"That collar will explode." pg. 44