Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

by Kristopher Cook
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

There’s nothing crueller than children – And Takami’s provocative and sensationalist Battle Royale proves so.

Republished by Viz in 2014, Battle Royale not only got a new translation, and a snazzy cover, but also a new lease of life.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami Viz Remastered Book Cover
Battle Royale Viz Remastered Book Cover

The new translation is by Nathan Collins and is printed under the title of Battle Royale: Remastered.

It’s worth noting that Koushun Takami hasn’t written a book since, and in the author notes of this new version, he claims to be sick of talking about the book. Grateful for all the fame and fortune it’s brought his way, but bored of philosophising the various plot points.

Fair enough.

The Remastered version also comes with a handy student table in the front, along with a black and white map similar to the one given to participants. This definitely helps with the emersion of the story.

When a character is first mentioned, they have their number (e.g. Boys #1) alongside. Equally, once the game begins, every chapter closes with ‘x number of students remain‘. A lovely touch that serves to heighten the tension.

A Battle to the Death

For those of you who don’t know what a Battle Royale is, it’s a type of wrestling match where big boys throw even bigger boys over the top rope. Last man, or woman, standing is crowned the victor.

Takami takes this basic concept but replaces the ring with an island, and the wrestlers for school kids. Oh, and they’re all given a random weapon to help speed up the game. And if that wasn’t enough, each is tracked with a detonation collar, activated when they stray into designated out-of-bound zones.

It’s all fun and games!

Under the watchful eye of the Republic of Greater East Asia, a fictional communist party controlling Japan, the tournament is set-up annually and involves a randomly selected school to take part.

It’s a bit like participating in a charity raffle, except with knives and guns.

Created as part of the second military research, the outcome is televised as a proponent of political propaganda. Their theory is that taking part in these atrocities will give Japan the upper hand in a war when paranoia and rebellion strike. However, as the story evolves, it becomes clear that there’s more than research at stake.

From the start, it’s obvious that the main character here is Shuya Nanahara. Although impulsive, he’s a kind and trusting school kid, which works both for and against him.

After Noriko Nakagawa is shot in the leg during the briefing on the island, the two team up, looking for a means to escape.

I have to praise how Takami has paid special attention to the different personalities on show here, and the backstories that go along with each.

Often contained in flashbacks, we see how certain characters have reacted to past episodes involving their school lives. These are used either as gauges to what they’ll do next or as red herrings because some are determined to change their ways no matter what.

Rolling with the Punches         

Battle Royale is exceptionally difficult to put down.

The action flows seamlessly from chapter to chapter, and with the heightened sense of impending danger, you can’t help but read on.

Takami is able to weave in many moments of friendships, both being formed and crumbling, as well as taking a long hard look at trust.

How would you react if you were forced to kill your classmates?

There are several options, all of which are explored, and exploited in great detail throughout the book. In fact, it could even be viewed as one of the main plot threads.

He also puts freedom and individuality to task, looking at how a group of individual personalities can be much stronger when working together. This is a reference towards the overthrowing of the Republic of Greater East Asia’s communist hold.

A Communist Future

What makes Battle Royale so shocking is that its story is based in reality, and never strays too far into the dystopian Sci-fi realm.

Sure, it’s unlikely to happen, but a communist government and the ritual killings of those less fortunate? History tells us that these things are already far more frightening than fiction.

Throughout the book, one of the girls in particular, Mitsuko Souma gets special mention.

She’s set up to be one of the main antagonists (there are a few), and that she will reap havoc wherever she goes. This gives another unique twist to the characters.

In stereotypical Japanese writings, the female characters are often portrayed as submissive and caring, similar to the personality of Noriko. Yet, Mitsuko is the complete opposite.

She takes no prisoners, even going as far as using her submissive mannerisms to lure others into traps. Anything to gain the upper hand.

Shuya the Tentative

Despite being a great book with excellent tension, and many flawed characters, I didn’t connect too well to Shuya.

I know he’s a teenager and supposed to be slightly naïve, but some of his decisions felt contrived. Why would you go running towards an explosion? Obviously, there will still be people around. It was these moments that made me believe there’s no way anyone is getting off this island alive.

His naivety towards the end, which I won’t spoil, was another of my gripes. It’s written solely to have the book play out in a certain manner; the ship plan and all that!

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Battle Royale is an excellent book – if you can stomach it?

The tension is quickly ramped up, the dialogue is mostly good, and the vast majority of the characters have unique perspectives.

If you’re a fan of Lord of the Flies, then definitely check this one out. In my opinion, it offers much more bang for your buck!

Whilst I’ve not noted it in the review, there are many similarities between Battle Royale and Hunger Games. If you want to read more about the two, the Independent did a great piece back in August.

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