Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

June 21, 2012


Title : Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru ;ed Japanese)
Author : Koushun Takami
First Published : 1999 (Japanese)
English Edition : fifth priting by Haikasoru (VIZ Media, LLC) in 2012, translated by Yuji Oniki
Pages : 604
Genre : gore, thriller, fiction
Extras : foreword by Max Allan Collins, an interview with Kinji Fukasaku and Koushun Takami
Price : $16.99 (IDR 126k)
Rating : 9/10


First time I heard about Battle Royale was when The Hunger Games 'striking' the cinema (I hadn't read THG novel as well back then, so I was simply 'blind'). A lot of reviewer and movie magazine I read always mentioned the similiarity between THG and Takami's Battle Royale. You know me, I always follow the flow, and right after I finished reading THG trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I immidiately searched for the movie. Lucky for me, I got the copy at some dvd store and I was speechless watching it. Not enough, I searched for the novel (the english edition of course, I understand nothing about Japanese, even the names confused me) and found it at Periplus. I was thrilled when I got the copy; 600 pages thick, with eye compelling cover (it is somehow 'silent' and dark, an oldschool literature kinda cover) and -thank God- size 11 font and handy light papers. I felt like I wanted to hug it to bed.

Battle Royal is originally a term uses for describing a fight between people in an arena where everyone fights everyone until only one person remains. Using that term, Takumi presents us a compelling story with well-maintained slow plot (you won't believe that 100 pages you just read were just a half day of the game) that gives you a higher level of massacre. The story took place in Republic of Greater East Asia (not a modern Japan -ish) where American Imperialist is strictly prohibited; travelling to another country is relatively impossible, listening to a rock music is forbidden and internet is simply a joke. As an effort to decrease the mischievousness of the teenagers there, the government helds a 'program' known as 'Battle Experiment No.68 Program' where 50 different junior high classes are chosen randomly every year to be participated in the 'program'. Each classes are taken to some isolated areas (ie: an island), where 42 students are forced to kill each other within 3 days (that approximately 2000 students killed every year!), with different kind of weapons provided inside their day pack (pistol, machine gun, axe, sickle, bulletproof vest, even a fork). Their presence are detected using a steel collar worn on their neck; it detects heat and has a small bug to hi-jack their conversations. If within 24 hours no death is performed, then everyone's heads will be blown by the collars they wear. The game makers (I don't know what they call the soldiers and Sakamochi) will announce the names of the death and the forbidden zones three times a day. If students are in the forbidden zones within the announced time, the collar will blow, as well as if they try to take it off of their neck. The winner will receive a lifetime pension and a card autographed by The Great Dictator (the last one is ridiculously unimportant). And for this time -60 years prior to the timeline of the story- the students of Third Year Class B of Shiroiwa Junior High School at Shiroiwa Town in Kagawa Prefecture are facing their 'faith' after being taken to an isolated island right after their 'study trip'.

I haven't read any other Japanese authors' books besides Takami. But I can tell you one thing, he is a damn good writer. I have no idea how he came up with such story, it's just brilliant. I love how he describes every characters, every little details and every deaths in such way, whether it is told by the victim him/herself, or by the killer or any witnesses' point of view. And he somehow manages to give every characters an enough outline, enough portion to describe every single of them; some less, but still leaves quite an impression. Each events presented are well-crafted. He successfully manages to maintain the tension, for us not to lose the horror. And I did feel emotionally involved whenever I read the chapters; I could feel the creep and the horror, I could feel their fear and their worry. The details he adds; the series type of the guns the students use, the escape plan, the explosive and computer hacking Shinji and Shogo do and how he presents the entire fights like Word Wrestling Entertainment are impressively smart. But, I find the politic aspects presented are slightly disturbing and hard to understand, like the characters' comments towards the government; slightly affects the story by losing its tension.

Battle Royale is simply bloody, brutal and savage. The tense is so high until we can literally gasp and holding our breath whenever we imagine the events; like the shooting, the explosion, etc. Battle Royale isn't that deep or even full of surprises, but the twist itself is enough to make you frowned. It's obvious -right from the very beginning, using mostly Shuya's point of view- who the survivors are, but it simply doesn't losen the tense, every single death, every single characters are meaningful. Battle Royale is about distrust, betrayal, friendship, hatred, sense and most of all, humanity. The grouping of who's bad and who's good is literally something; who can be trusted and who simply can't. BR takes us to a situation of chaos, where everything turns bad to you, where you struggle to find the meaning of all of those. It's like you have to make a choice; to kill or to be killed, because there's simply no way out.

Brutal; one word that describes BR the most. It's simply insane to imagine classmates killing each other, watching your friends die; it's like an endless nightmare that you can't wake up from. You can taste and smell the blood drenchs everywhere, even only by imagining it. Like, Kazuo Kiriyama is a merciless bastard, with that cold and fearless decription of him; he simply has no feeling. And there's Shogo Kawada. I love his character and he made me sad by the end of the story. He somehow appears to be strong, mature, full of ideas, a survivor (one and truly) and what I love about him the most; he cares. But there's one character stands out and really disturbing; Sakamochi. That bastard; his mocking tone, merciless act, killing 15-year-old like killin an ant. And I did gawk when he told every students of Class B to write on a piece of paper using pencil, "We will kill each other" WTF? Besides all of that, BR makes slightly no sense about the killing though. Those teenagers, how do they know how to operate guns (even if they are given the manual), or even have the guts to slash their friends in the throat. And how Takami describes the 'rottened' one like Mitsuko; 15-year-old who's done prostitue, drugs, sex and above all, kill, just .. brutal.

Battle Royale : The Movie (2000) seems faithful to the novel, though some details are added and erased differently from the book. But it helps a lot; watching the movie before reading the book, because you have the complete package, like imagine whatever you want, you already have the imaginary figures. Click here for my Battle Royale : The Movie review.

For those who wonder whether BR is better than THG, I simply can't decide. Yes, there're lots of similarities between those two, but then again, they're simply different. Do I enjoy both of them? Yes. But I simply can't choose, there are some aspects that make me like both of them differently. But overall, I really recommend you to read the novel. It's simply bloody addicting.

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