Review: Battle Royale (Koushun Takami)

The Deets:
Audience: YA, adult
pages: 576
Publisher: February 26th 2003 by VIZ, LLC (first published April 1999)           
ISBN: 9781569317785
Genre: dystopian
Source: borrowed copy from neighbor

Battle RoyaleKoushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: 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 one another 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. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.

You may be wondering, "What is a Battle Royale exactly?" If you are asking yourself that, then you are asking a great question. A Battle Royale is a mess. In it's simplest form, it's a whole bunch of people duking it out at the same time in some sort of cage match type thing in wrestling. It's not a tag team event, or a 2-on-1-- instead, it's survival of the fittest. Only one fighter will remain standing.

So, now you have an idea of what the book Battle Royale is going to be about. In this book, randomly selected classes of students are chosen to participate in the government's special "program." They are shipped off to a remote island, tagged with explosive collars, and told only one of them can remain alive. To survive, you have to kill your classmates.

Sound familiar? You bet it does. Can we say Hunger Games?

I'm about to piss a lot of people off, so if you are a die hard Hunger Games fan-- stop reading.

Now, don't get me wrong-- I really liked the Hunger Games books. I saw the movie and plan to see Catching Fire. But I am disgruntled now. When I read The Hunger Games, I was blown away by how original I thought the books were. I just ranted and raved to everyone I saw about it. Now I feel foolish, because Battle Royale first hit the scenes in 1999. That's an entire decade before HG! So, was HG really that innovative? Nope. Not at all. It was a complete rip off of Battle Royale.

Don't believe me? Still hung up on Peeta? Fine. But take a gander at this:

In Battle Royale, the government heads up the program and no one really understands its purpose.  There is also an evil dictator running the show behind the scenes while over paid government officials place bets on who will survive. Kids are being supplied with mystery packs to help or hinder their survival. But some kids are brutal and more willing to kill, while others just want to survive.  There are also kids stuck on an island that has forbiddon zones that change by the hour. The officials monitor every conversation and location throughout the event, while multiple survivors in the end are ready to stick it to the government. Oh, and don't forget the relationship between the male and female protagonists. That's important too. (This relationship also wouldn't be nearly as potent if there weren't a few near death experiences added in.)

So, which book did I just describe? Hard to tell, right?

So now you see why I feel a bit cheated by the shinyness of The Hunger Games. It really wasn't all that original. Yes, the writing style was different and seemed to focus on different elements with a great intensity, but it was not as unique as I thought. Battle Royale was more about survival and the inner darkness we all have, and less about the political overthrow we saw in Mockingjay. Also, I really liked how the author of Battle Royale gave multiple perspectives. You got a true understanding of why so many of the kids were willing to kill (or not). The irony of some of the situations were not lost on me, either.

If you are a fan of The Hunger Games-- and you actually read all of this knowing I was going to make you upset-- then you should read Battle Royale. You may end up feeling the same way I do. Either way, you owe it to yourself to at least compare the two stories.


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