Battle Royale – Koushun Takami Book Review

I read this book when it first came out in 2010 following the success of the manga with the same name. I read the manga and I read the book an I even watched the crappy movie adaptation. I loved it all. It’s got the three key elements that make a book interesting. Sex, crime, rock&roll. And also an oppressing government trying to kill everyone in a battle to the death. Way before the Hunger Games and the capitol, way before Highlander (where there can be only one) and waaay before Fortnite, a battle to the last person standing enthralled the nation. And this year, the games had previous year’s winner amongst the students.


The Story

The story takes place in an alternate future, where Japan is a police state.
Every year, the government picks fifty randomly selected classes of highschool students to take to a deserted island where they are forced to kill each other until there is only one standing, then the game can be closed. Sounds familiar? Yep, Suzanne Collins, I’m looking at you.
The difference is the level of violence and gore and the number of people involved.
The Hunger Games had 24 tributes from 12 districts, Battle Royale has over 200.

The program was created, supposedly, as a form of military research, though the outcome of each battle is publicised on local television. A character discovers that the program is not an experiment at all, but a means of terrorising the population. In theory, after seeing such atrocities, the people will become paranoid and divided, preventing an organised rebellion.

Under the guise of a ‘study trip’, a group of students from Shiroiwa Junior High School (城岩中学校 Shiroiwa Chūgakkō), a junior high school operated by the fictional town of Shiroiwa (in Kagawa Prefecture), are corralled onto a bus and gassed, only to awaken in a school on an isolated, evacuated island, wearing metal collars around their necks. After being briefed about the program, the students are issued survival packs (along with a random weapon or a tool) and sent out the island one by one. While most of the students receive guns and knives, some students acquire relatively useless items like boomerangs, some common dartboard darts, or a fork. In some cases, instead of a weapon, the student receives a tool; Hiroki Sugimura finds a radar that tracks nearby students, and Toshinori Oda receives a bulletproof vest.

The interesting part is that no-one is safe from the start. One of the students is killed by the teacher for speaking up and another creates an ambush just outside of the room where they were held, systematically killing off anyone who exits.

The main players are Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, Shogo Kawada, Kazuo Kiriyama, Mitsuko Souma, Hiroki Sugimura and Shinji Mimura. They distinguish themselves as leaders, driven either by the strong desire to survive or by the strong desire to kill. There are psychopaths and mental cases and you can see highschool dynamics at play as the previous popular people will immediately have formed a following.

As the story unfolds, you can see snippets of each of the student’s life and learn about the world they live in, the strict regime killing off people for speaking against the government or appearing as a threat. Shuya is an orphan, his father having been killed by the government and his mother having died when he was young. He has a strong sense of justice and he often tries to rally others onto him and to escape the game without killing anyone.
When his best friend, Yoshitoki, dies he vows to protect his crush, Noriko.

As he ran next to Noriko, a thought suddenly occurred to him. The screaming, their hasty footsteps, and the officer warning them to stop all receded as his mind was occupied with this thought.
It might have been inappropriate. And besides… he’d ripped it off. Oh, man.
But still he thought this:
Together Noriko we’ll live with the sadness. I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul. Someday girl I don’t know when we’re gonna 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.

Noriko is a shy girl, wounded in the first part of the game by a stray bullet in the leg. She is dependent on Shuya for assistance and ultimately becomes his girl. When her wound gets infected, Shuya helps her through. She is very levelled and I think without her, Shuya and Shogo would have derailed on board the crazy train.
She shoots Kazuo at the end and kills him with a stray bullet but in order to spare her of the guilt, Shogo shoots Kazuo too, claiming the kill.

Shogo is a transfer student, older than the rest, a quiet guy who kept to himself. Later in the game, we discovered that he won the game from three years ago.
Noriko and Shuya frequently doubt his trustworthiness, but these doubts turn out to be unfounded, as Shogo reveals that he deliberately transferred to the school in hopes of being in the selected class. He is on a mission to avenge the death of his girlfriend, who died during the last program they played in. He along with Noriko and Shuya defeat Kiriyama. He helps overturn the program, helping Shuya and Noriko to escape, but he succumbs to his wounds and dies. In all versions he is the final participant to die.

Shogo looked at Shuya and Noriko. “The winner’s forced to transfer to another school where he or she is ordered not to mention the game and is instructed instead to lead a normal life. That’s all.”

Shuya felt his chest well up inside and his face froze. He stared at Shogo and realized that Noriko was holding her breath.

Shogo said, “I was a student in Third Year Class C, Second District, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture.” He added, “I survived the Program held in Hyogo Prefecture last year.

Kazuo is the baddie in the book, tall and slim and slick. He is good at everything – be it mastering the violin or Karate. He is also lacking empathy due to an injury he sustained when he was growing up and is quickly bored with things shortly after he finds them. He once plucked the eye out of a gym teacher to see what colour the inside would be like… He is like a little monster, perfectly adapted to the game, with a deadly intent throughout. He gathers the most kills through the game but is ultimately killed (yay)

Mitsuko Souma is the second baddie, a victim of sexual abuse she is twisted and psychotic and is using her body as a weapon. She is like a black widow, seducing her classmates just to kill them off slowly. She is almost as effective as Kazuo in killing people and she even turns on her “friends” from school. She finds her death after trying and failing to seduce Kazuo who shoots her in every limb and then through the head..

Hiroki Sugimura was a cute soul. Tall for Japanese standards (5’11”), he is protecting the girl he loves in the battle and then a girl he cares for. He is a very nice guy and ends up fighting the psycho Kazuo three times in the battle. He looses three fingers and even an eye and is eventually killed.
In the manga flashbacks, we see Hiroki being bullied at a very young age, thus his reason for taking up martial arts. Another flashback shows him falling in love with Kayoko’s “beauty & grace” when watching her from afar during her flower arrangement classes, his martial arts teacher made the remark “she’d be good for you” leaving Hiroki red and embarrassed.

Shinji Mimura is the hacker of the lot, his first plan is to hack into the government’s computer and disable their collars, and then bomb the school. He is unsuccessful at hacking into the computer, since he discusses his plan with his friend Yutaka Seto, and the conversation is transmitted through his collar back to the teacher, who puts a stop to that plan. Shinji then attempts to bomb the building where the Program’s staff is bunkered in, a plan which fails after a slight disruption that results in Shinji killing Keita Iijima. In the ensuing confusion, Kazuo shows up and kills Yutaka. When Kazuo enters the farm coop where Shinji and Yutaka were hiding in, Shinji detonates the bomb in the coop in an attempt to kill Kazuo. Despite the resulting explosion, Kazuo survives and guns down Shinji. In a series of flashbacks, it was also revealed that Shinji’s uncle was a spy who taught him many things including how to hack systems and also how to make a bomb from items scattered around the island.

Shinji slowly fell forward onto his face. Debris bounced up on impact. It took less than thirty seconds for the rest of his body to die. The memento of his beloved uncle–the earring worn by the woman he loved–was now stained with the blood running down Shinji’s left ear, reflecting the glow from the red flames of the farm building.
And so the boy known as the Third Man, Shinji Mimura, was dead.

Why the book was awesome

It’s impossible to put down. I read it from 5pm until 10pm one evening and I didn’t even stop to have dinner. There is a lot of violence and gore, all done by either 15-year olds or by the government and the dystopian society is portrayed marvellously. It was interesting to see how the threat of death would warp people’s perceptions into either being something they didn’t want to do or finding strength in their core believes.

I felt sad when a lovely couple decided to commit suicide together rather then be killed separately or have to kill each other.

While the characters are sometimes the same, there are some sparks in there that speak of powerful development and their background stories are relevant to the decisions they make throughout the game.

You all have your own distinct personal backgrounds. Of course some of you come from rich families, some from poor families. But circumstances beyond your control like that shouldn’t determine who you are. You must all realize what you’re worth on your own.

The game was well developed as well – the field gets smaller every day so they have to move from place to place. If they get trapped in the wrong zone, they explode. Their weapons might be very useful or very useless. I mean, what do you do with a boomerang or a tennis racket? Also their food rations diminish and it’s imperative they either find food or kill for it.

 

 

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