Why You Need to Read: Battle Royale: The Novel

 

Battle Royale: The Novel

By: Koushun Takami

Translated by: Yuji Oniki

Published: April 1999 (Japan); February 26, 2003 (in English)

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian/Horror

 

PLEASE NOTE: The following contains spoilers from this novel. You have been warned.

Shuya took a moment to think before he received his black day pack, and he did the same as he approached Fumiyo Fujiyoshi’s corpse, shutting his eyes. He wanted to remove the knife from her forehead but decided against it.

            When he stepped out of the classroom, he felt a pang of regret, wishing he had removed it for her.

            40 STUDENTS REMAINING(Chapter 6).

 

The Most Dangerous Game (1924) by Richard Connell and Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding are two of the many required readings for schools in the United States and in other countries. Their plots are straightforward: protagonist(s) ends up on an island in which they have to survive on and survive from the individual(s) who are trying to kill him/them. Then, on September 1, 2009, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was published with a movie deal in the works. After the movie was released in 2012, a few critics of “independent” and “foreign” movies were mentioning Battle Royale. Some fans of the movie accused Suzanne Collins of “stealing” the concept of Battle Royale for The Hunger Games. And, that’s not true. Adults (and children) killing each other for no reason happen all the time, sadly.

It is said that the author, Koushun Takami, read Lord of the Flies and found it to be good, but “outdated.” Inspired by other books and action movies, Takami wrote Battle Royale.The text is an expansion to Golding’s book in that there are both male and female students, there are 42 of them, there are more point-of-view chapters from many of those characters, and the deaths are plentiful and gruesome!

In addition to the 42 students and two teachers, there is the “Team Leader.” While we don’t get the P.O.V.s of all of the characters, we gain both the personalities and the upbringings of all of them. And, since this is a novel about adolescents in a dystopian society, it’s not a spoiler to let you know that some of these students do NOT come from good homes. Plus, multiple P.O.V.s means that the readers will learn the reasons the students either participate, or don’t participate in the “program.”

The plot of Battle Royale is straightforward: an entire class of Japanese students are abducted and forced to participate in a deadly game of manhunt. Each student is given a duffel bad with supplies and a random weapon. All of the students are set loose on an island and the “game” remains active until one student is left alive. Additionally, someone must die every 24 hours, or a detonation device goes off, killing ALL OF THEM!

The narrative goes from 1st person to 3rd person over and over again. This is done when more than one student is around to comprehend the mood of the story. Plus, we learn the backstory of several of the students and we learn why, or why not, each of them participates in the “game.” Some of these students are damaged, some are entitled, and the rest are scared.

The style is action-paced with students dying throughout the “game” in numerous ways. Takami’s tone reflects what he’s attempting to pull off: a cringe-worthy and addictive story of kids who are forced to take part in what their broken society wants them to, without their—or their families’—consent.

The appeal—like any other story of this sort—was originally controversial. It turned out Takami was worried that his novel would be classified as “dark” and “violent,” and he waited two years to have it published! At first, critics in Japan were disturbed by the violence. Afterwards, it became both popular and a best seller. The quick-paced plot and the storyline and believable characters intrigued the public. Takami gave his readers something that William Golding did not: female characters. Battle Royale reminds readers that everyone has a dark and lethal side within themselves.

Almost immediately after Battle Royale’s publication, a movie was ordered and released in 2000. Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku, the movie matches the pace of the book, and the death of the characters. The film adaptation was a success in Japan and was going through “the undergrounds” outside of its home country. You can watch it on Netflix. Of course, the movie has been called “one of my favorites” by Quentin Tarentino, and is labeled as “the story ripped off by The Hunger Games, which (again) is not true, but more on that another time (Read: “It All Started with…Lord of the Flies). There is a manga adaptation that I have NOT read, but will eventually, but the movie will NOT let you down!

I enjoyed this novel because the author took the concept of “fighting to the death” to a whole different level. Unlike The Hunger Games, the location is deserted, so the characters are allowed to reside inside the buildings. Similar to Lord of the Flies, the characters, these adolescents, run amok due to their emotional state. And, let’s not forget the influence from The Most Dangerous Game! A handful of these students are hunting down their classmates! Battle Royale is an update and an expansion to our school assigned readings. But, keep in mind you’ll need to read those three stories in order to appreciate this import from Japan.

My final rating: Enjoy It!

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It All Started With…Lord of the Flies

           Before The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, many of us got exposure to dystopian fiction, which is a subgenre of science fiction, in high school. To those of us who actually read the book, Lord of the Flies provided many of us with a level of violence more extreme than in The Outsiders, which some of us read in middle/junior high school. We know what the story is about: a group of British schoolboys are evacuated to avoid a nuclear war when their airplane crashes onto an uninhabited island. With all the adults dead, these schoolboys—ages 4 to 12—must now work together to survive while they wait for help and rescue. We all remember what happens next, a war starts amongst them, a few of the boys get killed, and the island gets engulfed in flames. William Golding, the author, believed this to be a more realistic scenario as to when unfamiliar children end up deserted on an island with no adult supervision. The “human animal” emerges and life becomes a “fight or flight” situation.

            That novel, I am not sure whether or not I would classify it as groundbreaking, was published in 1954. Fast forward to the 1990s in Japan where a man reads Lord of the Flies and found it to be outdated. This man, Koushun Takami, wrote his dystopian novel with a modern society in mind. Battle Royale was published in Japan in April 1999. This novel made Lord of the Flies look like a child’s game; there were more students and they were older (around 15 years-old), they were given actual weapons (ranging from a machine gun to an ice pick), and their government is making them participate. There are similarities: the students are left alone on an island and they eventually begin to attack and to kill each other. There are differences: more of these students get killed off and you get the point of views of several characters, which provides each of their back stories and motives. Yes, there are also girls who are characters in Battle Royale and they are just as violent as the boys.

            The interesting fact about Battle Royale was the ironic reception it originally (and still) receives. Publishers in Japan found the content to be too violent and too inappropriate, and even the United States distanced themselves (or tried to) from this particular novel (look up the date of the Columbine High School Shooting). However, the novel became a bestseller and a favorite among young readers (the U.S. eventually translated and published this novel in 2003). This led to the film adaptation directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in 2000, which was also controversial and successful. Even Quentin Tarentino stated: “I wish I had made this movie.” I would also go as far to say that Battle Royale is similar to Mean Girls in which there is more taking place within a large group of students than what is seen by everyone else.

            Some people, including children and adolescents, are willing to submit to their ‘naturalistic’ behavior. This sound like something you learned in biology and in psychology. And yet, we still enjoyed them all the same. Battle Royale took the time to look into why most of the 42 students were willing to participate or to opt out of the “game.” This meant that each student’s home life, school life, and life-changing moment molded them into how they “played”: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, I would not recommend this novel to anyone until after he or she has read Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games trilogy. This is because I think a complete understanding must be obtained in order to seek out the hidden subplots found in this novel.

            I believe it is safe to say that the success of The Hunger Games in the United States matched the same success Battle Royale had in Japan. And, both went on to become global bestsellers. It can be said that The Hunger Games trilogy is a recent retelling of both Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale. The main subplot is that the resistance had already taken place and these “gladiator games” became part of the treaty. Plus, like the gladiator games of Ancient Rome, the public looks forward to watching them to the point where the games have been hyped up and televised. Sound familiar? The difference in this series is that Katniss is the only point of view readers get, and her post traumatic stress from the games is not understood until the next two books. Katniss gets fame, which she can never get rid of. And, her actions lead to a second revolution that intensifies the already dystopian civilization.

             By the time The Hunger Games was published in 2008, and the film adaptation released in 2012, many fans and readers have at least heard of Battle Royale, and some people even went as far as to accusing author Suzanne Collins of “stealing” the plot. However, in Collins’ defense, any well read person could spot how Greek mythology and literature (the Minotaur) and the reality T.V. shows found their way into the story’s plot. Battle Royale stands alone because even if you have not read the book, you could not deny the amount of tragic deaths mixed with the various ways each of the characters die. Plus, the fact that you get into the minds of each of the characters before they die makes each of their deaths more gut-retching than the characters in the other two books (sorry Rue). That is when you realize that except for the subgenre and the main plot, both stories are not alike.

            Within more than 50 years, the world has seen the publication and the popularity of 3 dystopian novels written for adolescents. In them we experience just how influential the world is to the younger generation and how they plan on acquiring their roles as adults. This reality is grim and fearful as well as realistic. If the adults in such places are not willing to find a peaceful solution to the world’s problems (please note: I am not a pacifist), then why should the children? The children in Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games are put into their situations because of what the adults have or had been doing. Hence, these kids literally must fend for themselves, and the results are disturbing and tragic.

            I am sure that within the next 10 years another dystopian novel will emerge and become as popular as its predecessors. Just like before, we will compare one book with the other and wonder whether or not the latest novel ripped off one of the previous ones. But remember, the popularity and the success of this subgenre all started with Lord of the Flies