Koushun 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.
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.
What can I say about this black and red covered brick that hasn’t been said already?
Not much. Nothing at all.
The translation sucks. It’s uneven, sloppy, and it’s painful to read at times. It’s the reason I kept putting this book down and reading something else instead. It’s not, however, enough to hide the great story underneath.
The beginning of the novel is bogged down by long infodumbs explaining the game, the government’s approach, and pointing out most if not all of the 42 players. That’s a lot of names and factoids for a reader to remember and I wish the author had just picked a handful of core characters to properly introduce before hitting the “start game” button. Takami doesn’t have any trouble introducing new characters later in the book while detailing the progress of the killing game, and I don’t understand why he couldn’t have used that same tactic from the start. And that’s what I loved most about this book. As bloody and gory as it is, it also gives voices and personalities to even the most obnoxious characters. They were the best part of this book.
The heroes and heroine, however, were not. Noriko redeemed herself somewhat towards the end, but in doing so she took away Shuya’s last chance to morph into an interesting character. Of the three, both in the book and the film, most interesting was Shogo. You can guess how I felt about that moment on the mountain top, if you’ve read the book.
There are two endings for this story, the first on the island and the second off the island. I would’ve loved had the first been the final ending, but I can understand why the second one exists. The confrontation with the government representative was necessary because of the world Takami created and because of the message he wanted to convey at the end.
I would have preferred had it been done without the lyrics, though.