Book Review, Dystopia, Fiction, Horor, Japanese, Koushun Takami, Politics, Pop Culture, Sociology, Violence

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 25


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Every year, in the Republic of East Asia, one 3rd-year Junior High class, made up of 15-year olds, is selected at random to participate in a Battle Royal – an epic fight to the death, where the final student to survive is crowned the winner.  The rationale for this yearly “program” is that the totalitarian government uses the events as a learning exercise for their military but, in reality, it is simply a way of generating fear and total devotion to the government.  The kids believe they are on a school trip, but as they are journeying via bus, a sleeping agent is released and everyone wakes up inside a classroom, where they discover they have been collared with an electronic device which not only monitors their whereabouts but will also explode if they try to escape or are caught in certain “forbidden zones” on the island where they have been relocated. The kids each get one bag of supplies, including one random weapon (ranging from simple instruments like a sharp stick or ice pick, to hand grenades and even a machine gun).  Suddenly, these classmates and friends are pitted against each other – some become killers out of fear, some because they were destined to be all along, and others only take lives while trying to save their own. 


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

There is a wide range of characters in this story, which is necessary with a cast of more than 40 people (42 students, initially, plus their schoolmaster, the game director, security guards, parents, etc.).  While there is a lack of depth in the more “evil” of characters (those like Kazuo and Mitsuko who are soulless and violent for the sake of being violent), there are certain characters who are truly interesting to watch, and who the reader might root for, such as Shinji, the sweet and brilliant computer nerd who has a plan to escape, and Shogo, the boy who seems a bit older than the rest and who has incredible secrets.  The two main characters, Noriko and Shuya, develop well over the course of the story – they grow somewhat as individuals and also as a couple (and, with Shogo, as a team).  The varied responses and ways of “playing the game” are reflected well in the diverse types of personalities present in this group of school kids, which makes a sometimes unbelievable plot feel more realistic and natural. 


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

The story reads somewhat like an action movie-meets manga/graphic novel.  It is, at times, ridiculously over-the-top and cheesy.  Some of the dialogue, particularly the internal dialogue, is silly and very much “Japanese Pop” in nature.  The dialogue felt, at times, stiff, unnatural, and not at all in keeping with the age level of these kids or with the nature of the story which is quite dark, but which sometimes feels self-parodied (as if the writer sometimes felt self-conscious about his own seriousness, or lack thereof). Still, the book is appropriately fast-paced and the breaking up of chapters to focus on different characters is interesting in that it allows the reader an inside-look at everyone involved.  Keeping the book narrated in the third-person also means that the reader does not need to rely too heavily on a possibly flawed narrator.  The book’s structure might be its greatest achievement, as it is extremely difficult to care about characters in a book whose point-of-view, so to speak, changes on a constant basis.  There was some choppiness and grammar/spelling errors due, in part, to the translation – but which should have been caught and corrected during the editing process. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

First of all, it must be said that the similarities between this book and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which came after Battle Royale) are prevalent enough that it would be irresponsible to ignore them.  From the premise itself, to the idea of trackers, from the importance of the bird call to the inclusion of “bags of supplies” for the contestants, from betting on winners to televising the results, from manipulating the game to discourage participants from being idle to awarding the winner a lifetime pension and national fame, the similarities go on and on.  The primary difference, though, is that the Battle Royale game is seen as a military training necessity for Greater East Asia, where as the Hunger Games are specifically meant to be a reminder to the districts of how the Capitol punishes disobedience and disloyalty.  Slim difference.  That being said, the primary idea (which has been retold many times by many authors in many different forms, by now) is brilliant and original.  Although the author does not mention it, it would be hard not to see some minor influence, at least, from The Lord of the Flies.  The study of human nature, group dynamics, and survival instincts by witnessing the actions of teenagers isolated on an inescapable island – of course the influence is there; however, the important distinction is that these children did not land on the island by mistake, they were kidnapped and are being manipulated by their government and their elders.  This says just as much about society and politics as the microcosm of Golding’s island did.  The influence of action films and rock music, too are clear – both in the themes of the story and in its structure; for example, the main character and two main supporting characters (one who aids the main character, the other who is hunting him) are directly inspired by the movie Terminator 2.  The questioning of blind obedience to authority, the themes of oppression, fear, trust, isolation, and the dangers of totalitarian governments and violent Nationalism are all explored and effective.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Pop Culture, Youth Violence, Survival of the Fittest, Fight to the Death, Action, Humanity, Politics, Society, Japanese fiction, Dystopia.


Quotes:

“And so his choice to reduce the numbers of “the enemy” as efficiently as possible wasn’t motivated by rational thoughts but instead by a deeper, primal fear of death.”

“Please live. Talk, think, act. And sometimes listen to music . . . look at paintings, allow yourself to be moved.  Laugh a lot, and at times, cry. And if you find a wonderful girl, then you go for her and love her.”

“It’s not a bad thing to be loved.”

“Their two bodies danced in the air beyond the cliff, their hands still clasped together, the black sea under them.”

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Book Review, Charles Dickens, Classics, Dennis Cooper, Fantasy, Gay Lit, Graham Greene, H.P. Lovecraft, Horor, J.K. Rowling, Literature, Religion, Robert Musil, T.A. Barron

Review: Brief Reviews of Earlier Reads

The Fires of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #3) by T.A. Barron

This has been the most disappointing book in the Merlin series, so far. It seemed to lack substance and flair. There are also many repeating themes and events – but not in a subtle way. It’s more like the author has chosen a few stock characters and re-uses them over and over. The story is still interesting and fun, I just hope the final two books will be better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Truly remarkable. To imagine a world in which law is outlaw and in which priests are hunted down and killed, to the very last one… terribly troubling.

The Seven Songs of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #2) by T.A. Barron

Even better than the first – and makes me truly look forward to the third! The many, many similarities to the Lord of the Rings and to the Harry Potter series are a bit unnerving, though. Dissertation topic? Hmmm.

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

This first book in the series of Young Merlin leaves me wanting more – which is why I’m already 100 pages into the second book at the time I’m writing this review for the first! Though classified as “independent reader” books – meaning, for ages 10-14 or so, the book is also mature in nature and prose. Barron is an excellent story-teller and, while it lacks the maturity and complexity of the later books in the Harry Potter series, this first book is quite comparable to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Definitely worth the read – fast paced, fun, interesting, exciting. I’m convinced.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

Meh. I feel like this would make a pretty excellent movie, but the book (short as it was) dragged on and on. There was so much explanation of the fear, without any actual description of it… I suppose I’m a product of the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, because all Lovecraft did was tell, tell, tell. Even the descriptions -of apparently monstrous and terrifying alien beasts- were mundane and boring. Hard to do. I understand Lovecraft is supposed to be the godfather of terror but after this, my first experience, with his writing, I’m left disappointed. I doubt I’ll pick up another.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We all know the story; we’ve all seen the movie. What we haven’t done, though, is read the book! And we should. The novella is quaint and brilliant and didactic and rough and everything purely and uniquely Dickensian. My only complaint is that this wasn’t one of Dickens’ longer works – it could have easily been a great novel. But it is still a beautiful little novella. Loved it. And what better time to read it than late December? “Merry Christmas, everyone!”

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Truly wonderful companion to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The tales in themselves are clever but the addition of the footnotes by J.K.R. herself and by Hermione Granger as translator, compound with the explanatory commentary by Dumbledore after each story, makes this read like a Norton Critical Edition of any classical literary work. Fantastic. The final tale, “The Three Brothers,” is the one which is directly referenced in the final Harry Potter Book (The Deathly Hallows). Reading that last tale, as well as the whole book, really made me want to dive back into the original series. Also, many magical creatures, historical figures, potions, etc. are referenced in the novel, with a footnote to find more information in Rowling’s other two supplementary books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. The attention to detail remains fantastic and the series as a whole is beyond superb and is truly inspiring.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

Simultaneously the best and worst of Cooper’s novels. The worst because the story-line was a bit trite and the “internet-style” (is there a term for this yet? Web-lit? Blog-book?) is, at this point, outplayed and cliche. Though, to be fair, the book is probably one of the first to use the format, I’m just slow in picking it up. It’s also probably one of his best because the characters, though they all really turn out to be, well.. I don’t want to give anything away. Anyway, probably the most developed characters in any of his novels. The book took me months to read, though I normally fly through his books in a day. I think this is because I had a long-time relationship with a paranoid schizophrenic sociopath, and this book brought back incredibly vivid and unwelcome memories, so I tended to only read a few pages at a time. In any event, I do prefer the George Miles Cycle but Cooper still continues to prove that he’s a freak genius.

The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil

An interestingly philosophical take on the “darker” side of boarding school life. While only one of the characters in the novel (the abused boy) was remotely believable, the idea has merit. Musil’s prose is quite beautiful and I believe he almost accomplished what he meant to – raising questions about youth and sexuality and morality and consciousness. Whether any of the ideas are sound or answered, well, that’s another debate altogether. Intriguing read, though.

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