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Battle Royale - Koushun Takami

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Author: Koushun Takami / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 10 May 2007 / Genre: Science Fiction / Subcategory: Science Fiction General / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: Battle Royale / ISBN 13: 9780575080492 / ISBN 10: 0575080492

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      16.07.2012 17:53
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      Not The Hunger Games

      Consider this synopsis: a dystopian society forces children into a game in which there can be only one winner and the winner is the one left surviving. Between the beginning of the game and the end, the children are forced to kill each other. Sound familiar?

      Well, it's not The Hunger Games but Battle Royale I'm writing about today, but you'll see that the premise is very similar. However, Battle Royale was written some years prior to The Hunger Games but outside Japan hasn't really had the same kind of following or attention. But I'm here to tell you, it's worth a read.

      In terms of similarities to The Hunger Games, the premise is pretty much where the similiarity ends. In Battle Royale an entire class of school children are sent on a 'day trip'. During the course of the trip they are drugged and wake up later on to find they've had electronic collars clipped around their neck. And that's where the game begins. The children are told that their class has been selected for their region's Battle Royale. They all know what this means. They will be given a pack each which will have supplies, a map and, if they're lucky, a decent weapon. The collars around their neck are rigged to explode and will explode if no one dies within a certain period of time or if someone remains in a 'red' zone after an allotted time. The game will only end when there's one person left living.

      Thereafter follows a bloody and gory mess of a book in which the class of 42 gets whittled down one gruesome death after another. The story follows each of the characters, about whom you learn at least a little something, but focuses mainly on 2 characters: Nanahara (boy) and Noriko (girl) who pair up in order to try and survive the game.

      Battle Royale is both an easy and a hard book to read. Easy in the sense that the prose is unchallenging, though the translation seems a little rough around the edges. Hard in the sense that it is terribly gruesome, that the deaths seem to have no meaning or purpose.

      The characters are not especially well drawn, though having read quite a lot of Japanese fiction that was not terribly surprising. There are a lot of classically Japanese cliches - Nanahara is the 'cool' athletic type, Noriko a quiet, studious girl, there are hi-tech whizz-kids, musical types, and popular, sexy girls. Oh, and a sociopath. As you'd expect. Given that this is a young adult book, the presence of these quite standard characters is not too surprising, but it does impact on how much you care about them.

      All in all Battle Royale is a decent book. Its premise is interesting, particularly around the way that people break down when placed under pressure and behave in ways that you would not expect. Pitting a class of school children against each other is a brave and unusual move and Takami deals with it well. It's quite different in tone to The Hunger Games, more adult and harsher and less character driven.

      There's also a movie version of Battle Royale which is well worth a watch. The movie and book aren't identical, I think perhaps because of the presence of Takeshi Kitano which forced the movie to have a central 'bad guy' type character which is not present in the book, but both are good. I watched the movie first, then read the book and I don't feel I lost anything doing it this way around.

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      14.07.2012 11:50
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      The two are completely different!!!

      Having read 'The Hunger Games' and then heard how people compare it to this cult Japanese novel, I just had to read it for myself and see if the claims were true.

      Each year in a dystopian Japan, one class of Year 3 students get selected in 'an experiment' in which they are taken to a location, supplied weapons and must kill their classmates until one 'victor' remains. When Shuya and his classmates discovers that they are in 'the game', they question their classmates' motives, discover their inner persona and struggle with trust, love and vengeance.

      Whilst the plot immediately resonates with Suzanne Collins' trilogy, the writing style of Takami and the focus of the novel is completely different. The details that 'Battle Royale' delivers triumphs over 'The Hunger Games'- gory details are fleshed out over pages in a grotesque yet real manner that I had to skip over several lines to progress the plot.

      And the detail is perhaps what makes this book stand out and give it personality. Each student (there are 42 in Shuya's class) is given a distinct and unique back story which we are told about. Their hopes, dreams, desires, values are revealed which makes you truly sympathise with them or even grow to hate them. However, with such great detail, the plot progression becomes slow as you plough through pages of arguably unnecessary text about characters you don't even care about.

      The plot driven 'Hunger Games' is distinctly different in this way. 'Battle Royale' isn't about who wins and rooting for the main characters, it is an exploration of psyche and how being placed in such a dramatic situation may change you, warp perceptions and perhaps people aren't innately 'good' or 'bad'.

      Reading the book also has a strange psychological effect on the reader. I found that I expected the worse out of all the students and felt that they would attack and kill each other mercilessly without feeling- but I was wrong- some of them did have heart and an intention to team up and help each other.

      As the story progressed and more students have unfortunately died, the ending became somewhat more predictable but what I really liked about it was how different characters were interlinked and how events affected different groups of students and their reaction to it was different. Again, this exploration of perception and mentality was really brought to the surface.

      The climax was superb and the ending was beautiful. The last chapter was just mind blowing and the 'twist' shocked me as much as it shocked Sakamochi, the 'teacher' who ran the game.

      Overall, the book was thrilling and though the plot was dragged out, there is a beautiful exploration of psychology and mentality that is not present in 'The Hunger Games'. Though there are MANY similarities that can be drawn from the two, the focus is different, and 'Battle Royale' truly manages to engage and bring it's 42 students to life in a genuine and real way...

      ...but I was definitely more hooked to 'The Hunger Games' due to it's pacy plot and numerous twists. I didn't care for 3/4 of the students in 'Battle Royale' so just wished their 'bit' was over LOL.

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        08.12.2011 15:39
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        A Cult Classic

        Having enjoyed both the film and manga adoptions to Battle Royale I decided it was time to read the original 1999 novel written by Koushun Takami and translated to English by Yuji Oniki. The story of Battle Royale both amazed and shocked readers with violent exploitation with kids. Battle Royale is set in an alternate timeline in Japan where every year since 1947, a class chosen by a lottery is taken to Okishima Island to take part in a project called The Program.

        The class are forced to kill each other in the most gruesome and desperate ways. One may have to kill their best friend in order to survive, and great tragedy is one it's way. To make matters worse, the students are being monitored by neck collars which explode when no one has died within 24 hours or that they are in a danger zone. Each student is provided with a survivor's kit and an individual weapon ranging from coat hangers to machine guns.

        The class the novel shows focuses on a class of 42 students. Each student is given a strong background and characterization so we can decide if we feel any sympathy for their deaths. The characters the novel focuses on the most are Shuya and Noriko; a couple of two butter wouldn't melt in their mouths kind of people. The pair eventually join forces with tough guy, Shugo who has had his own experiance with The Program before. Both Shuya and Noriko maintain their innocence which makes an interesting contrast to the characters who lose their mind. Even when Shuya's friend is killed, I can't seem to find the revenge vibes in him.

        To spice things up we have some awesome characters such as Kazuo, Shinji, Takako, Mitsuko and Hiroki. I will never forget the violent nymphomaniac, Mitsuko Souma. I think they go pretty deep into her past and her killings. I think they were trying to make readers feel sorry for Mitsuko. Kazuo is the major antagonist in all versions of the Battle Royale story. He's colder than ice and more smarter than a calculator. An extreme force to reckon with.

        I think Shinji and Shugo do a lot more than Shuya and Noriko. I don't think there was enough highlight on Shinji's plans to break The Program. Shuya and Noriko are good characters but they're cliche and a bit boring compared to other characters who are more lively.

        I think this novel is a well written and ground breaking original thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. In some ways, I consider this a guilty pleasure. I have seen the adaptions and the novel many times and always enjoyed them. I like how I can feel a mixture of emotions such as anger, humour, humour and romance. I think of it as a guilty pleasure because it is very unrealistic, but wicked blood drenched fun literature.

        It's a very fascinating story, but I do think there were too many characters which made it hard to feel anything for all of the characters, let alone remember them. When reading the novel I can picture the happenings in the film and the manga format in my head. I do thing there are times when the descriptions are over the top, such as describing a shot face resembling a strawberry pie. The imagery is not for everybody's taste.

        I found the illustration of the map, the list of students and prologue at the beginning of the novel very useful. Another thing I found useful was showing how many students were still alive at the end of each chapter, I also think it added a sense of danger to plot. I think without these that the novel would have been very hard to follow unless you've seen the manga and film beforehand. If you were a fan of the manga and the film, I think you'll love the book even more.

        To everyone else who hasn't read the manga or hasn't seen the film, this is the sort novel you will either love or you'll absolutely hate. Based on my review, I think you can make up your own choice.

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        14.01.2010 01:28
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        Great reading, by itself or with the film

        When I first heard of Battle Royale, my friend and I had decided to split buying the manga and the film. I ended up with the film, watched it and was amazed. I then read the manga and was even more amazed. By the end of it I figured it would be a good idea to begin reading the book that started it all.

        At the beginning it's worth noting that it's quite obvious that it's a translation as some of the language is a bit garbled, but you get used to it, and you become engrossed with the story.

        For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the story, it is set in a Japan under the reign of a new "Dictator" (these details kind of change a bit in the other versions, but it's really not important) and as a way of keeping population down as a "soldier training" program (although this changes in the film), the government sets up the Battle Royale program, in which a class of 42 students are sent to a remote, closed-off area, and told to kill each other.

        And so starts the tale of Shuuya Nanahara, and his tale of survival in this horrible reality. We are introduced to most of the characters, and they are given quite a lot of backstory, and even the "villains" of the show (the heartless Kazuo Kiriyama and the troubled Mitsuko Souma) are made to be believable, even likable characters. Along the way we are introduced to the ladies' man Shinji Mimura (and my personal favourite character), the hard boiled Shogo kawada and the gentle fighter Hiroki Sugimura. The way Koushun Takami writes, almost in the way teenagers think, in fact, gives these characters much life needed to the death-filled game. It makes you feel bad for every one of the characters when they die (Spoiler: people die)

        It's quite a long book, certainly good value for money, but not too long so that you get bored. It keeps you engrossed throughout, however, so you don't really notice the length.

        Oh, and top of that, there's plenty of blood-and-guts action, because that's really what you wanted when you first heard of Battle Royale

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        04.11.2009 20:24
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        Great book: buy!

        A corrupt regime. A class full of teenagers. A game that orders them to kill each other...

        As the time runs out, and their classmates are being murdered by those that they once considered to be their friends, the young heroes and heroines of the book are driven to ever more desperate measures to remain alive.

        As you progress through the book, you really do become quite attached the characters: the sportstar and genius Shinji Mimura, the beautiful yet deadly Mitsuko Souma, even the heartless Kazuo Kiryama. You don't want any of them to be harmed, you want Shinji to succeed, you want Mitsuko to keep going, and you want Kazuo to continue his murderous ways. But, as the game rules reveal, thats not going to happen.

        Still, each death is like a heartbreak, a disapointment, and a bit of a relief, all rolled into one.

        The books exploration of human nature, in doubt and mistrust, naivety and fear are all shown, clear and horrifying. While times have changed since the book was written, and films like the Saw series have come out, the idea in itself is still shocking, if you actually think about it, what was the writer thinking? Koushun Takami is perhaps one of the sickest men alive.

        This is possibly one of the best books that I've ever read. the blood bathed scenes are horriffic, the methods of death are enough to make you grimace, and each characters betrayal makes you shout out loud in indignation and disbelief. Definately must read.

        There are thousands of plots and stories running alongside, underneath and across the main line of Shuya and Noriko, and it is impossible for me to write about them all. The best way to understand this amazing story: buy the book!

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        31.10.2009 14:49
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        Great book, get it, read it!

        I'd first heard of Battle Royale (as i think most people have) through the brilliant film that was released in 2000. I first watched the movie a few years ago and I thought it was really good, but I was surprised to find out recently that it was based on a book.
        Knowing this I immediately got on the internet and ordered a copy for myself, hoping it would be as good as the movie.

        Not only is it as good as the movie, it is so much better.



        This is the product description on Amazon -

        Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are electronically collared, provided with weapons of varying potency, and sent out onto the island. If they are in the wrong part of the island at the wrong time, their collars will explode. If they band together to save themselves a collar will explode at random. If they try to escape from the island, they will be blown up. Their only chance for survival lies in killing their classmates. 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, and a potent story of politics and survival 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, and is now available for the first time to the UK mainstream.



        This really is a brilliant book, whereas in the film you only get the background of a few characters, here every single school kid gets some sort of description of their past or of their mind-frame.

        Reading through, it is easy to get sucked up in their violent game, easy to empathise with their decisions on whether they play the game or not.
        Some characters (as with most books) are more believable than others, the books main protagonist Shuya and his friend Noriko almost seem too nice, too perfect, if that's possible.
        The two main 'baddies' Kayoko and Mitsuko, on the other hand are written perfectly, and in the end I kinda ended up liking them more than the good guys who I was supposed to like.


        Bad points of the book -
        The main problem I found, being an English speaker, was that I was not used to the Japanese names, therefore when I first started reading, I found it difficult to remember who was who and whether a name was supposed to be a boy or a girl, I quickly got used to this though.
        Also the translation probably could have been done better, for example, there are points where a boy character will refer to himself as a she and vice versa.
        This didn't particularly bother me though as I don't personally think its a big deal.
        If things like that bother you though I would advise not to read it as it will probably really annoy you after a while.


        So aside from those points I really love this book, it's my new favourite and I would recommend it :D

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        10.01.2009 00:41

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        A classic piece of Japanese pulp fiction.

        Koshun Takami's Battle Royale is depicted as a modern day Lord of the Flies in which school children are forced onto an abandoned and remote island, and ordered to kill each other off until only one student remains. This book highlights the underlying shallowness of friendships and social structures, as while some friends attempt to band together to defy the system, many students are prepared to kill off their fellow classmates and friends for the sake of their own survival; some pupils will kill off their classmates purely for their own sadistic enjoyment. Amongst the bleak scenario, there are often instances of macabre humour which break up the otherwise fairly graphic and depressing depiction of Japanese school life.

        This translation is easy to read and well paced, with sufficient character development to create empthathy for some of the characters, but also the pace and tension of their environment is maintained. It is definitely a worth a read if you're a fan of cult or Japanese fiction.

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        30.07.2008 17:45
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        Class of students are put on an island and forced to kill each other

        Battle Royale is set in an alternate modern Japan, where the youth rebelled and so the government brought in the BR Act; every year fifty classes of third year junior high school students are knocked out and isolated, the students then required to fight to the death until only one remains. They are each given a bag containing some food, water, a map and a random item which could be a saucepan lid or a machine gun. They all have a neck collar placed on them that will explode if they try to escape or if they are caught in a danger zone. If nobody has died within three days, all he collars will explode. We follow Shuya Nanahara as he tries to survive and to save his friends.
        This book is so many levels of awesome. I thought that the film was great, which it is, but this just completely blows it out of the water. There is a lot more blood and a lot more character development which made me much more attached to some characters than after having watched the film. Nanahara, Shinji, Hiroki and Shogo were just a few of the characters that I liked a lot more after reading this novel. Also, having the background story of some of the characters gave a lot more insight into what happens during The Game; Kiriyama and Mitsuko's information was especially interesting and chilling, really showing why they choose to play The Game so readily.
        Absolutely wonderful book that everyone (although maybe not those sensitive to violence) should read.

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          04.02.2008 23:46
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          If you like the film than you'll love this

          I am a big fan of pretty much everything that comes out of Japan. Battle Royale is one of my favourite films. This book was pretty much a nessecisity to have in my collection. However when it came to reading it, i found it a plesent and easy read and was overly impressed.

          For those who have not seen or read this, its the story of an oppressive nation, who has a programe called Battle Royale. This is where each year a randomly selected class of 15 year olds are taken to a remote island where they have to fight to the death or die.

          As far as stories go it sounds like its a pretty rough one. However i believe it is a well made book and insight into such a situation. What would you do?

          As i saw the film first i found i was compairing it alot of the time, however it follows the film pretty well. I even thought at many parts that the book was better, however i can see why certain parts were cut.

          Its a great companion to the film as it gives life to the characters who have none in the film. When reading the book it makes you care so much more for the main characters and the rest.

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        • Product Details

          Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are electronically collared, provided with weapons of varying potency, and sent out onto the island. If they are in the wrong part of the island at the wrong time, their collars will explode. If they band together to save themselves a collar will explode at random. If they try to escape from the island, they will be blown up. Their only chance for survival lies in killing their classmates. 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, and a potent story of politics and survival 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, and is now available for the first time to the UK mainstream.