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Brutal and gruesome
Battle Royale - Koushun Takami
Member Name: thefifth
Battle Royale - Koushun Takami
Advantages: Gruesome, brave fiction
Disadvantages: Cliche'd characters, rough translation
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.
Summary: Not The Hunger Games