Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Genre: dystopia/ thriller
Pages: 614 (paperback)
Published: 2009 by VIZ in the US; first published 1999 in Japan
Recommended for: adult fans of the Hunger Games and those who don't mind violence

My Take:

I feel like a real push-over lately when it comes to reviewing books.  First I reviewed the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, which is extremely good, and then I posted a total fangirl gush-fest about Fullmetal Alchemist.  I know I'm going to be trying to do the incredibly phenomenal masterpiece that is The Magicians justice pretty soon, so I'll try to be objective in reviewing Battle Royale.

This notorious Japanese novel has become something of a pulp classic in its native land, and its premise will sound eerily familiar to those of us caught up in the Hunger Games craze.  In an alternative, oppressive Japan, forty-two junior high students are selected to take part in the Program: a bizarre government-run social experiment in which they are set loose on a deserted island and instructed to kill one another until only one student survives.  Good-natured, brave Shuya is the star of his school's Little League team and athletic, but in no way is he prepared or willing to kill off the classmates he has grown up with.  He teams up with a small group of fellow students who attempt to defy the game and the entire Republic by attempting to sabotage the secluded set-up of their island playing field...

OK, here's me being objective: this book was a little cheesy.  Somebody dies in virtually every other chapter, so there's no shortage of gore and violence.  The way the Program was introduced-- literally, the kids wake up in a strange classroom where their 'instructor' Sakamochi informs them they've been selected for the Program and must kill each other-- was so dead-pan.  It was almost too much, almost funny, but I kind of liked the way the horror was so under-stated.  Imagine going to school and being told by your teacher, 'OK, students, for today's assignment you'll each be given a random lethal weapon and sent onto the grounds to murder one another.'  That idea that the Program was already established, that the kids already knew how it operated, worked in the same way the Hunger Games work in Suzanne Collins' books.  Now, here's what didn't work: I don't think the translation from Japanese to English was as good as it could have been.  Japanese and English are drastically different as far as languages go, but quite a few things kept jumping out at me which I think were mere errors of the translation.  For example, there was a minor character who appeared in like two chapters who was gay and-- even though it was completely irrelevant to the plot, which was him wandering around on his own with a shotgun-- every time this guy was mentioned, he was called 'this queer boy'.  Like an abrupt switch to a distant, objective point-of-view 'this', 'this'-- it must be something with the original language.  To be honest, it was hard to take this kind of writing seriously.  I saw this same error several other times and certain words were repeated over and over, too.  Particularly 'gun', and the sentence structure was off occasionally.

Overall though, I have read much worse translations and wasn't too incredibly bothered.  Battle Royale is such a thrilling, startling read.  I didn't catch many of the huge plot twists and was able to connect and understand the backgrounds of many of the characters, despite the fact that so many of them died early on.  A lot of the reviews I read on Goodreads said the Japanese names made keeping characters straight difficult, but I didn't really struggle too much beyond the first few pages.  (Except with Yumiko and Yukiko, but I think that was intended by the author.)  I was a bit skeptical of junior high students who knew how to operate guns-- though most of them didn't, a few did-- and drive.  But the way the action unfolded was amazing and the characters have branded themselves into my mind.  I do think it may have partially inspired the Hunger Games (seeing as the book inspired a cult classic movie), but I also think the two books are very different and cannot be said to be the same material at all.  Battle Royale is an action thriller which follows many different characters, and the Hunger Games is Katniss' more personal fight to survive.  The dystopian worlds have a completely different feel, too.  All the same, I think HG fans will probably enjoy this book.  The writing is somewhat like Stephen King... Stephen King if he was a Japanese writer whose work was translated not-so-brilliantly into English.  But for all my complaints, I did enjoy this memorable, intense novel.

Cover: 4/5 (okay)
Premise: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Story: 5/5
Overall Rating:


Aylee said...

I went out and rented this movie sometime ago when it was mentioned that it was similar to THG and I definitely agree that it may have inspired Suzanne Collins a bit though I don't think I've ever heard her mention it in any interviews. Too bad about the translation... but it sounds like campy, gory fun otherwise (just like the movie).

P!nky said...

Was this written before the Hunger Games? oh, Suzanne Collins!

SC said...

Okay, I have wanted to read this for FOREVER! I've heard that it's VERY similar to the Hunger Games, only it came first, so THAT intrigues me. I'll definitely have to check this out! Going on my TBR list...

Check out my blog sometime:

Katie said...

It does sound like The Hunger Games! I'm definitely going to read this one, thanks for sharing!
Magic is in Words

~Valen~ said...

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