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Battle Royale October 15, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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“Outrageous” and “violent” certainly come to mind about Battle Royale. Not without reason, of course: any story about a class of high school kids left on island and expected to fight each other to the death is bound to be over the top. I had no issue with that. Learning that it was already a popular manga, anime and series of movies in Japan, however, is what didn’t sit well with me. Wouldn’t that be unnecessaily graphic? Is that even in good taste? Suffice it to say that I wasn’t inclined to check it out in the least.

Then I learned that before it made its way to visual media, Battle Royale was a novel by Koushun Takami. That, to me, seemed interesting. I just had to find out: could a novel with such a premise be so good as to inspire its own comic, animated series, and movies?

The answer is yes. Yes it borders on good taste, albeit barely. Yes it is undeniably graphic, more so because it leaves quite a lot (some might say too much) to the imagination. And yes, it is quite good, controversy be damned.

Granted, it’s rather violent. Despite this, it was the big picture — Takami’s vision of a dystopian Japanese empire — that I found captivating. It takes a sick mind to conjure up a story of kids killing their classmates in the most gruesome ways imaginable. But to do so in a way that makes sense and in the context of subtle yet compelling socio-political commentary? That takes a fair amount of creativity…and guts. Some have likened Battle Royale to Lord of the Flies, I suppose because of the premise. I can’t say for sure if the comparison is warranted (seeing as I haven’t read Sir William Golding’s novel, with my being a philistine and all). Yet I am prepared to say that Takami’s work reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984, because of its atmosphere and psychology. And that’s saying something.

That’s why it’s not all about the violence, which gets tiresome as the story progresses and more students fall victim to the game, and to each other. For all that, however, it does make for an effective hook to catch the reader’s interest. Forty-two students begin the game, at most one can be declared the winner. How will it all end? Will anyone come out of it all right? in that sense, at least, the novel manages to be quite the page turner.

Battle Royale surely isn’t for everyone, but I’d say it’s a far better novel than it might seem at first blush.

Oh, and it is pretty violent, too.

So there you go.

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