Battle Royale

It may have taken months but I have finally finished Battle Royale, the epic and pretty horrific dystopian novel by Koushun Takami. This is one of the few books I have read because I have seen the film, both of which seem to have a similar cult following.

Completed in 1996 but not published until 1999 it wasn’t long until the film followed in 2000 along with a Manga series by the same author. A best selling book, a highly grossing film this is a tale that clearly caused controversy and in turn success.

I don’t know much about films, they are not necessarily my thing, but what I took from the Battle Royale film was that the plot is solid but I needed more characterisation… enter the book. It is gripping, edge of the seat stuff, while making each student terrifyingly realistic.

In a world where Japan is a police state and democracy and freedom of speech are not permitted the government uses a ‘battle royale’, a fight to the death, as a show of dominance over their teen population.  Annually a random class is chosen, nobody knows which or when but they are chosen and any form of resistance by family, friends or by their teacher is quickly extinguished with gun fire.

This year there are 42 students, 21 males and 21 females, all but one from the same class. Gassed and taken to an island at an undisclosed location they are fitted with tracking devices and given a pack containing the bare minimum required to survive and a random ‘weapon’; guns, knives, miscellaneous outdoor survival gadgets. It’s luck of the draw. Rules are put in place. Escape is futile. The only option is kill or be killed.

The ‘game’ ends only when there is one person left standing.

It is the original and gritty Hunger Games.

As the reader you are supplied with a map of the island and a list of all students and their number in a list entitled male and female. Firstly, the best books have maps and secondly the list of names was very handy as a lot of the student’s names are similar or it is difficult to interpret gender.

My initial thoughts were that the names would make it difficult to follow the story but this was far from correct. Some of the names are seen so regularly you know exactly who they are, some less so but their back stories make them memorable, others don’t have the chance to last long into the games and therefore become irrelevant pretty quickly.

While gruesome at times – I read one page with one eye closed in the hope it would seem less horrible – it just enhances the desperation of the situation and it doesn’t seem gratuitous because of the characterisation and a very engaging and fast paced plot.

If you’ve read the book I highly recommend you see the film.

If you’ve seen the film I highly recommend you read the book.

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