Review: “Battle Royale” by Koushun Takami

Posted: December 1, 2013 in Novel, Review, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The edition I got from the library. God, it was good! Blew my mind…and possibly a finger off. That explosive.

Some of you may remember from a while back I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy and wrote a less-than-favorable review of it. It was around that time, I started to hear about a book that predated The Hunger Games and was considered by some fans to be much better than Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. And when I heard it was a Japanese novel, then I got really interested (typical me, I’m a nut for most things from Japan).

This past month I finally found the time to get the book, titled Battle Royale, from the library and sit down to read it. As I got about a hundred pages in, I started musing to myself that this was the sort of story I would like to write, well thought-out, exciting, and extremely well-written. About two-hundred pages in, I was so engrossed it was really difficult to put it down. And by three-hundred pages in I was staying up late just so I could read more! And today I finished Battle Royale, which has officially become one of my all-time favorite novels.

And of course, I had to write a review of it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel by Koushun Takami, the story takes place in a world where Japan is the seat of the Republic of Greater East Asia, which as far as I can tell is what would happen if Japan had come out much better from World War II as an authoritarian empire. In this Republic, junior high classes are selected randomly throughout the year to take part in survival games in which the classmates must fight each other until only one student survives. The novel tells the story of one particular class, Shiroiwa Junior High Class 3B and its 42 students, selected for the heinous Program and forced to fight each other on an isolated island in the Seto Inland Sea. The novel focuses mainly on the exploits of Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, and Shogo Kawada, three classmates who plan to escape the Program, despite the number of obstacles meant to keep them in the Program (not to mention classmates that are all-too willing to take part in the Program). The novel also looks at the lives of several other classmates, so that by the end of the book you feel you know at least a little bit about a majority of Class 3B.

And the twists and surprises in this story will keep you reeling until the very end. You can quote me on that and take it to the bank.

The author does a very good job managing a very large and diverse cast, giving most of the characters at least a little characterization so that those you meet seem at least well-developed, even those who only show up for one or two chapters. Takami-sensei (as he would be addressed in Japan) also manages to tell a very bleak story with engaging finesse, wasting not a single word. The action sequences are so terrifying you’ll be hearing the climax from Stravinsky’s The Firebird during the climax (at least I did), the musings on life, the government, and the meaning of the Program will pierce deeply, and the emotions of each character hit you pretty hard as you get to know these kids. And when you find out why a government would have a Program like this, you’ll think to yourself the same thing you’ll end up thinking when you read the resolution of the story: “That’s so clever! Scary, but clever!”

There was only two moments where I was dissatisfied with the story. One was I wanted to see more of a certain character that died midway through the novel. The other moment, later in the novel, was I had trouble believing that a certain character wouldn’t get treated for a potentially-fatal-if-let-untreated wound after he sustained it and the danger had temporarily passed. Why wouldn’t he get the bullet out before it killed him? There was time for it!

Other than that, I absolutely loved the story. Even the romantic subplot of the novel was woven in beautifully, and didn’t annoy me like it might’ve in a certain trilogy I could name (oh wait, I did name it! Never mind). The plot was quick-paced, terrifying, and left you with an impression that doesn’t go away.

All in all, Koushun Takami-sensei’s novel Battle Royale gets a 5 out of 5. I haven’t been able to immerse myself into the world of a novel in a long time, and after I was done, I didn’t want to leave because I’d grown to love some of these characters so much and so desperately wanted to see what would or had happened to them.

I’m going to go reserve the movie version from the library now. I doubt it’ll be as good as the book, but at the very least it should be interesting. Maybe even review-worthy (though that could also happen if the movie is incredibly terrible when compared to the book). Unless something else awesome happens tonight, I’ll blog on you later, Followers of Fear. Goodnight.

  1. datmama4 says:

    I have The Hunger Games trilogy on my Kindle and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, despite everyone’s hype. Now I’m going to have to read it and then compare it to Battle Royale, because you make BR sound so doggoned intriguing. Thanks for the thorough review!

  2. The movie is a classic. Just sayin.

  3. Alright! I’ve been meaning to check this book out myself. Glad you like it as much as you did!

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