Archive for April 23rd, 2008

Battle Royale by Takami Koushun: Not-Quite-Senseless Violence

I’m only 6 years late with this!

I’ve just finished the original novel version of Battle Royale, which I quite loved. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading it for a month now, off and on, depending on how much free time I had at school to get some reading in, so I’m kind of rusty on who’s who and what-not, but I’m going to try and avoid spoilers anyway so that shouldn’t really matter.

The reason I loved Battle Royale is the same reason I loved Bokurano: it’s a portrait of the human psyche when confronted with the finality of death. As in Bokurano, death, here, is virtually inevitable for the cast of 42 students, but unlike Bokurano, they’re not fighting for a noble, if somewhat twisted, cause, they’re fighting and killing each other. Death, when it comes, won’t be a relaxing sort of passing, but a brutal death at the hands of your own classmates, people you have known for years and years.

The reason I loved Battle Royale is because of the fact that they dropped 42 students, armed them with machine guns and knives and pistols and forks, and set them loose on each other. The sense of horror is derived from the fact that none of these students can ever fully trust another student. It’s a hellish nightmare scenario, where the players of the game are frightened constantly that they’re going to die. Some react to the game by developing trigger fingers and attacking anything and everything that comes at them. Some take a perverse pleasure in killing the other students through whatever brutal means they know. Some try to band everyone together to take the fight to the sadistic government employees setting them up like this.

Although there are a few characters in the book that the reader gets to spend more time with (Shuya is the “protagonist” as far as I can tell), no character is killed without first being used to illustrate an aspect of humanity brought out by the sadism of the Battle Royale. Lovers meet to commit suicide together, or die together. Mostly intangible romantic relationships end in tragedy and deathbed confessions as one or both parties die, sometimes by the other’s hands on accident, sometimes by a heartless external party. The novel almost functions less as a novel but as more of a series of interlinked short character portraits interspersed with more focused portraits of a few characters. Many characters only get a few chapters where we see inside their head, with their death concluding their arc. They are all extremely well-done from a character development position, as by the time the character reaches their final end, you, the reader, are not impassively unperturbed or even excited by their gory death, but you feel a lingering sense of melancholy at the perverse nature that is the Battle Royale for daring to kill a character. In other words, like Bokurano, Battle Royale is good at making the reader care about a character in the short period of time before they are slaughtered.

My only “complaint” would be the frequently simplistic writing style, but as Takami is a journalist by profession, and this is his first novel, it’s quite understandable. And, honestly, I put “complaint” in quotes because I don’t really find it much of an issue, but I know others will. The clipped, simplistic, almost dispassionate narrative actually adds to the experience of reading the book, as, true to Takami’s journalistic background, it reads less like a novel and more like a fictionalized newspaper article on the events. It’s an extremely jarring effect, and as much as I like the humorous parenthetical asides, they also increase the horror factor of the novel.

Overall, I think Battle Royale is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory, and possibly ever, a statement which lives up to its status as a pulp classic. It’s certainly one which surprised me, as I remember thinking years ago that I wouldn’t like the movie and avoided watching it for just that reason (turns out to have been a good decision, as the movie apparently is a disservice to the novel, reducing the tragic magesty of the novel into an actual senseless violence fest). But I have read it now, and am highly glad that I did. If you haven’t read it in the six years it’s been translated into English yet, I suggest you do so–it’s an exhilarating rush and it’s very human. A winning combination for any work.

Macross Frontier: Suggestive Tuna Buns & Clever Character Development

I am showing a clear Ranka bias here. Go, Nakajima Megumi, go!

I’m still extremely technically impressed with Macross Frontier–it’s got everything going right for it at the moment (more later). I’m not quite feeling the Macross oomph, but we’re essentially still in plot setup, so I’m not too terribly worried about that. And on that topic, it’s always been said that Kawamori tries his best to make every Macross series something totally different from the other Macross series, which is something I can respect (and already do, since I’m a Macross 7 fan, which is probably the least Macross of all the Macross series. Or the most Macross. Or something). Since that’s the case, it might just be a case of getting adjusted to Frontier’s particular brand of Macross, which, again, isn’t really a problem.

The absolute best thing about this episode was the confinement in the shelter, where you lock the three major personalities of the series in the same room and have them bounce off each other, with repercussions that reverberate across the rest of the episode. The first is Alto, who spends the entire time frustrated that there’s nothing he can do to help either Sheryl or Ranka. In fact, he’s spent most of the previous two episodes busy being confronted with how useless and superfluous he really is. Even when he gets out of the shelter, he finds out that his acrobatics partners are secretly piloting Valkyries on the side, which just reinforces how useless he feels. On top of that, Ozma (who similarly thinks himself useless) constantly saves him, whether he’s in a Valkyrie or just a hapless bystander. I expect that he’ll be contending with his perceived uselessness for several episodes to come, or even throughout the entire series.

Sheryl, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be useless, but she certainly seems to be forced into the useless role due to her popularity as a singer. And speaking of her popularity as a singer, she’s embarassed about Alto catching a glimpse, despite the fact that she goes onstage in highly revealing virtual constumes, a point which Alto brings up (The nifty virtual costume thing was the best part of episode 1. No longer do stage performers have to hastily change outfits in a green room while everyone else stalls for time!). It almost seems to me, from just that small tidbit in the shelter, that she’s resentful of being shoehorned into the role of useless yet famous pretty girl. I don’t know what she would have done had her rescue crew not shown up, but she was certainly determined to do all she could. And she fights against this forced uselessness in small ways, too: telling Ranka about the Miss Macross contest seemed to be ever so slightly more about her than altruism for Ranka, although I can’t define quite how.

Ranka has probably the harshest situation in the series yet, with her entire family dead without her knowing it. In the shelter, she simply does whatever she can to make Alto and Sheryl feel more comfortable and at-ease, including providing dangerously suggestive tuna buns which lightens the tension between the other two some. She’s genuinely friendly and helpful to just about anyone, and is certainly cute as a button. This all belies her agonizing mental pain whenever reminded slightly of the death of her family, which says something about her tenacity. For her to keep a positive attitude despite the trauma means two things: one, Ozma’s plan to shelter her from harm is working; two, she’s much stronger than she looks. In her obvious function as a Lynn Minmei for the modern day, she’s already showing a more depth than I recall Minmei having at this early phase (or possibly at all, but I’m tempering that statement with the fact that I haven’t seen SDF Macross in over three years and specifics are fuzzy, and surely there’s a diehard Macross fan who’ll point out the error of this statement).

Macross Frontier could be, in some ways, a rethinking of the original SDF Macross, in much the same way that Gundam 00 was a rethinking of the original Mobile Suit Gundam in terms of themes. That doesn’t mean I expect Frontier to be a perfect SDF clone (it can’t be, there’s no Captain Global), but it’d be interesting to see Macross revisit the basic themes of SDF and update and reshape them for the modern day. It’s too early to tell for this, but whatever it is, it’s certainly showing all the signs of being well-done. Hoping for a year-long run, as I don’t think it’s paced like a 26 episode series at this point, but it might be. I don’t think we quite know the length yet, though.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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April 2008