Archive for the 'battle royale' Category

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.


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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June 2023