Humble Book Review: Battle Royale

I’ll just get this out of the way from the beginning – yes, I had read the Hunger Games trilogy before this, and yes, there are similarities that run so deep, it’s almost impossible that Suzanne Collins had not at least subconsciously borrowed elements from Battle Royale.

Although you might think the similarities are endless, many of them are smaller details in comparison to the overall narrative. Each book has it’s own style and target audience. Personally, I found Battle Royale to be a fast-paced and thrilling read, more aligned to what I really wanted in a totalitarian-run free-for-all.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami, is the story of a class of 42 Japanese high school students who, as part of the totalitarian government’s terrifying program, have been kidnapped and shipped to a small island against their will. It is this setting where they will be each given a map, food, a random weapon, and an explosive collar attached to their necks. They have been told to kill their classmates – and friends – in order to survive. If they choose not to, those explosive collars could detonate. In the end, only one student can be the sole survivor and deemed the winner, allowed to return to society.

Upon frantically running away from the starting point into every direction, the students are faced with an ethical dilemma beyond their years: do they “play the game” and increase their individual chances of survival? Do they attempt to trust their classmates and band together to increase their odds of finding a way out of the system? Or do they choose not to participate in killing at all?

Each choice; constantly moving or hiding, becoming a killer or a pacifist, to trust or to distrust; these are crucial decisions each of the 42 students need to answer quickly.

First of all, it must be said that with 42 students in the mix, a potential reader might be dissuaded with trying to juggle so many characters. However, the author had chosen to stick with 2 major protagonists, and around 3 or 4 major groups to check in with from time to time. Your head won’t be spinning with trying to remember names, but what this novel does extremely well, is flesh out each of the characters adequately. None of the characters are clones of each other, they are all unique and interesting with their personalities and actions.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the game, the more you get to know the characters, the sadder you’ll become since according to the rules, there can be only one survivor. These high stakes urge you to fly through the pages to see how your favourites fare against the more cruel students.

Secondly, George R R Martin ain’t got nothing on the death count per page here. You need to be aware that not all of the students will make it out alive. Hell, two students don’t even make it out of the briefing room due to the overzealous and egotistical program manager Sakamochi. It is because of these reasons that you’ll find yourself heavily invested in the outcome – will the students either escape, or defeat the program itself?

Perhaps the only let-down for me is the writing style. Due to it being a translation from a Japanese author, the novel suffers from an inevitable sense of awkwardness. Metaphorical language is practically non-existent, and it sometimes reads as an objective journalist’s recounting of the events from a distance.

However, I think the incredibly engaging plot and fast-paced action more than makes up for elements lost in translation. If you’re looking for a book of what the Hunger Games should have been, this is for you.

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