I’m totally doing this backwards, but what the hey, I’ve always been a book worm first and a movie nerd second.
[Oh god! the secret’s out!]
I found a second hand copy of Battle Royale in my last book haul and got into it pretty quickly. 5 days and 608 pages later I’m sitting here wishing there was more. Thankfully, I have yet to watch the film version so I can quench that thrust on my next movie night.
This book, written by Koushun Takami, (also the screen play writer for the film version) was a way to get a bigger audience to experience the story. Books can often travel further than films can. In fact, the film version of Battle Royale had a hard time making it to the US until the controversy surrounding the Hunger Games brought it into the global lime-light.
The edition I got my hands on happened to be the March 2012 printing. Which means it came packed with all sort of little extras. The foreword by Max Allan Collins was particularly interesting because it really explains the practice of writing a book about a popular film. It’s because, gasp!, some movies came out before you could watch them at home. That’s right, in the days before VHS you had to buy the book to relive the thrills you experienced in the theater seats. What a long way we’ve come. Now, I can just type practically any film into Google or Netflix and watch or buy whatever I want.
In the following paragraphs I am going to get into some of the specifics of the story but I will try to not give too much away.
This book is set in an unspecified future Japan that has fallen under the rule of the communist “Republic of Greater East Asia.” The government is made up of brutal tyrants, although in the spirit of true Communism no one person runs the show. Their supposed “President” is just a happy little meat puppet for people to focus on.
Part of the government’s exercise of control over it’s population is to randomly select a class of children from every school district and force them to participate in the Program. The Program takes a class of 2nd year junior high students to an isolated place, straps bombs to their neck and says “Last one left standing wins.” “And if no one is killed after 24 hours we’ll just blow you all up.” And off the game goes. Although this book drifts into the minds of almost every character it’s main focus is on our leading trio, rock star wanna-be and all around good-guy Shuya Nanahara, his blossoming love interest and poet Noriko Nakagawa, and outcast Shogo Kawada.
There is a brief introduction to the characters and the society they live in through Shuya’s musings while traveling by school bus to their “field trip.” But pretty quickly they all end up gassed and waking up in a classroom with shiny new bomb necklaces. They’re introduced to the experiment by psychopathic bureaucrat, Kinpatsu Sakamochi, splattering them with day-old brain matter from their favorite teacher’s corpse.
Even before they leave the classroom two students end up dead and Noriko is shot in the leg. This opening scene to the program really grinds your face in the gore and is a fitting start to the rest of the violence you are about to experience. What the author does well here is he allows you the time to really experience the loss of life, and the shock of experiencing the death of life long friends. He flits through flash backs and drops you back into the oppressive stench of blood and death.
From the time they exit the building to the clever end it’s a non-stop blood-spattered free for all. Friends team up to try and protect each other, and others just begin a heartless hunt through the forests of the island. There are some shocking deaths. One in particular, where someone’s eyes get gouged out in a fist fight, still makes my stomach turn. With so many minor conflicts and bloody deaths you would think that eventually you’d end up desensitized to the experience. But there are enough lulls in action and character building flashbacks for you to fall into a comfortable calm before, yet another kid gets knocked off.
About two thirds of the way through the focus moves to another character, Shinji Mimura. Class athlete, playboy, and computer whizz. Shinji not only is avoiding playing the game, but he is also plotting ways to try and escape. He manages to hack into the government’s computer system and infects it with a virus before they cut off his connection. Then he comes up with this wonderfully complicated plan to bomb the school where the base of operations is. You follow his journey for so long you actually think he’s going to succeed. Well.. there is a massive explosion… and I ended up reading until 4am because of this particular section of chapters. It was such a well written action sequence.
In the end we are left with our three heroes, Who do manage to pull one over on the government’s plans for the program. The ending certainly left me wanting to know what happens next, without leaving too many loose ends.
Battle Royale was a violent, bloody, clever, disutopian book that really allowed itself the time to get into all of the character’s heads. And so, I give it 5 out of 5 blood spattered stars.
Want a copy of the book?
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