Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale details a ruthless program where middle-school students are armed and dumped on a small isolated island. They are forced to fight each other until there is only one child left alive, while the totalitarian government monitors the whole thing. To make sure the teenagers obey the rules and try to kill each other, metal collars are fastened around their necks that will explode if they linger in a forbidden area or attempt to remove them. If twenty-four hours pass without a murder, all of the collars will be detonated simultaneously. A few students willingly participate in the slaughter, which gives everyone on the island a palpable fear of their classmates.

Very violent and fairly graphic, the manga roots of this novel are easy to see. This was described to me as a Lord of the Flies for our generation; after reading it I can easily see the comparison. Lord of the Flies detailed the psychological unravelling of a group of marooned kids on a desert island, where Battle Royale focuses more on how commonplace violence has become. While both involve children in untenable situations, Battle Royale is much more horrific because the kids are forced to act against their classmates by an uncaring government.

While a fascinating read, it was somewhat difficult to follow in places. I found the Asian names hard to keep straight, especially because I’m not savvy enough to tell which names are male and female. Yoshio, Kazuhiko, Noriko, and Yukiko are four examples—the first two are male, the last two female—of names I confused throughout. Luckily there was a roster in the front of the book telling who was who, but it was distracting to flip around when I needed help. Even so, this was a compelling read that was hard to put down. Very entertaining.

First Sentence:
As the bus entered the prefectural capital of Takamatsu, garden suburbs transformed into city streets of multicolored neon, headlights of oncoming cars, and checkered lights of office buildings.

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