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Battle Royale | Koushun Takami | Review

"Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, is one of Japan's best-selling and most controversial novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains." Source

This week I’m discussing another book with a concept often compared to that of The Hunger Games centred around the controversial theme of kids killing kids. Of course the difference is in this case is that it was The Hunger Games that was labelled a ‘rip-off’ of the Japanese novel published nine years earlier, now deemed ‘the original survival game’.

Battle Royale tells the story of the 42 students of Third Year Class B from Shiroiwa Junior High who are forced to participate in ‘the Program’, an experiment put in place by the Japanese government where the teens must fight until there is only one survivor. The class are unaware that they have been selected to take part in the program and are gassed whilst on route to a school trip. They awake in a classroom of an unfamiliar school located on a deserted island with metal collars fixed around their necks and are greeted by Sakamochi who proves that this really is no joke by revealing the dead body of former Class B teacher Mr Hayashida. With the first four students killed within the next 30 pages, this definitely isn’t the book for anyone who can’t stand reading gore or violence!

The students are released one by one out onto the island with a basic map and a mystery weapon. From then on its all about the action as we follow the students on each of their journeys to survive either emerging as the winner or possibly the lucky ones who beat the system and find a way to escape. Of course there are varying approaches with some students teaming up, some hiding out and others even turning on their so-called friends. Alongside this, interesting information about their backgrounds unfolds through conversations and flashbacks adding in details here and there and helping the reader get to know the students.

Back when I first watched the film adaptation I found the whole idea fascinating even though the thought that something like this could really happen is truly terrifying. The film was visually striking and as those of you who have seen it will know it sticks with you for a long time afterwards. This is in fact what led me to pick up the original novel in the first place as I wanted to explore how a film that’s success relies fairly heavily on visuals to portray the action and violence was created from the words and how descriptive those words had to have been. My main issue with the novel which is unfortunately an unavoidable one is that at times the text felt a little disjointed and didn’t flow properly. I do believe this is down to the fact that it is a translation rather than being a reflection on Takami’s writing style but it was still slightly disappointing. When it comes to the content the fact that there are 42 students in Class B means there are clearly a lot of names to keep up with and I did get a little confused trying to remember who was who at times. Aside from that I can’t find much to fault Battle Royale on, sure there were a few things here and there that didn’t make sense to me and I did find the ‘last wishes’ of some students implausible and repetitive but overall the good outweighed the bad.

Clearly this novel isn’t for everyone, with the controversial ideas played out through violence and gore it has been widely criticised however it is certainly an interesting and action-packed gripping read with a fitting ending.

This post was written by regular reviewer Erin, get to know her here.
Photo © Erin Elise


  1. Really interested in reading this, I know someone who read a graphic novel based on this and he enjoyed it. Plus I always think the 'theme of kids killing kids' is only good if it's done in a very raw brutal way.

  2. Loved the film and concept so when I learnt. This was a book I define want to read it xxx

  3. Thanks for highlighting this one! It's going on the list. I definitely agree that translations can be a problem - particularly when they interrupt the flow of the book. Inevitably the price we pay for good books combined with an inability to learn languages (although that could just be me!).


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