Battle Royale by Koushun Takami seems be one of those books that most people have heard about, but few people have actually read. It’s premise is definitely memorable enough; in the future, Japan is now part of the totalitarian state of the Greater East Asia Republic. As part of a mysterious military program, a random class of junior high students are kidnapped every six months, placed on an isolated island, and forced to kill each other until only one remains. This scenario is definitely chilling, and draws obvious inspiration from one of the more controversial books of the literary canon, Lord of the Flies.
However, while the book isn’t necessary bad, it is a bit of a disappointment. Where I was expecting some amount of commentary on politics, the education system or the human condition, I received… a lot of kids killing other kids. The truth is, Battle Royale is definitely not a deep book. It presents no discernible commentary on humanity at all, and the small amount of political critique is shallow at best. Furthermore, Takami misses a great chance to develop his very large cast. An interesting aspect of this book is that it struggles to show the perspective of every student in the program. As a result, even the most minor of characters develop unique identities from the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, this technique isn’t applied well at all. While the characters are definitely distinct, the overwhelming majority of them are also one-dimensional and boring. In fact, we only get to meet most minor characters for a few pages before they are inevitably killed off.
That’s not to say Battle Royale is a bad book. Actually, it’s one of the better thrillers I’ve ever read. The plot is very compelling, and Takami skillfully maintains suspense through the entire book. Each event in this book is well-crafted, and there will definitely be moments that will geniuely surprise and enthrall any reader. In particular, the pacing of this book should be commended. The balance between exposition and action is just enough to captivate a reader while still keeping the plot comphrehensible and the ending can definitely be described with the word “awesome.” If you’re just looking for an exciting page-turner, this book is for you.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Battle Royale is that it doesn’t live up to its potential. The cool plot and large cast indicate that Battle Royale certainly could be a great novel, but instead it is really only a satisfactory one.
Warning: This book contains explicit gore and other disturbing content.