Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

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.


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  • I have actually. Personally, I thought it was a very solid, well-written book that I didn’t enjoy mostly for personal reasons. Actually, one of my favorite books of all time (The Long Walk by Stephen King back when he was still writing under Richard Bachman) deals with a similar topic and presented it in the most thought-provoking and depressing manner. Thus, I’m probably just a little biased against books like this.

  • Although you make a great point, I have to disagree with some of your points. The book isn’t supposed to delve into politics; 1983 didn’t do that directly and Orwell was just trying to illustrate what kind of society we could live in through a few characters.

    Battle Royale shoved these kids into a situation where no kid should ever experience. It showed that in a dire situation, people would do drastic things in order to survive; this kind of regime would be scary to even be close to it.

    Hunger Games was actually written after Battle Royale was made; although I haven’t read it, I still find Battle Royale entertaining. Although Takami himself admitted that the book wasn’t as detailed as the manga which delved into way more character development and includes visuals (which, I warn you, aren’t for the faint of heart).

    I agree that it’s a really well-written suspense, and although the politics isn’t there, the psychology of humans is there. For example, a girl who is known to flaunt herself isn’t just a girl seeking for attention–there are deep, deep scars that the manga explores more than the book. Which is strange really, since books should be more detailed than manga’s…but I thought both were great.

    Anyway, if you have the time try to check it out!

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