Shogo calmly continued, "I'm sure you must know this Shuya...but loving someone always requires you to not love others.
Imagine being in your first year of high school and going on a class trip with your friends. You're excited, it should be a good time. But while on the bus suddenly everyone passes out. When you wake up, you're in a classroom and a strange man is telling you that your class has been selected to participate in the annual program the government runs. The program? A game where you and your classmates are pitted against each other to the death. Only one of you can ever get off the island. And there's a time limit. If no one has died in 24 hours, than you'll all die.
This is the premise of Battle Royale. It takes place under an alternate government, an extremist government in Asia, notably Japan. The government is merciless in keeping power over the citizens, anyone who opposes them is usually killed on the spot. The program, the game, as it is so often called is seen as just another random event the government does because they can.
This is the situation Shuya finds himself in and it doesn't take long (despite his intense disbelief that it's real) for him to realize that some students will be willing to kill. Each student is provided with a daypack that contains a random weapon. Some are useful, some are not. The students randomly leave the school and head out onto the island.
What follows is a gripping psychological account of what it means to be forced into a situation where your life depends on killing the very people you have considered your friends up until that point. Who can you trust? Is everyone playing the game or are others willing to help try to find a way out?
The book is hefty at over 600 pages but they read quickly. While the book does spend more time focusing on some groups of students rather than others, you do see the eventual fate of all of the students.
I really thought the author did a great job of providing just enough backstory for each student for me to often sympathetic and feel such a loss as the game progressed. I found myself tearing up a few times. The constant battle of the mind the students underwent...could they really trust whatever classmates they had teamed up with was both fascinating and tragic. There are no easy choices here, and while I certainly didn't understand many of the choices made, I couldn't fault many of the students for doing what they felt they had to.
Another thing I appreciated about the book was the believable government. Having spent some time in Japan, I like that the conditions of the government made sense. I think it was really developed and built around the fears that are common in Japanese society. I even appreciated the comment that the young population was decreasing ( a big problem in Japan) but yet they still had this ridiculous game.
The book does have some flaws. The main one being the translation. It often feels very direct, the point of view switches clumsily and the writing feels choppy. Apparently there is a newer translation, but I can see this being a huge barrier for some readers. Also the book is heavily focused on the boys in the game and some readers felt the boys feelings towards the girls smacked of sexism (the idea that they were too good to kill anyone). It probably did, but that's pretty typical for Japanese culture. Before the game even starts, the man in charge makes a point of saying the winners had been pretty evenly split between boys and girls. Additionally, I think this element was just more the disbelief of the situation than anything else. It reminded me a lot of when My Hands Came Away Red and the main character, finding herself in a situation of extreme violence, says something to the effect of having a hard time believing anyone wanted to hurt her. I just don't think we grasp the true violent nature of man, the darkness that hides away in our souls until we are confronted with it. And that itself is a coping mechanism.
That's not to say that this book is full of darkness. It's not because there are students who choose not to play the game, who risk their lives to try to save each other and while they pay the consequences it's a testament to the fact that there will always be some goodness, some who will fight. There's another element of resistance to the story but I don't want to ruin the whole book for you.
I have to admit I picked up Battle Royale after I read The Hunger Games because so many people said it was similar. And while the idea of kids being forced to kill kids is similar these are two very different books. I found Battle Royale to be intense and thought provoking, to dig a little deeper into the psychological complexity of the situation and in the end I think the book says much more about mankind. That's not to say I don't still love The Hunger Games, I do, but I think they fulfill different roles. I could easily see while I was reading why those who read Battle Royale first were disappointed with The Hunger Games.
I don't think this book is for everyone. The violence is quite severe and graphic, though it reads in such a straightforward manner that it never really bothered me. The translation is choppy, though I think it's a testament to the story and the ideas raised that it didn't bother me enough to stop reading. There are teenagery feelings like crushes that are still very existent in the middle of a fight to the death. But there's also hope, friendship, love, sacrifice, and resistance. The last two sentences of the book are pitch perfect and will make you think. The more I think about this book, the more I'm glad I read it.
Things You Might Want to Know: Yeah, foul language, some sex, violence...um...kids killing kids?
Source of Book: bought it
Publisher: Viz Media
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