Just thought I’d share a few thoughts on a book that’s been lingering on my TBR pile for far too long now.
Come to think of it, it’s shocking just how long it’s taken me to actually getting around to reading this dystopian classic by Koushun Takami. I remember seeing the film not long after its release in 2000 and thinking that yeah, I’d better read the book.
Well it only took me seventeen years. But better late than never and I’m glad that I did finally get around to reading it ‘cos it’s bloody good.
Thinking back to the turn of the century when both the book and film were released, I remember the controversy and all the talk of exploitative violence that surrounded them. With that in mind, I watched the film in 2000 but to be honest all I can remember of it is a sort of crazy cartoonish violence that didn’t really feel violent at all – kind of like how Kill Bill did violence. It certainly wasn’t as shocking or as controversial as it was made out to be at the time. It was fun in a sick, twisted sort of way.
Same deal with the book. At least that’s how it read in my opinion – it’s fun and it can either make you think about certain issues if you want to or not. You might just want to enjoy the brilliant storytelling for its own sake and that’s fine too.
So what’s it about? Well, it’s set in the Republic of Greater East Asia, which is a harsh dictatorship that includes among other nations, Japan, where the story takes place. To put it bluntly, a group of teenage schoolchildren are kidnapped by government officials and then dumped on a desert island and instructed to kill each other until there’s only one left.
As you do.
It’s interesting to note the multiple points of view that the story is told from, which highlight the different personalities on display – the cool kid, the sporty kid, the brainy one, the popular bitch – that kind of thing, just like we’d all recognise from our school days. What’s even more impressive is how these scared children slowly turn into desperate killers throughout the course of the novel and how crazy and yet believable it is when they try to bump each other off. I’m trying to contain the English Literature graduate in me and yet I can’t help but notice that the whole authorities-turning-innocence-into-something-savage might be symbolic of something else – perhaps it’s indicative of what the so-called real world does to ruin the innocence of our childhood, perhaps the only time in our life where we can truly be ourselves.
In other words, growing up – as it is given to us in the modern age, sucks.
Battle Royale is often compared with The Hunger Games. In fact, it seems like most reviews of Battle Royale end up mentioning The Hunger Games when it should really be the other way around as the Japanese book was released nine years earlier. I haven’t read The Hunger Games so I can’t really make a comparison on the books but I did watch the first movie and quite liked it. Then I watched about half of the second one and decided there should never have been a sequel. Don’t know if it’s the same with the books but it immediately felt stretched and lacking in ideas.
I understand that this new remastered edition of Battle Royale – which features an absolutely outstanding cover (see the pic above) – is a new translation and that it’s been well-received in comparison to the previous English language translation. Certainly the book reads very well and the text flows nicely for the most part. There are a few moments here and there where the dialogue is a tad clunky but I think once again, that’s a translation thing that probably can’t be helped. And it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the story.
So…if you’ve ever thought about reading this book or perhaps you’re a HG fan and want to read the original kids slaughtering other kids classic then I highly recommend picking up the remastered version of Battle Royale. Beware…it’s pretty long at almost seven hundred pages – I was expecting a fast-paced berserker slim-sized novel – but then I’m a slow reader and I approach all of these weapon of mass destruction sized books with a sigh. You might love them. That aside, I don’t think you’ll regret getting around to reading Battle Royale – even if like me, it takes you seventeen years to actually get started.