Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A busload of Japanese teenagers is kidnapped and dumped off on an island, where they are forced to fight to the death until one student remains, all in the name of The Program. Which of the 42 students will survive?
I remember hearing about the film version of Battle Royale ages ago but never managed to watch it. Seeing that a lot of people compare The Hunger Games to Battle Royale, I figured I should give it a shot and I'm quite glad I did. Battle Royale is The Hunger Games with more gore and without the annoying love triangle.
Battle Royale takes place in an alternate present, where Japan is largely a totalitarian police state. Every year, a class is chosen for The Program, a free for all that makes Thunderdome look like an episode of The Care Bears. Each student is given a backpack and a weapon and turned loose one at a time. To make things interesting, there are forbidden zones on the island and anyone caught in one is killed instantly via the explosive collar they are all forced to wear. Sound good?
People are killed right off the bat and the book never lets up. I had a pretty good idea who would survive based on who got the most time on screen but the journey was well worth it. Kazuo and Mitsuko both needed their hash settled from the opening bell.
I mentioned gore earlier and this book has more than its share of gruesome killings. Hatchets to the face, many, many stabbings, gunshots galore, and lots of betrayal and deception on top of it.
The writing was also pretty good. Aside from a couple very minor hiccups, I would never guess it was a translation. In the afterword, Takami mentions Stephen King and Robert Parker as his big influences and I think it shows in the text. The explosive collars are straight out of the Running Man movie (not from the novel). The intro reminded me of the intro to Needful Things.
Since I'm only giving it a four, I guess I'll complain about a couple things. Shuya didn't have much personality enough though he was supposed to be the hero. Kazuo was overly powerful and seemed to have unlimited ammo. It was hard to keep track of who was who at times because of similar sounding names. However, all these were minor complaints and I found Battle Royale to be quite an enjoyable read. Four out of five stars.
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