Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Tags: dystopian lit, violence, killing

Rating: 4 out of 5


In the Republic of Greater East Asia, a frightening event called the “Program” takes place once a year in order to keep the citizens compliant and distrustful of one another. Third-year junior high classes are randomly selected throughout the nation, relocated to an isolated area, and forced to kill one another until just one survivor—the victor—remains.

This year, it’s 15-year-old Shuya Nanahara’s class that gets chosen and relocated to a small island. Shuya is forced to watch his friends die and his classmates go crazy. But what if there were some way to beat the fascist government’s supposedly infallible system?


BATTLE ROYALE is brutal, both physically and mentally. It tosses you into the middle of a corrupt world and forces you to be witness to an event that’s deadly and well established. Innocent and not-so-innocent teenagers die every few pages in unapologetic prose. No sooner do we come to know a student’s personality and past when he or she is killed, the abruptness of losing someone interesting you’ve just begun to know a definite stomach-turner, a definite shake-up.

If this kind of dystopian literature is your kind of thing, there’s plenty of it to be had. Even if you’ve got a weak stomach for violence, however, BATTLE ROYALE still gives you a lot to think about. Koushun Takami’s writing is nothing striking, and yet there’s something about the plainness of it, the bluntness of the translated version that I read, that gets inside your veins and messes up your organs. It’s the way he gives us a brief character sketch of each of the 42 students—and then takes them away from us in horrifying manners. It’s the way that this book’s world takes the existence of the “Program” as expected, unchangeable. And it’s the way that this book makes you doubt yourself and the characters, not sure whom you should trust, just as the government intends for you to react.

This book has inevitably been compared to THE HUNGER GAMES, so why not say what I think about the two? THE HUNGER GAMES is clearly YA: readers are spared the too-gruesome details and, through the eyes of Katniss, are spared the intensity of the horror that arises when a character whose history you know dies. BATTLE ROYALE is a stand-alone novel, which makes its shocker of an ending all the more satisfying; while I have yet to read the next two books in Suzanne Collins’ series, I can only hope that she will deliver an equally believable and satisfying answer for Katniss and her world.

If I had to make a choice between the two, I’d go with THE HUNGER GAMES, for its less stomach-churning material and the successful development of memorable characters. However, BATTLE ROYALE provides more questions to think over, more disturbing ideas and images that will keep you up later in the night. If you do not have a weak stomach and have the time to read an intense 600-page work, I suggest picking up BATTLE ROYALE in order to completely annihilate everything you’ve previously thought about the dark side of human nature and our curiosity in violence and death.

Similar Authors
Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 5/5
Want more? Yes, this makes me want to see the movie and read more similar books

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5


  1. I was wondering if anyone was ever going to do a review on this book. Thank you so much for it. I have been contemplating whether or not the book would be worth my time, so it's good to see that you've given it a 4 star review with a caution.

  2. I read the manga version of this and really liked it. I haven't yet attacked the book though.

  3. I really like the concept of this book but violence is not my thing. Should or should I not read this?

  4. I've been meaning to read this, because the concept was so similar to The Hunger Games. I think I'll be able to handle the violent content, but I had never thought about how Katniss's point of view protected the reader before.

  5. Amazing review!

    I've seen the manga around but I never looked into it but I might give the novel a chance!

  6. 600 pages...whoa. I'll keep it in mind though.

  7. Hey - I remember seeing someone mention Battle Royale on a YA blog awhile back - was it yours? Maybe... Anyway, after that I ended up watching the Battle Royale movie (subtitled). I will admit, the comparisons did get me thinking about similarities & differences to The Hunger Games as well. Which brings up an interesting notion as well - aren't they going to make a THG movie? It'll be interesting to see how that compares (and how they manage to keep the rating down as well! But then again, Public Enemies was rated R in the States but 14A in Canada, so idk). Great review - I guess it's a bit of a tradeoff; more violence, but also more thought provoking? 600 pages sounds like a pretty hefty sum though...

  8. Thanks for the review. It doesn't sound like my kind of book, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  9. I loved this book even though it was so brutal but the thing is it's supposed to be brutal how can it not be considering the circumstances? Suzanne Collins sugar coats things in her YA novel and adds an adorable love story but I definitely prefer this one since it's more realistic considering.
    Battle Royale is not really stand alone, it's based on a manga series that's REALLY long. :D

    1. Um, Robin, no it isn't. The book came first. Then the movie. Then the manga.

  10. Oh and about the BR movies I don't recommend watching them they are AWFUL. The acting the special fxs, everything is just bleh.
    I sure hope that when the hunger games movie gets made it's really good!

  11. Since reading Hunger Games, the two books most often mentioned in connection with them is The Running Man by Stephen King and Battle Royale. I just got TRM today...hope to get my hands on BR later this month. It looks interested...

  12. I didn't think the movie for Battle Royale was all that great, but the manga explores each character quite closely. There are 15 volumes to the manga, be warn though, it's EXTREMELY graphic and difficult to stomach at times.


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