Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami

The blood oozed down his sleave to the Colt .45. and then began dripping from the tip of the gun in a thin line, landing in a pile of moldy leaves by his feat without a sound.
Battle RoyaleBATTLE ROYALE is overtly violent, graphic, bloody and utterly terrifying. For 42 school kids aged around 15, an ill fated bus ride leads them to their grave; participants in the latest Government controlled ‘Program’. Placed on an island with one simple instruction ‘kill to win’. With only 1 winner allowable, it takes no time for the bodies to start piling up.

Commonly compared to HUNGER GAMES, more so for the inspiration rather than exact copycat, BATTLE ROYALE is more contained with isolation the key to its horrors. There isn’t an emphasis on entertainment, rather a pure unadulterated evil cast by a corrupt and cruel Government. The plot doesn’t deviate too much from the simple survival horror genre with only momentary glimpses of a broader design mentioned (re Shinji’s aim).

BATTLE ROYLE, despite having a cast of 43 (42 student (equal parts male and female) and a sadistic Program operative), managed to be well rounded and surprising deep towards the characterisation of the school kids pitted against one another until their death. However, 5 characters come to mind, with both Shuya and Noriko the central protagonists and semi love interest (for which much of the story revolves), Shogo, a bad guy misunderstood, Mitsuko, a beauty with a past born of abuse and a body put to work to fatten her purse (previously) and chance of survival (seductive techniques against the weaker minded males), and Zakuo, a fierce and emotionally depraved young man who’s only goal is to cut down as many classmates as possible.

In amongst the gore lays a couple of budding love stories, used more as coping mechanisms by the teens rather than serious encounters of the heart. In typical teen fashion, some characters express and discuss their potential love interests during their downtime when in hiding from others. I thought the corny adolescent love obsession was justified insofar as it portrayed the school kids in a manner true to their age rather than the simpleminded violent psychopaths the ‘Program’ wanted them to be. Takami’s approach to instil the sense of youthful hope over the senseless abandonment of life throughout the death match provided a soft contrast to the hard and bloody story.

The edition I read contained a forward by one of my favourite authors in Max Allan Collins who discussed the reason for the movie adaptation’s less than mainstream distribution while the end extras include a discussion with the film’s director and an interesting conversation with the author, Koushun Takami.

BATTLE ROYALE is a must read for any book lover, particularly those who enjoy the darker side of fiction. Absolutely fantastic – 5 stars.  

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