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Battle Royale by Koushun Takami #BookReview

Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan – where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller – Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami book cover

Title: Battle Royale | Author: Koushun Takami | Publisher: Gollancz | Series: Battle Royale #1 | Pub. Date: May 2007 | Pages: 617 | ISBN: 9780575080492 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Self-purchased

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Battle Royale Review

‘Battle Royale’ is a book that probably doesn’t need much introduction, even if you haven’t read it. It was finished in 1996 but not published in its native Japan until 1999 because the contents were considered too shocking. Upon release, it quickly became a smash hit and quickly spawned an internationally successful movie and a manga series. The English language translation of the novel followed in 2003. I believe a revised English version was published in 2009. I’m reviewing the 2003 edition.

If you didn’t know (and if you did, feel free to skip ahead), the book is set in 1997 in a fascist Japan. The plot concerns an annual event where two high school classes are dumped on an island, provided with an assortment of weapons, and left to kill each other until only one of them remains. That’s pretty much it, although the book manages to spread the few days of slaughter over 600 pages.

If the concept seems dark, the execution is even more so. There are flashes of grim humour in the book, but it is essentially just a group of teenagers killing each other in very graphic fashion. The violence is extreme and unrelenting and gives the novel an incredible amount of tension. Simply put, it really does feel like any character could die at any time. What’s more, there is little or no loyalty between the schoolchildren, and the few occasions where characters do try and team up usually end in bloodshed.

Outside of the core plot, Takami paints a subtle but effective picture of the surrounding world. The contemporary setting for such a dystopian book is striking, as is the tension between young and old in this alternative Japan. The restrictive nature of the fascist state is embodied in the book by the banning of rock and roll music. The teenage characters forbidden fandom of it, which sees them quoting lyrics to each other, gives the book a punk feel that matches its anarchic violence. What little hope there is in the book centres on the fact that at least some of the characters want to rebel against the state. Hardly surprising, when it is sanctioning their slaughter, but a slither of light nevertheless.

Content Warning:

Rape, child abuse

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

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