Friday, 8 June 2012

'Battle Royale' by Koushun Takami Book Review

Having read 'The Hunger Games' and then heard how people compare it to this cult Japanese novel, I just had to read it for myself and see if the claims were true.

Each year in a dystopian Japan, one class of Year 3 students get selected in 'an experiment' in which they are taken to a location, supplied weapons and must kill their classmates until one 'victor' remains. When Shuya and his classmates discovers that they are in 'the game', they question their classmates' motives, discover their inner persona and struggle with trust, love and vengeance.

Whilst the plot immediately resonates with Suzanne Collins' trilogy, the writing style of Takami and the focus of the novel is completely different. The details that 'Battle Royale' delivers triumphs over 'The Hunger Games'- gory details are fleshed out over pages in a grotesque yet real manner that I had to skip over several lines to progress the plot. 

And the detail is perhaps what makes this book stand out and give it personality. Each student (there are 42 in Shuya's class) is given a distinct and unique back story which we are told about. Their hopes, dreams, desires, values are revealed which makes you truly sympathise with them or even grow to hate them. However, with such great detail, the plot progression becomes slow as you plough through pages of arguably unnecessary text about characters you don't even care about.

The plot driven 'Hunger Games' is distinctly different in this way. 'Battle Royale' isn't about who wins and rooting for the main characters, it is an exploration of psyche and how being placed in such a dramatic situation may change you, warp perceptions and perhaps people aren't innately 'good' or 'bad'. 

Reading the book also has a strange psychological effect on the reader. I found that I expected the worse out of all the students and felt that they would attack and kill each other mercilessly without feeling- but I was wrong- some of them did have heart and an intention to team up and help each other. 

As the story progressed and more students have unfortunately died, the ending became somewhat more predictable but what I really liked about it was how different characters were interlinked and how events  affected different groups of students and their reaction to it was different. Again, this exploration of perception and mentality was really brought to the surface.

The climax was superb and the ending was beautiful. The last chapter was just mind blowing and the 'twist' shocked me as much as it shocked Sakamochi, the 'teacher' who ran the game. 

Overall, the book was thrilling and though the plot was dragged out, there is a beautiful exploration of psychology and mentality that is not present in 'The Hunger Games'. Though there are MANY similarities that can be drawn from the two, the focus is different, and 'Battle Royale' truly manages to engage and bring it's 42 students to life in a genuine and real way...

...but I was definitely more hooked to 'The Hunger Games' due to it's pacy plot and numerous twists. I didn't care for 3/4 of the students in 'Battle Royale' so just wished their 'bit' was over LOL.

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