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Review: Battle Royale

January 21, 2010

The 42 students of Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School, Shiroiwa Town, Kagawa Prefecture are on a bus heading for what they think will be a study trip.  All of a sudden, strange things started happening – the bus driver is wearing an oxygen mask and all of the students become sluggish, eventually falling asleep.

The students wake up in an unfamiliar classroom and discover that their class has been chosen to participate in this year’s “Program.”  They are on an island and must kill each other until there’s only one student left.  (The Republic of Greater East Asia claims this program has been instituted for security reasons.)  Each student is wearing a collar that tracks their movement and will kill them if they wander into forbidden zones or if no one dies within 24 hours.   Each student is given a backpack with a random weapon as they’re dismissed, one by one, and the carnage begins.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami explores the way people react to an unimaginable scenario.  Would the students band together or fight mercilessly?  While the overall plot of this book was good, I struggled to finish it.  At over 600 pages, I felt that it was too long, and at times, there was too much detail.  Several pages would be devoted to a student’s background just to lead up to their death.  Some of the battle scenes are pretty gory, but I think that’s to be expected in a book of this nature.

I struggled with the students’ names as I read this and had trouble remembering who was who.  Just in the girls half, there’s Yukie, Yukiko, Yumiko, Yuko, Yuka, and Yoshimi and it was a bit much for this old brain to take in.  Vance and his friends read this book when he was in high school and loved it.  I read his copy of it, which was published in 2003 and there are several translation errors in it that added to my confusion.  A new English version was published last November and it’s my understanding that these errors have been corrected in it.

Battle Royale just wasn’t the book for me.  At first, I thought it was because I’m way past the target audience, but I know others my age who’ve enjoyed it.

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47 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 6:48 am

    The plot reminds me of Lord of the Flies, only longer and more vicious, perhaps. I don’t think I could have kept up with those names either. I’m rather surprised someone has converted this into an online or video game.

    Straight From Hel

  2. January 21, 2010 6:51 am

    I’ve been waiting to see what you said in your review! Needless to say I agree with you on all counts. I didn’t really have a problem with the names, though, but probably because none of the characters were memorable enough for me to get confused.

  3. January 21, 2010 6:55 am



  4. January 21, 2010 7:03 am

    I saw the movie and enjoyed it, but have had enough. I don’t think I need to read the book too.

  5. January 21, 2010 7:45 am

    Interesting, great review.

  6. January 21, 2010 7:49 am

    I think the premise sounds exciting, but 600 pages & lots of gore make me want to skip this one. I salute you for finishing it!

  7. January 21, 2010 8:01 am

    Great review. I really want to finish this one — but I keep picking up something else. I am having trouble with the names too.

  8. January 21, 2010 8:25 am

    I’ve heard some people say they prefer this over Hunger Games. Personally, I think the names and the amount of detail would only detract from the primary plot. I mean this is a psychological thriller, right? I can’t imagine the tension could have been maintained with 600 pages of biographical detail on each student. I’ll have to give some serious thought before I pick this one up.

  9. January 21, 2010 8:28 am

    I think you summed it up very well. I’m not sure I’d love it either. Of course, I only have one of the manga books and our library doesn’t have it, so….

  10. January 21, 2010 8:39 am

    Definitely not the book for me either!

  11. January 21, 2010 9:11 am

    Sounds very similar to The Hunger Games, doesn’t it? As it is older than The Hunger Games, me thinks the story idea was stolen!

  12. January 21, 2010 9:17 am

    I have been interested in this book for a while, but I worry I’d find it disturbing. I can handle gore, but do you think that it is emotionally disturbing? Did you care when the children died? I loved Hunger Games for the fact it was quite light and handled the deaths in a way that I could handle, but I know the Japanese often freak me out. What do you think? Should I give it a go or will it give me nightmares for weeks?

  13. kaye permalink
    January 21, 2010 9:44 am

    Geez, as if we don’t have enough kids killing other kids in real life. This definitely would not be the book for me.

  14. January 21, 2010 10:02 am

    I’ve not heard of this book before reading your review. The 600 pages alone is daunting and it doesn’t sound like the kind of book I’d enjoy. I’m going to read Hunger Games which is a new genre for me. I find it interesting that people have commented that this book is being compared to it.

  15. January 21, 2010 11:20 am

    I have an award for you! The Blogger Buddie award.

  16. Susan permalink
    January 21, 2010 12:20 pm

    Kathy, I always count on you for honest book reviews. This doesn’t sound like my kind of book either.

  17. January 21, 2010 1:16 pm

    Wow, it sounds pretty disturbing (right up my alley) and set in Japan (right up my brother-in-law’s alley). Maybe I’ll have to get me a copy, read it, and pass it on to him.

    Is anyone else frightened by the sheer amount of dystopian literature coming out in both adult and young adult sections in the last year or so? It just seems like an awful lot to me…

  18. January 21, 2010 1:18 pm

    I’m not sure about this one. It’s sounds interesting, but really long.

    I have an award for you today, too.

  19. January 21, 2010 2:17 pm

    I think I’d get really frustrated with all of that background, too. Especially when the book runs so long. I guess the author wanted you to care what happened to each student but if the reader’s losing interest, then it’s irrelevant.

  20. January 21, 2010 2:25 pm

    I think the concept is interesting, if a little dark. Translating books can be so tricky, as language is fluid and changing. I know with the manga books there are the occasional WTF? things said. It’s a bit like the Engrish pictures.

  21. January 21, 2010 2:35 pm

    what can you do- that happens! 🙂

  22. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 21, 2010 2:55 pm

    Jason & I just watched The Killing Room which is about 4 civiuliams stuck in a room with only one making it out alive. It was freaky, but did gerate lots of discussion 🙂

  23. January 21, 2010 3:44 pm

    I think 600 pages is pushing it for the target audience which I would assume is YA. I know my son probably wouldn’t read it even though the premise would certainly interest him.

  24. January 21, 2010 4:08 pm

    I skipped your review and all comments, because I just bought this book after reading about it on Beth’s blog. I am looking forward to read it, but was surprised when I saw the size of it. Its huge. But I guess it will not be too hard to read, since it is YA 🙂

  25. January 21, 2010 5:25 pm

    600 pages seems excessive to me. Lately, I seem to get restless at about page 170. I thought it was coincidence, but I noticed multiple books on my table have bookmarks right around that point.

  26. January 21, 2010 5:29 pm

    This really isn’t quite my cup of tea either, mainly because I’m not fond of dystopian fiction. It’s quite an interesting premise, though.

  27. January 21, 2010 6:27 pm

    I checked this out from the library a long time ago, right after I read Hunger Games, but didn’t finish it. I think that was because of the length and the other books I was reading at the time. Even though it’s challenging, I still think it might be interesting. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it!

  28. January 21, 2010 7:35 pm

    I saw the movie version of this a couple of years ago, and based on that I know better than to pick up the book… all the gore and violence is just not what I want to spend 600 pages reading about, and your review confirms that. Thanks for the review, and sorry it was such a tough book to read!

  29. January 21, 2010 7:51 pm

    Seems like quite a trend to force groups of high schoolers to have to kill each other!!! (This, of course, may be just because I read “The Hunger Games.”) 600 pages seems a bit much though.

  30. January 21, 2010 7:54 pm

    I haven’t really had the motivation to finish this one. Your review doesn’t help matters much. 🙂

  31. January 21, 2010 8:44 pm

    I am sure I would have also struggled with those names and 600 PAGES, no way!
    But the plot does sound interesting!

  32. January 21, 2010 10:36 pm

    One reason I’m delaying reading this book is the number of pages. I suppose I’ve to wait for the right mood before picking up this book. And yikes, those names do sound confusing!

  33. January 21, 2010 11:01 pm

    I remember enjoying Battle Royale immensely when I borrowed Vance’s copy a while back. The movie was also pretty good, but I felt like the manga adaptation was just awful; I stopped after the first volume.

  34. January 22, 2010 1:28 am

    Sorry you had to work your way through such a huge disappointment. I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea either.

  35. January 22, 2010 2:10 am

    I’ve avoided reading The Hunger Games because of the subject matter, even though everyone seems to love it. I’ll definitely be giving this one a wide berth.

  36. January 22, 2010 2:52 am

    I’ve never heard of this book before. I think this would be a hard book for me to read. It’s difficult to get invested in the characters and have them killed off like that. And, how confusing to have names that are spelled so similarly. I’m with Jacki. I’d worry about it giving me nightmares.

  37. January 22, 2010 10:57 am

    Sounds like the Hunger Games but not executed as well. I don’t like books with too much detail.

  38. January 22, 2010 4:13 pm

    I know this book came out some time ago but I am fascinated with our preoccupation to watch people kill each other. The Hunger Games, and other books like it really pull you in, but man…sort of depressing too.

  39. January 22, 2010 5:03 pm

    Ha! One of the reasons I got fed up with Anna Karenina once upon a time was that I couldn’t, for the life of me, keep the male characters straight–they all seemed to be named some kind of Alex-ish name.

    I was told to watch the movie Battle Royale, rather than read the book. Wonder if you would’ve liked that better?

  40. January 22, 2010 9:03 pm

    well, I loved this one as you know, I found it a little deeper than the Hunger Games and the names were easier for me having lived in Japan. 😉

  41. January 23, 2010 5:07 pm

    Sorry to hear this wasn’t quite for you! Amy left me intrigued, though.

  42. January 23, 2010 6:15 pm

    I agree that this sounds a lot like Lord of the Flies to me… I will have to pick it up and check it out. LoTF is one of my favorite books- I think this would make for a good compare/contrast

  43. January 25, 2010 4:26 pm

    I have heard a lot of negative things about this book and doubt that I will ever read it. Some reviews I read mentioned that it was a lot like The Hunger Games, only a lot less interesting.

  44. January 27, 2010 5:31 pm

    I wasn’t overly impressed with this novel either. Maybe because I watched the film first when it released in 2000. At the time the plot was so emotionally shocking to me, that reading the mangas and the novel years later was a less powerful experience.

  45. January 28, 2010 1:53 pm

    Those similar names would drive me batty, but I do think I’d like to read this at some point, as it reminds me of The Hunger Games.


  46. January 29, 2010 9:35 am

    Sounds a little like THE HUNGER GAMES to me. I applaud you for finishing such a thick book.

  47. January 31, 2010 1:29 pm

    I have to say that although I tend to really love dystopian stories (though I’m not sure this is truly dstopian) I can’t quite warm up to the thought of this one. As you mentioned, I hear people rave about it all the time, but despite that I still haven’t been able to bring myself to get interested enough to commit to reading it.

    I don’t think it’s an age thing I think it’s a subject matter and content preference thing. This book just wasn’t one that was for you. I suspect it’s not really for me either. Thanks for the review!

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