Review: Battle Royale


Battle Royale.  Koushun Takami.  Fiction

Wow.   I got through this puppy in like four days, which is fast even if it wasn’t over 600 pages.  It’s some of the most fun and most riveting reading I’ve done in a long time.  Just balls to the wall action from about page 30 on and I was literally compelled to turn every page, staying up all hours like I used to as a kid because I couldn’t put it down.

Every once in a while I get my pretentious hackles up about ‘commercial fiction’, and I’m not about to sell out my precious short fiction and literary novels or anything, but let’s face it, commercial fiction IS commercial fiction because sometimes it is just AWESOME.  Commercial fiction, when really good, can just be something that you throw yourself into with complete abandon (and want to tell everyone about while you’re reading it).  Also, while we’re talking about things that are awesome, can we discuss the cover?  Best. Cover. Ever. If this cover would make sense for my novel I’d steal it in a second.  Sadly there are no badass Japanese school kids in my novel.

The premise of Battle Royale, in brief, for the uninitiated, is that once a year a handful of junior high student classes (15 year olds) are chosen for a top secret program in which they are dropped off on an island, with only their own classmates and are each given a knapsack containing some supplies and a random weapon (ranging in lethality from machine guns to a dinner fork) and sent off on a mission to be ‘the last one standing’…literally.

They are to literally kill each other off until there is only one of them left, at which time the “winner” will be sent home with prize money (and probably a one way ticket to the loony bin).

Badass, right?  Totally.

So what are the problems with Battle Royale?  Not much. The first 30 pages are a bit of a challenge as Takami tries to introduce 42 characters by their full names – Shuya Nanahara, Norika Nakagawa, and Shogo Kawada being three of them – so you can see how it’s impossible to remember all 42 – don’t even try, just let the names flow over you – you’ll learn them later.  In fact, cruise through those first 30 pages, because after that you’re not going to want to put the book down.

There are a few wonky areas where the translation is not great, but overall it’s not too bad, just a few sticky spots.  Takami also has a bad habit of kind of force feeding us backstory – I suppose so we can care about his characters – but I found it a little forced and frustrating (though perhaps that this is also a problem in part with the translation?).

Regardless of the sometimes unnecessary backstory, the book buzzes along beautifully and I quite frankly recommend it to every single person that has not yet read it – except my mother, who doesn’t love violence so much – so if you’re like my mother, maybe it’s not for you, otherwise – run don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy – if you don’t I’ll stab you with my dinner fork.  Seriously, I got one in my knapsack and I’m trying to work my way up to machine gun…

4.5 Stars


  1. kfugrip’s avatar

    Excellent review. I wouldn’t term this as a commercial book, though I haven’t read it, because of how video-game-violence it is.

    I saw the movie and it is good. It runs like one of those fighting games or Halo (which I’ve never played) but with live people and played less like Tomb Raider or Resident Evil, thus making it more interesting.

    Since it was such a fast read for you I may check it out soon. You’re such a salesman.

  2. thejamminjabber’s avatar

    Wow. I tried reading this back when I saw the film and couldn’t handle the laundry list of names. And you thought telling Asians apart was difficult in movies. I can’t believe you blew through it so fast.

  3. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Adam: Thanks babe. You should TOTALLY read it. I guess it’s possible it’s not ‘commercial fiction’, but it felt way to slick and produced (not to mention popular) to me for it to be considered anything but.

    jamminjabber: You should try again. Just skate through those first 30-ish pages because it really takes off after the laundry list of names. Since I’m not Asian it’s true that it was harder to remember the names than if they were Bill, Bob, and Sue etc., but even if they had been boring traditional ‘American’ names, they still would have been impossible to remember…there’s 42 of them for christ’s sake!

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