Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

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. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.

The first few chapters of Battle Royale reminded me a lot about The Hunger Games and obviously the entire concept is similar. The main difference though? - The Hunger Games is a good read, Battle Royale isn't.

Here are my annoyances with Battle Royale:

First off, it's been incredibly poorly translated. Initially I shrugged it off as just incorporating the Japanese cultural style (if you ever watch an anime with the original voice actors you can very clearly pick up on the way of acting and speaking to each other - quite different from the more relaxed/disrespectful way of Europe/US), but it soon became clear that the translator messed up. Towards the end I even found direct errors that suggests it wasn't exactly proofread too hard. Here are some examples of the typical writing style:

Secondly, the characters. Everybody loves the main character. He's amaaaazing. He's good at everything. He's so good looking. He's a sport star. He's a rebel. He plays the guitar. A few characters managed to have a bit more to them, but mainly they were all either insane or incredibly naive.

Thirdly, the plot. It's filled with what can best be described as Hollywood clichés and it's always very obvious what will be happening next and you don't have to bother ever feeling the least bit worried for the MC & co.

Fourthly, and this one is obviously pure subjective, but I'm not a fan of gore and don't like reading very descriptive passages about how somebody is literally having their eyes clawed out *shudder*.

Fifthly and lastly, as mentioned above I didn't like the writing style much, but another thing that really irked me was how the characters would constantly stop whatever they were doing and have incredibly deep and insightful conversations about the government and the psychology involved in getting class mates to kill each other (and remember they are all supposedly 15 years old or so, attending Junior High School). Furthermore they'd often discuss happenings in the game, predicting how some things had gone down, without possibly being able to know that.

I must also confess that the Japanese character names confused me constantly. It starts out with 42 characters and they all have very long names in a language. I was okay during the individual's chapter (and their point of view) but when a character started talking about other characters I had no way of remembering who was who.

Furthermore what is never spelled out in the book and I had to go to Wikipedia to find out: Battle Royale takes place in 1997 in an alternate timeline—Japan is a member region of an authoritarian state known as the Republic of Greater East Asia. This would have been nice to know as I was constantly trying to figure out if this was supposed to "be real" or completely fake, so it was hard to understand the context.

All in all, I'll say that I can completely understand those who say Suzanne Collins copied the concept for her Hunger Games trilogy. But in my honest opinion, hers work so much better. I would be willing to reread Battle Royale written by a different translator as obviously that will have a big influence on how the book is perceived, but I don't think it would really change the fact that the book has so many other flaws that shouldn't be caused by translation.

Battle Royale
(Original title: バトル・ロワイアル [Batoru Rowaiaru])
ISBN13: 9780575080492
617 pages / published in 1999

Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2013

I just saw the film. It's horrible. Like ridiculously bad, Quite hilariously bad. It also strays quite far from the book and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.


  1. Agreed - The Hunger Games is SO much better! I liked BR better than you did, but it still couldn't hold a candle to THG.

  2. Couldn't agree with you more, the movie it's ridiculously bad! :-D Will never get to the book after seeing the movie.

  3. I'm sorry, but I just can't right now. You pointed out stuff like translation errors, which I could understand despite it being a japanese novel. But you go on and tell me this is a hollywood cliche.. I mean really? Clearly The hunger games is anything but a money making lovetriangle hollywood cliche, right? All things aside, you only pointed out it's negative flaws. If you didn't have the attention span of a five year old you would understand it is about a corrupt country.

    I understand you don't like gory stuff, but have you seriously read the whole book before judging? I bet you have not, as you told me the names were too long to remember (which is a dumb statement as it is a JAPANESE book, so obviously there are Japanese names..), but I could remember them just fine. You just come off as a simple minded person in my view. If you actually paid attention to the story you would know it goes in far more depth than THG ever did. The great thing about all this is that each contestant has a story to tell and mattered. The fact you tell me that having a deep convo is weird because they are 15 years old is ridiculous. I'm 15 as well and I don't see a problem with them talking about there lives or the country who did this to them, seeing as they could die at any minute. It's not so hard to follow the story, this coming from a kid who could read this at ease. Go watch your love triangle ( non hollywood cliche) movie, mmkay?

    1. Dear Anonymous.
      Here's the thing - we're all allowed to have our very own opinion on things. Your attempt to put me down comes off as incredibly snooty and frankly, quite hilarious. Your attempt to belittle me, just pointed out exactly how little you are yourself. There's no need for flinging mud just because we're on the internet.
      Great that you liked the book, sadly I didn't.

  4. Hi Iben, its me again.
    I would like to apologize for calling you dumb, but not the fact that I gave you actual criticism. I was not trying to belittle you, though I did respond childish in especially the last sentence. The thing is though, this is supposed to be a review, but you only managed to point out it's negative flaws. As if there is nothing redeemable about this novel. If you really think about it, THG does have a similiar story so I don't see how praising THG and badmouthing every bit about BR makes sense. Aside from the long names etc., did you at least enjoy the character development and depth each kid had (which personally to me is something positive)? If not, that's ok, but just so you know: if you get criticism, don't immediately assume it's throwing mud at you. Thank you for taking your time to answer me though.


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