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A class of junior high school students are 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.”

If you’ve watched Japanese Movies you’d probably already know Battle Royale. It is based off this book, which is Koshun Takami’s first and only novel to date. When I first picked up this book I was expecting it to be from the point of view of the “commander”.

Where he watched the students kill each other and was gleeful at it. Then I thought it would be an emotionally unattached narrator from whose point of view we would see the events unfold. I basically expected this to be a fun thrilling read where a bunch of kids fight to survive. Yes, I’m morbid like that, get over it.

But Takami’s book greatly outweighs the movies in all aspects. This is a book that makes you want to die. Not in the way that these kids died but because of the way these kids die. The character classification that Takami does is brilliant. And while I originally (while reading) had a problem with the repetition in the characteristics of the characters (Shuya is this, Noriko is that, Hiroki is this and Shogo that) I now realise that while it was a little annoying while reading this has made me remember each character like I knew them personally thereby making their fates so much more difficult to bear.

The characters are similar enough to be able to classify into groups yet different enough for you to know who it is even if you don’t recognise the name (which will be a problem for those not used to Japanese fiction). I’d say that this book falls short only in one department. Translation. Having read some amazingly translated books from Japanese (Natsuo Kirino, Murukami and Higashino) I found this a little awkward and bumpy. In certain places the translator has used brackets to give a completely unrelated comment on the action of the particular character that that portion is focussed on. I found this really weird. I’m not sure if it is the same in the original work but if it is, let me know so I can correct it.

In short, great book. Excellent characters, easily distinguishable from one another. This is the original (I think) killing off people dystopian novel that all new YA novels of the genre are based on and you absolutely have to read this book no matter what. (I had originally given this three stars but I changed it as I was wiring the review. I found that I was thinking of the book too fondly to let a 3 star rating be justifiable. 4 stars.)

PS. I got this book as a gift from Jen from Combustible Reviews. We did a buddy read of it. You can see her thoughts here. Thanks Jen.)