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Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Title Battle Royale
Author Koushun Takami
Publisher VIZ Media, LLC.
Year 2003
ISBN-13 978-1569317785

Teaser/Reader Annotation When forty-two confused, hapless students are abducted by the government and told they must fight until only one remains it becomes a matter of survival. Can three students keep true to their principles and escape the island alive?

Plot Summary In an alternate time line, Japan is part of a totalitarian government collective known as the Republic of Great East Asia. Here, an unsuspecting class's bus gets gassed while they are en route on a supposed study trip. When they awaken with electronic collars around their necks, they are told they have been selected for The Program – a military initiative designed to keep the population in terror and incapable of rising up in rebellion. Each year fifty classes are selected to fight to the death until only one student remains. The collars are the key to the process – not only do they track the movement and conversations of each student, they are capable of being remote detonated. Anyone who chooses to rebel or enters a forbidden zone is removed from the situation with deadly force. Shuya, Noriko, and Shogo have managed to survive thus far, but Kazuo, the winner of a previous Program, is still out there and determined to win again. They must figure out a way to dismantle the collars and shake loose of the antagonistic teenager if they wish to get out in one piece.

Critical Evaluation Originally published in Japanese in 1999, the English translation of Battle Royale can get awkward at times, especially in the dialogue, but is altogether a good work and gripping page turner. It has a plot similar to Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) in that both stories revolve around a group of youths fighting for survival on an island away from adults. Aside from that, however, both novels speak out against aspects of their country at the time. While Lord of the Flies was an allegory of the barbarism hidden beneath societal trappings, Takami's young adult novel speaks out against the rigidity of Japanese culture and the danger of the strict system under which the populace lives. Beyond the striking thematic elements of the story, the book is well-executed. Though some readers may initially be intimidated by the daunting task of tracking forty-two foreign-named characters, Takami does a great job keeping everything organized. Instead of being inundated by a flood of names, the reader is able to attach personalities to the characters and follow the events easily. This novel is not for the faint of heart, however, as there is a significant amount of violence which may disturb some readers.

About the Author Koushun Takami was born near Osaka, Japan in 1959. He grew up in Kagawa, Shikoku, however, and now resides there after a period of absence. Though he initially attended Nihon University through a distance learning program, Takami transferred and graduated with a degree in literature from the prestigious Osaka University.

For five years Takami worked for the news company Shikoku Shimbun publishing reports on a variety of fields including politics and economics. He left the news world to become a professional writer but struggled initially to get Battle Royale published due to its controversial nature. Once it was finally published, it became a best-seller within a year and was adapted into a manga and feature film. He has not published anything since but is rumored to be working on a second novel.

Primary Genre Horror

Secondary Genre Science-Fiction

Curriculum Ties Politics

Booktalking Ideas

1) Is the anti-fascism theme of the novel irrelevant without a current fascist government, or can we still learn from it?

2) How do you think you would react if put into a situation such as this? How does one react to a no-win scenario? Discuss.

Reading Level/Interest Age 16+

Challenge Issues Violence

1) Become familiar with book and its content.
2) Refer to library's collection policies.
3) Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles.
4) Get reviews from teenagers who are familiar with the book.
5) Refer to the ALA Library Bill of Rights.
6) Discuss the theme as violence as a shock factor and the negativity shown towards of violence-as-entertainment with the upset party.

Why is it included? I had seen the movie before but hadn't known it was a book. When I saw that it was an adaptation I decided to read it.