Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami is an action-packed novel which explores the depths of human nature and how far one will go to survive. The novel is set in the fictional “Republic of Greater East Asia,” which is run by a Big Brother-like authoritarian government. The story centers around the “Program,” which students in the novel learn about in school from a young age. The Program is a government run procedure in which, each year, 50 junior high classes consisting of 42 students each are chosen to fight to the death in a remote location selected by the government. When one does the math, this amounts to the senseless murder of over 2000 innocent children each year. Each parent is notified by the government that their child has been “chosen” for the Program, essentially informing the parent of their child’s death. Once taken to a remote location, each student is fitted with a metal collar which detonates if they are found in any of the declared “forbidden zones” of the island, which change every day. The collars of every student also explode if there fails to be a death within 24 hours—a cruel way to keep the “game” progressing. Each student is given a bag with bread, water, a map of the island, and a weapon. Some students get guns and hatchets, others get forks and throwing darts complete with a dart board. The true purpose of the Program is never revealed, however government officials convince students it is done to keep the youth population “in line” and prevent them from rebelling against their elders. The novel explores the absolute limits of the human nature and what happens within the human psyche when one is forced to the limit. The novel’s main character is Shuya, otherwise known as Male Student No. 15 (each student is referred to by their name and by their government assigned number. This allows the reader to form a personal connection with the characters while also being reminded of the way the government views them—as a number). The novel follows Shuya as the main protagonist as he and Female Student No. 15, Noriko, form an alliance with Male Student No. 5, Shogo.

The main theme throughout this book is distrust in the government and ruling bodies. Takami makes this point very clear with just the shear concept of the story—a government forcing its youth to battle to the death—but, there are additional more specific examples scattered throughout the novel. Near the end of the book, Shogo confronts Sakamochi, the leader of the Program, saying, “’You’re…insane,’ he said. ‘You’re out of your mind! How can you be like that?’ He was nearly sobbing. ‘A government is supposed to serve the needs of the people. We shouldn’t be slaves to our own system. If you think this country makes sense…then you’re insane!’” (Takami, pp. 597, 2003/1999). This statement by Shogo alone portrays Takami’s own feelings toward the government in general. Additionally, each government official is introduced and initially described in a negative way, subconsciously turning the reader against them before they even play a part in the story. For example, Sakamochi’s initial description goes as such; “He was stocky but well built. His legs were extremely short, as if they served as a mere appendage to his torso. He wore light-beige slacks, a gray jacket . . . and black loafers. They all looked worn out. . . His cheeks were rosy . . . He wore [his hair] down to his shoulders like a woman in her prime. It reminded Shuya of the grainy Xeroxed tape cover of a Joan Baez he’d bought on the black market” (Takami, pp. 36, 2003/1999). This description made Sakamochi resemble some sort of evil nesting doll in my mind, which I think was Takami’s goal. For the rest of the novel, whatever Sakamochi did or said was filtered by this distasteful image, regardless of whether or not what he was doing at the time was actually innately bad. I think this effect can be applied to other countries’ governments as well. For example, the rivalry between Democrats and Republicans is often driven by the distaste of one individual’s viewpoint, which then influences a person’s interpretation of an entire party. While this form of thinking is flawed, it is clear that it transcends country borders.

While Takami shows distaste in the Japanese government, there are clues that he shares the opposite sentiment towards the U.S. At one point in the novel, Shogo and Shuya discuss where they will escape to if they survive the Program. Shogo days to Shuya, “’You should be a rocker. You’re talented. From what I hear, in [the American Empire] the odds aren’t stacked so high against you even if you’re an immigrant or exile’” (Takami, pp. 553, 2003/1999). Whether or not this statement is still true today in our current political climate, it shows that other countries view us as a safe haven and bridge to a better life. For this reason, I think it is our duty to hold to true to this belief, so that we may grant others the life they deserved but did not receive in their home country.

One of the great things about reading global YA literature is that it allows readers some insight into how other cultures view us and our country. This is important because it enables us to take a look internally, and identify what we are possibly doing right and what we could be doing better in order to center these marginalized voices. This novel taught me that our country must learn to welcome and embrace others so that we may begin to achieve a better and more tolerant world.



Takami, H. (2003). Battle Royale. (Y. Oniki, Trans.) San Francisco, CA: VIZ Media. (Original work published 1999).

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