If you enjoy stories that include themes of both loyalty and death, love and hate, and ultimately friendships and betrayal, then Battle Royale by Koushun Takami is a novel you will surely enjoy. In this action-packed thriller, author Koushun Takami will take you, the reader, on a gut wrenching ride that will leave you exhausted by its finish.
The novel begins on a bus, following a high school Junior named Shuya Nanahara. While initially we learn they are departing on a school field trip, things take a turn for the worst very quickly. While his classmates begin to lose consciousness around him, Shuya fights to keep his eyes open. Just before falling asleep, he sees an unknown man enter the bus. Something was wrong.
We come to learn that Shuya’s class has been picked for the years “program”. Unfortunately for the class, this was not an educational program like they anticipated. Instead, this government program forces the students to fight. For this program, officially known as “Battle Experiment No. 68 program, fifty third year junior high school classes are forced to fight each other to death on an isolated island until only one student remains alive. They are given a weapon, which varies for each player, and a small supply of food and water. Then, they are released into the island where the fight for survival begins.
“Program n. 1. A listing of the order of events and other information […] 4. A battle simulation program conducted by our nation’s ground defense forces, instituted for security reasons. Officially known as Battle Experiment No. 68 Program. The first program was held in 1947. Fifty third-year junior high school classes are selected annually (prior to 1950, 47 classes were selected) to conduct the Program for research purposes. Classmates in each class are forced to fight until one survivor is left. Results from this experiment, including the elapsed time, are entered as data. The final survivor of each class (the winner) is provided with a lifetime pension and a card autographed by The Great Dictator. In reaction to protests and agitation caused by extremists during the first year of its enactment, the 317th Great Dictator gave his famous April Speech.’ ” (Takami, 25)
As typical in battle royale stories like this, specifically The Hunger Games, upon release into the “arena” there are many different strategies that the players take. Some, like Yoshio Akamatsu, immediately begin to kill without any remorse. Others however, like Shuya, Shogo, and Noriko attempt to form an alliance in hopes of finding a way out.
With at least one death required every 24 hours, there is no shortage of action and death in this novel. However, hidden between bouts of blood and death, author Koushun Takami is brilliantly able to weave in stories of love and friendship. Upon entering the island, we meet Sakura Ogawa and Kazuhiko Yamamoto, two classmates who are in a relationship. In order to avoid the possibility of needing to harm each other, they both grab hands and leap off a cliff to their deaths. In this defying act, questions about the power of love in the lives of young adults are silenced.
As the number of students quickly begins to drop, Shuya and Noriko learn that Shogo was actually the winner of last year’s program. Thus, they quickly turn to him for help finding a way off of the remote island. He informs them that they collars they are being forced to wear have embedded microphones and that any and all communication should be done in writing to avoid having their plan thwarted by the government.
Shuya and Noriko both had one plan. Get off the island without having to kill each other. However, that would be easier said than done. But, thanks to the knowledge Shogo had gained from successfully beating the program in the past, they come up with an idea. If they are able to remove the collars, they might be able to fake their death and make a run for it.
After all the remaining participants were eliminated, excluding Shogo, Noriko, and Shuya, Shogo fired a fake shot into the air. Immediately following this shot, he removed the collars from Shuya and Noriko’s necks. This they hoped, would trick the government into thinking they were dead.
They were right. Sort of. Following the final announcement, Shogo is taken on a ship to go back home. As he heads out to sea, we learn that they hadn’t deceived the government and that the program coordinator, Skamochi, knew what Shogo had done. Ultimately, this would lead to Shogo and Skamochi’s death.
In the end, we learn that Shuya and Noriko have become wanted by the government. Our last scene follows them as they begin running away from a policeman who had identified the two runaways, leaving the reader questioning what will happen to them. However, if Koushun Takami was able to teach us anything throughout the novel, it’s that these two are not going to go down without a fight.
After closing the book for the final time, I was struck by the wide range of emotions I had just experienced and how effortlessly author Koushun Takami was able to guide me through them. While some readers may turn away from young adult novels for a lack of substance, I found this novel was a truly unique entry into the genre. Ultimately, this novel was able to impart a level of maturity onto the young characters like I had not experienced before. By doing this, Takami is able to successfully portray the lessons he wants in a truly meaningful way. Whether it be lessons on working together to forge off seemingly unbeatable opponents or on the often overlooked power of love in young adults, I was both surprised and pleased to walk away with a different point of view than I had upon beginning this eye opening work of fiction.
Takami, K. (2003). Battle Royale (Y. Oniki, Trans.). San Francisco, CA: Viz Media, LLC.