Battle Royale, a Japanese book published in Enlish in 2003, is an amazing powerhouse punch in the gut. It is the wilder, crazier, bloodier version of The Hunger Games. Any reader of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series should invest in this book that predates her version of population control through the gruesome manilpulation of teenagers.
This book has many similarities; it involves a group of teens chosen to engage in deadly combat until the last one is standing, a highly controlled and engineered environment, an evil government desperate to remain in power, and the test of humanity. In this case, these unknowing students are misled into thinking they are going on a school trip. They are gassed on the bus and wake up in a classroom on a remote island. They come to with no idea of what is happening, each one harnessed by a collar that will detonate upon certain circumstances, such as remaining in a forbidden zone or trying to remove it. The full impact of the collar is purposefully displayed before the innocent eyes of these teens, before they even embark on their journey. The message is clear when their fellow student’s head explodes; do what you are told or you will die, stay out of the forbidden zones or you will die, and kill the others or you will die.
The story follows each of the forty-two students, some pairing off into small groups and some going lone wolf. They are armed with weapons of varying levels of effectiveness, ranging from fork to machine guns. Also, they are given a map with clearly drawn zones. As the “game” progresses, more and more zones are cut off, forcing them into a smaller area, where they are more likely to encounter one another in deadly stand-offs.
Some characters were barely given a chance, therefore, I didn’t become emotionally involved. They literally started dropping like flies. Others made it through harrowing encounters by the skin of their teeth, often enduring deadly wounds that later led to their demise. The book is massive, but I found myself gripping it tightly as I read through it as quickly as I could, desperate to discover the fate of each person. Ultimately, it ended up with an explosive show-down between Kazuo, the epitome of evil, and three friends, Shula, Noriko, and Shogo.
The story didn’t end there, though, as the hero found out the real reason behind this brutal display of power by the military. This event happens over and over as a reminder to the population of the Republic of Greater East Asia, concerning the disasterous rebellion that had happened many years before. Much as the arenas of The Hunger Games kept these kids moving forward towards a bloody end witnessed by the masses, the collars allowed controllers to monitor the students and manipulate them into encounters for maximum impact on the emotional state of the weary citizens. While this public is not forced to watch, they are well aware of what is going down and the parents know that their children are basically guaranteed a horrible death.
The ending is a surprise and leaves you hanging, yet filled with hope. Unfortunately, it has not been followed up with another book, but it has been adapted into a Manga series and several films. The writing is fantastic and fast-paced. While the details of the story are complex, it flows easily and even for English readers, there is little trouble in keeping track of the Japanese-named characters. I held my breath through the entire novel and stayed up late into the night, until I reluctantly fell into bed. Each character has a certain degree of good vs. evil that creates a level of emotive attachment. I was devastated when some met their fate, usually in bloody and excruciating ways, while other characters I was less affected by. The build-up to the huge climax was artfully done and I was not disappointed. This is one of the very rare books that kept me faithfully glued to the pages and rooting for the characters. There wasn’t a moment that didn’t contribute to the plot, which is quite a feat considering the size of the book.
I admit readily that I read The Hunger Games prior to this book and that I loved the series. That being said, I enjoyed Battle Royale far more. While the ending was not completely realized, I was not despondent and a fulfilling conclusion was hinted at. Unlike The Hunger Games, there was no lull or excessive dialogue; it was a perfectly streamlined-story with an almost irreproachable culmination. This book lacked nothing, it even had a touch of teenage love and the testament of true friendship. Full warning, this book is not for the feint of heart or anyone who is not willing to read about teens faced with life and death situations that often have a grisly ending. Due to the overwhelming similarities between this story and The Hunger Games, I am forced to call this a dirtier, more brutal version of the same plot. So, if you enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ series and are a fan of extreme action, you will love this book. I would call it The Hunger Games on steroids, but that is an unfair statement, seeing as this book was written years before.
Now, for my rating:
- The genre and general reading age – this is action packed with a bit of mystery. The deadly details lead me to say that it’s probably better for older teens and adults.
- Level of sexuality – there was zero hanky-panky. There was a love interest, but they were too busy running and fighting to even think about it, outside of the fact that it will probably never be realized.
- Was there graphic language – only if gore and bloody bits count.
- Did I cry? I got choked up a few times.
- Is this part of a series? Sadly, no.
- Level of character development – it was very high, even for the poor teens who were briefly included. I loved and I hated, with little in between.
- Did I laugh? Of course not.
This book will stay with me forever. The Hunger Games affected me deeply, but the details are already starting to blur. I have vivid images burned into my brain from this book. I eagerly give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars and hope that you will love it too. This is one that will stay with me forever.