Cannonball Read IV: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
I first read this book back in college. I know now it's getting a little more press due to the The Hunger Games comparisons. I actually first picked up The Hunger Games the week it was released back in 2008 because I read that it was similar to Battle Royale. They do share a lot of similarities, but enough differences to make them totally different novels.
For instance, both novels take groups of teens and pit them against each other to the death. However, The Hunger Games picks a boy and a girl from each district. Battle Royale randomly picks a ninth grade class who has no idea they were chosen until they're already there. They pretend they're taking them on a school trip then gas them on the bus. I think it's a little more chilling that ALL of these students actually know each other and grew up together vs. HG's involving mostly strangers.
Both novels also provide weapons to the players, but they are distributed a little differently. Instead of HG free-for-all weapons and food in the cornucopia, BR hands out bags to each student as they leave. Each bag contains some sort of random weapon. However, it could be anything from a fork to a machine gun.
My favorite difference with Battle Royale is the collars. The students are fitted with thin, metal collars that are used as tracking devices. They also contain explosives that will detonate if the wearer tries to remove it or if they are found inside of a forbidden zone. Every few hours, a new zone on the island is "forbidden" and anyone in that section will be killed. If 24 hours goes by without a kill, everyone's collars will detonate and no one wins.
The novel mainly follows local "rockstar" Shuya (even though rock music is outlawed in their country). Shuya was raised in an orphange along with is best friend who is also on the island. Shuya joins up with Noriko early on and feels he must protect her since his best friend had a crush on her (remember, they're 15-year-olds). Noriko is also injured after being shot in the leg. Shuya and Noriko meet up with the mysterious loner Shogo and they all band together to try and overthrow the game.
I love this novel. I can't say whether I like more or less than HG because I really can't compare the two. BR is much more brutal and bloody. It does have some great characters and even love interests, but that's definitely an afterthought to the violence (which is probably more realistic in a situation like this).
With 42 characters it can be a little hard to keep track of everyone, especially with all of the unfamiliar Japanese names. I do like the "students remaining" tally at the beginning of each chapter though. I also like that there is a main group of students we follow and get to know well, but chapters with other students are interspersed throughout the novel as well.
I don't think Battle Royale is for everyone who might have enjoyed The Hunger Games. However, if you wished HG was a little more brutal and a little less YA, go ahead and try it.
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This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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