Battle Royale: The Book that Launched a Thousand Copies

Battle Royale: The Book that Launched a Thousand CopiesBattle Royale by Koushun Takami, Yuji Oniki

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Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.

I don’t really need to tell anyone what a Battle Royale is. Thanks to Fortnite and before that, the Hunger Games, everyone knows what it is. People are dropped into a death map. They need to kill each other. The last person standing wins.

Simple, right?

Only kind of. Battle Royale is a Japanese novel from the nineties written by Koushun Takami. It was groundbreaking in its time not just for the writing, but the shock factor of it. The book was criticized by some for its violence. Where the Hunger Games feels futuristic enough to give us some distance, Battle Royale doesn’t allow it. This isn’t meant to be a comfortable topic that’s made into PG-13 movies. Even in movie form, Battle Royale doesn’t shy away from its horror.

Each year, a single class participates in a Battle Royale. It’s a shock tactic to control the children who are growing too wild for their parents. The class is picked from a lottery and there’s no guarantee that any child will be safe as they grow up. Therefore, everyone’s at risk.

The kids we follow this year? They’re in 9th grade. To put that into perspective, they would be around 12 to 13 years old when they were brought to the island.

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