First edition cover, as published by Ohta Shuppan.
|Publication date||April 1999|
|Published in English||February 26, 2003|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル Batoru Rowaiaru ) is a novel by Japanese writer Koushun Takami. Originally completed in 1996, it was not published until 1999. The story tells of junior high school students who are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by the authoritarian Japanese government, now known as the Republic of Greater East Asia.
It was previously entered into the 1997 Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel competition but was eventually rejected in the final round due to its content. The novel became a surprise bestseller. It was ranked fourth by the 2000 Kono Mystery ga Sugoi!, an annual mystery and thriller guidebook, and sold over a million copies.
In 2000, one year after publication, Battle Royale was adapted into a manga series, written by Takami himself, and a feature film. The film was also controversial and successful, with it being condemned by Japan's National Diet, yet becoming one of the country's highest-grossing films. The film spawned a sequel, and two more brief manga adaptations were also created. The novel itself has been translated into Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, and Hungarian.
Battle Royale takes place in 1997 in an alternate timeline—Japan is a member region of an authoritarian state known as the Republic of Greater East Asia (大東亜共和国, Dai Tōa Kyōwakoku). Under the guise of a "study trip", a group of students from Shiroiwa Junior High School (城岩中学校 Shiroiwa Chūgakkō ) in the fictional town of Shiroiwa, in Kagawa Prefecture, are gassed on a bus. They awaken in the Okishima Island School on Okishima, an isolated, evacuated island southwest of Shodoshima (modeled after the island of Ogijima). They learn that they have been placed in an event called the Program. Officially a military research project, it is a means of terrorizing the population, of creating enough paranoia to make organized insurgency impossible.
The first Program was held in 1947. Fifty third-year junior high school classes are selected (prior to 1950, forty-seven classes were selected) annually to participate in the Program for research purposes. The students from a single class are isolated and are required to fight the other members of their class to the death. The Program ends when only one student remains, with that student being declared the winner and receiving a government funded pension. Their movements are tracked by metal collars, which contain tracking and listening devices; if any student should attempt to escape the Program, or enter declared forbidden zones (which are randomly selected at the hours of 12 and 6, both a.m. and p.m.), a bomb will be detonated in the collar, killing the wearer. If no one dies within any 24-hour period, every collar will detonate simultaneously and there will be no winner.
After being briefed about the Program, the students are issued survival packs that include a map, compass, food and water, and a random weapon or other item, which may be anything from a gun to a paper fan. During the briefing, two students (Fumiyo Fujiyoshi and Yoshitoki Kuninobu) anger the supervisor, Kinpatsu Sakamochi, who kills both. As the students are released onto the island, they each react differently to their predicament; beautiful delinquent Mitsuko Souma murders those who stand in her way using deception, Hiroki Sugimura attempts to find his best friend and his secret love, Kazuo Kiriyama attempts to win the game by any means necessary (stemming from his lack of ability to feel human emotion due to a partial lobotomy caused by a car crash while in utero) and Shinji Mimura makes an attempt to escape with his best friend, class clown Yutaka Seto.
In the end, four students remain: protagonist Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa (the crush of Shuya's best friend), Shogo Kawada—a survivor of a previous instance of the Program—and antagonist Kazuo Kiriyama. Following a car chase and shoot-out between Kazuo and the main characters, Noriko kills Kazuo by shooting him, but to absolve the quiet and naturally good-natured Noriko of any guilt, Shogo then shoots Kazuo, claims he is in fact responsible for Kazuo's death, and then takes his two partners to a hill. After telling Shuya and Noriko that he will kill them, Shogo shoots in the air twice, faking their deaths for the microphones planted on the collars. He then dismantles the collars using information he had previously hacked into the government servers to obtain. Shogo boards the winner's ship, as do Shuya and Noriko, covertly, a short while later. On the ship, Kinpatsu Sakamochi figures out Shogo's plan to help Shuya and Noriko escape. A shootout ensues. Sakamochi is killed and Shogo dies in peace after he tells Noriko and Shuya to keep moving forward on the ship. The two remaining students return to the mainland and attempt to travel to find a clinic belonging to a friend of Shogo's father. From there, they make plans to escape to the U.S., facing an uncertain future as they run from the authorities who have spotted them as they try to board a train.
|1||Yoshio Akamatsu||1||Mizuho Inada|
|2||Keita Iijima||2||Yukie Utsumi|
|3||Tatsumichi Oki||3||Megumi Eto|
|4||Toshinori Oda||4||Sakura Ogawa|
|5||Shogo Kawada||5||Izumi Kanai|
|6||Kazuo Kiriyama||6||Yukiko Kitano|
|7||Yoshitoki Kuninobu||7||Yumiko Kusaka|
|8||Yoji Kuramoto||8||Kayoko Kotohiki|
|9||Hiroshi Kuronaga||9||Yuko Sakaki|
|10||Ryuhei Sasagawa||10||Hirono Shimizu|
|11||Hiroki Sugimura||11||Mitsuko Souma|
|12||Yutaka Seto||12||Haruka Tanizawa|
|13||Yuichiro Takiguchi||13||Takako Chigusa|
|14||Sho Tsukioka||14||Mayumi Tendo|
|15||Shuya Nanahara||15||Noriko Nakagawa|
|16||Kazushi Niida||16||Yuka Nakagawa|
|17||Mitsuru Numai||17||Satomi Noda|
|18||Tadakatsu Hatagami||18||Fumiyo Fujiyoshi|
|19||Shinji Mimura||19||Chisato Matsui|
|20||Kyoichi Motobuchi||20||Kaori Minami|
|21||Kazuhiko Yamamoto||21||Yoshimi Yahagi|
Background and publication
Koushun Takami completed Battle Royale when he stopped working as a journalist in 1996. The story was rejected in the final round of the 1997 Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel competition, due to its controversial content. It was first published in April 1999 by Ohta Shuppan. In August 2002, it was released in a revised, two-part pocket edition by Gentosha.
Takami describes the characters as possibly all being "kind of alike", being "all the same" despite differing appearances and hobbies, and being static characters. Takami used these descriptions in contrast to the manga adaptation he wrote, with Masayuki Taguchi illustrating, which he believes has a more diverse and well-developed cast.
In 2001, Kōji Ōnuma wrote Battle Royale: Kyokugenshinri Kaisekisho (バトル・ロワイアル 極限心理解析書 Batoru Rowaiaru Kyokugenshinri Kaisekisho , roughly "Battle Royale: Analysis of Extreme Psychology"), a dissertation that explores the themes of the book.
Battle Royale was translated into English by Yuji Oniki and released in North America by Viz Media on February 26, 2003. An expanded edition with a revised English translation and an afterword by Takami was published on November 17, 2009 by Haikasoru, a division of Viz Media. This version also included an interview with the director of the book's film adaptation, Kinji Fukasaku. Viz will release another new translation on April 1, 2014, under the title Battle Royale: Remastered. They will also publish The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic Novel by Koushun Takami on the same day, which will include essays on the details of the novel and the controversies surrounding it as well as its adaptations written by science-fiction, horror, and thriller authors such as Brian Keene, John Skipp, and Catherynne M. Valente.
A manga adaptation, written by Takami and illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi, was serialized in Akita Shoten's Young Champion Magazine from 2000 to 2005. It was collected into fifteen tankōbon volumes, and published in North America by Tokyopop from 2003 to 2006.
A second manga, Battle Royale II: Blitz Royale, ran in Young Champion Magazine from July 2003 to 2004. Written and illustrated by Hiroshi Tomizawa, this series ties-in with Fukasaku's second Battle Royale film, having no continuity with the original novel nor the first manga adaptation, and was collected into two tankōbon volumes.
In 2011, a two chapter spin-off manga titled Battle Royale: Angels' Border was drawn by Mioko Ohnishi and Youhei Oguma (each drawing one chapter). It focuses on the six girls who holed up in the lighthouse, was published in Young Champion Magazine and later combined into one tankōbon volume on January 20, 2012.
In June 2006, Variety reported that New Line Cinema, with producers Neil Moritz and Roy Lee, intended to produce a new American film adaptation of Battle Royale. However, New Line never secured remake rights and after the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007, Lee stated that prospects for the project had been "seriously shaken." In 2012, Roy Lee stated a remake would no longer be possible due to the release of the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, which has been criticized for its similarities to Battle Royale, stating that "Audiences would see it as just a copy of Games — most of them wouldn't know that Battle Royale came first. It's unfair, but that's reality." However, he stated that he might return to the film in ten years to "develop a Battle Royale movie for the next generation."
In 2012, the Sipat Lawin Ensemble and two other college theater groups in the Philippines, made an unofficial loose adaptation of the novel into a live-action performance called Battalia Royale, which had its debut at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Performances were also held at an abandoned high school in Quezon City.
On July 26, 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that The CW Television Network had been in discussions with Hollywood representatives about the possibility of turning Battle Royale into an American television show. According to a spokesperson, the talks were only preliminary, but if a deal could be reached, the network would acquire rights to Koushun Takami's novel, then expand on it for an hourlong dramatic series. Joyce Jun, a Hollywood attorney representing U.S. rights to the title, states that "there is no deal in place." A CW spokesman only confirmed there had been some discussion, declining to comment further.
At the Television Critics Association winter press tour on January 13, 2013, CW president Marc Pedowitz stated "At this time, we're not planning to do anything with Battle Royale". He clarified that the reports stemmed from one phone call he made to see if the rights to the book were available and also noted that his interest in the novel predated the 2012 Aurora shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The network is however developing a show based on Kiera Cass's novel The Selection, which has been compared to Battle Royale.
Upon publication in 1999, Battle Royale became one of the best-selling novels in Japan. The novel was earlier entered into the 1997 Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel competition, but was eventually rejected in the final round due to its controversial content. It was ranked fourth in the 2000 Kono Mystery ga Sugoi!, an annual guidebook that ranks mystery and thriller novels published the previous year.
It was also critically acclaimed abroad. In Entertainment Weekly, the writer Stephen King included it as one of the seven books in his 2005 summer reading list, after it was recommended to him by novelist Kelly Braffet (writer of Josie and Jack). King described Battle Royale as "an insanely entertaining pulp riff that combines Survivor with World Wrestling Entertainment. Or maybe Royale is just insane." He also notes that it has some similarities to his own novel The Long Walk. He concludes the brief review with a "No prob," as "Takami's Springsteen-quoting teenagers are fond of saying." The town from which the ill-fated students in Battle Royale hail is called Shiroiwa, which translates as "Castle Rock", a possible reference to Stephen King as well as Lord of the Flies.
The writer David N. Alderman, writing for the Red Room site, gave Battle Royale a score of 4½ out of 5 stars, stating that the "story itself is brilliant. Touted as being extremely controversial, especially for the time it was released, the book opens up all sorts of doors to conversations and thoughts about psychology, murder, survival, love, loyalty, and moral ground." While noting that those who "cringe at slash and hack" should "steer away from this" since "it is a bit gory," he states that it is "definitely worth the read" and concludes that it has "touches of romance, and definitely some great moral themes to spark off in-depth conversations with others." Complete review gave the novel a B rating, describing it as "a perfectly fine thriller, with a fun premise, quite well drawn-out." In The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society, Tom Good praises the novel, concluding that, as "a pulp-fiction horror tale, Battle Royale delivers plenty of thrills, action, suspense and fun." On the Barnes & Noble site, the novel holds an average user rating of 5 out of 5 stars.
Since its release, the novel and its film adaptation have had an influence on later works. These include filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, most notably his Kill Bill films; the character Gogo Yubari, played by Chiaki Kuriyama, is similar to the character she plays in the Battle Royale film, Takako Chigusa. V.A. Musetto of the New York Post also compared it to The Condemned, which the critic called "a bad rip-off" of Battle Royale as well as The Most Dangerous Game. Critics have also noted the influence of Battle Royale on other later works, such as the 2008 film Kill Theory, and the 2009 film The Tournament, and have noted similarities with the novel and film franchise The Hunger Games. Battle Royale has also been compared to the manga, anime and film franchise Gantz, and the 2007 video game The World Ends with You.
The 2008 American young adult novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has been accused of being strikingly similar to Battle Royale in terms of the basic plot premise and the world within the book. While Collins maintains that she "had never heard of that book until her book was turned in", Susan Dominus of The New York Times reports that "the parallels are striking enough that Collins's work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a baldfaced ripoff," but argued that "there are enough possible sources for the plot line that the two authors might well have hit on the same basic setup independently." The general consensus in the time since has been one of amicable controversy, especially since the release of the The Hunger Games film adaptation. Battle Royale author Takami said he appreciated fans "standing up" for his book, but stated that he thinks "every novel has something to offer," and that if "readers find value in either book, that's all an author can ask for."
In Marvel Comics, the 2012 release of Avengers Arena, as part of the Marvel NOW! imprint, introducing the plot similar to the film itself, as also the comic's first issue covers bears homage to the film as the main characters posed in the same manner as the film's poster, including the comic's main logo bearing a similar design as the film's logo.
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