First edition cover, as published by Ohta Shuppan.
Published in English
|February 26, 2003|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Battle Royale (Japanese: バトル・ロワイアル Hepburn: 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 Horror Fiction Awards but was eventually rejected in the final round due to its content. Upon publication in 1999, the novel became a surprise bestseller.
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 both controversial and successful, becoming one of the year's highest-grossing films as well as prompting condemnation by Japan's National Diet. The film spawned a sequel, and two more brief manga adaptations were also created.
Battle Royale takes place in a fictional police state version of Japan in the year 1997. The state, known as the Republic of Greater East Asia (大東亜共和国 Dai Tōa Kyōwakoku), originated after a population uprising was put down by the combined military and police forces. From time to time, fifty randomly selected classes of third-year junior high school students are forced to take arms against one another until only one student in each class remains in what is officially called the Battle Experiment No. 68 Program (戦闘実験第六十八番プログラム Sentō Jikken Dai Roku Ohako Puroguramu). The Program was created, supposedly, as a form of military research, with the outcome of each battle publicized on local television. A character discovers that the Program is not an experiment at all, but a means of terrorizing the population. In theory, after seeing such atrocities, the people will become paranoid and divided, preventing another uprising.
Under the guise of a "study trip", a group of students from Shiroiwa Junior High School (城岩中学校 Shiroiwa Chūgakkō), a junior high school operated by the fictional Kagawa Prefecture town of Shiroiwa, are corralled onto a bus and gassed, only to awaken in a school on an isolated, vacated island, wearing metal collars around their necks. After being briefed about the Program by Kinpatsu Sakamochi, the students are issued survival packs and a random weapon or a tool, and sent out onto the island one by one. While most of the students receive guns and knives, some acquire relatively useless items like boomerangs, dartboard darts, or a fork. Hiroki Sugimura finds a radar device that tracks nearby students, and Toshinori Oda receives a bulletproof vest.
To make sure the students obey the rules and kill each other, the metal collars around their necks track their positions, and will explode if they linger in a "Forbidden Zone" or attempt to remove the collars. The Forbidden Zones are randomly chosen areas of the map that increase in number as time goes on, re-sculpting and shrinking the battlefield and forcing the students to move around. The collars secretly transmit sound back to the organizers of the game, allowing them to hear the students' conversations, root out escape plans, and log their activities. The collars also explode if the students go a full day without anyone dying.
In the end, only four students remain: Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, Shogo Kawada, and antagonist Kazuo Kiriyama. There is a car chase and shootout between them and Kiriyama is killed. Kawada fakes Nanahara and Nakagawa's deaths and boards a ship with the soldiers and Sakamochi. When Sakamochi reveals that Nanahara and Nakagawa are alive and attempts to execute Kawada, Kawada kills him. Nanahara and Nakagawa board the ship and kill the soldiers on board and meet up with Kawada, who succumbs to his own wounds and dies. Heeding Kawada's advice, Nanahara and Nakagawa escape to the mainland, where they become fugitives.
- Shuya Nanahara – An orphan whose parents were killed for taking part in anti-government activities. Shuya is a self-proclaimed "rock star," listening to and playing rock 'n' roll music in spite of the ban on the genre. After the death of his best friend Yoshitoki Kuninobu, he vows to protect Kuninobu's crush, Noriko Nakagawa, in his stead.
- Noriko Nakagawa – A quiet, reserved girl who teams up with Nanahara from the beginning and becomes a sort of love interest. She is shot in the leg by a soldier before the Program starts.
- Shogo Kawada – A transfer student from Kobe that is one year older than the rest of the class and covered in scars. He is a loner and, unbeknownst to his classmates, won the Program the previous year. He teams up with Nanahara and Nakagawa with a plan to escape the island together.
- Kazuo Kiriyama – The leader of delinquents, who is also the smartest and one of the most athletic students in the class. He feels no emotion due to damage suffered in an accident while in utero, leading to a partial lobotomy. He actively takes part in the Program, killing his fellow students without remorse.
- Mitsuko Souma – The beautiful leader of a female gang. Having been sexually abused several times as a child, Souma actively takes part in the Program, using her sexuality to kill her male classmates.
- Kinpatsu Sakamochi – The government official in charge of supervising this year's Program. He is stocky, with long hair reaching his shoulders, and ruthless.
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 Horror Fiction Awards (ja:日本ホラー小説大賞), which took place in March 1998, because of its controversial content. Masao Higashi, who took part in the award's preliminary selection committee, later suspected this was due to its backdrop of students killing each other being too reminiscent of the Kobe child murders committed the previous year. Battle Royale was first published in April 1999 by Ohta Publishing. 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.
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 revision of Oniki's 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 released a new translation by Nathan Collins on April 1, 2014, under the title Battle Royale: Remastered. They also published The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami on the same day, which includes 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 from 2000 to 2005. It was collected into fifteen tankōbon volumes, and published in North America by Tokyopop from 2003 to 2006.
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 and later combined into one tankōbon volume on January 20, 2012. The single volume was published in North America by Viz Media on June 17, 2014.
Battle Royale was adapted into a 2000 feature film of the same name, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and written by his son Kenta Fukasaku. The film was also controversial and successful, with it being condemned by members of Japan's National Diet on grounds of it being harmful to the youth, yet becoming one of the year's highest-grossing films. It was followed in 2003 by Battle Royale II: Requiem.
In June 2006, Variety reported that New Line Cinema, with producers Neal 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 Mark 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.
Upon publication in 1999, Battle Royale became a bestseller in Japan. The novel was earlier entered into the 1997 Japan Horror Fiction Awards, but was eventually rejected in the final round with no winner that year. All three members of the final round's selection committee that year admitted Battle Royale was the best work, but declined to award it due to its controversial content. Hiroshi Aramata said that while it was the best nominee in terms of "story, structure, and subject matter," he felt it was too much of a Kinpachi-sensei parody and suspected its content would cause problems. Katsuhiko Takahashi felt that although it was the superior work as far as its construction as a novel, giving the award to a story about students killing each other at "this time" would hurt the reputation of the competition. Mariko Hayashi said that while she believed it was the best of the four novels, it was like reading an "unpleasant near-future manga" and "No matter how squarely it might be horror or how interesting it might be, I'm not so sure we should be writing stories like this." 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 has been critically acclaimed abroad. In Entertainment Weekly, 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."
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."
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, the 2009 film The Tournament, and the 2016 film The Belko Experiment, and have noted similarities with the novel and film franchise The Hunger Games. The manga, anime and film franchise Gantz and the 2007 video game The World Ends with You have both been compared to Battle Royale.
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. 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."
The 2012 comic Avengers Arena has a similar plot to Battle Royale. Additionally, the cover of its first issue bears a homage to the Battle Royale film poster; featuring the main characters posed in the same manner and a similarly designed logo.
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- Lord of the Flies, a 1954 dystopian novel about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island
- The Running Man, a 1982 science fiction novel in which contestants, allowed to go anywhere in the world, are chased by "Hunters" employed to kill them
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Like Battle Royale crashed into Wings of Desire with courtesy breasts, Gantz throws everyday people into a life-or-death conflict, but focuses on their humdrum musings — what to wear, how to impress girls, who gets the rocket launcher.
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