Sci Fi Monday — Battle Royale
While discussing The Hunger Games online, I ran into several commentators who said, “Pfft, it’s just a reboot of Battle Royale.” So I considered it a omen when I was at Target last week shopping for Easter items and saw this:
Of course, I tossed it (all 632 pages of it) into my shopping cart in a fit of MUST HAVE NAO. I started reading it in the carpool line on Thursday and finished it the same day, while boiling eggs to dye. Battle Royale is about a totalitarian government which kidnaps a middle school class every year (Japanese school years are different so these kids are in the final year of middle school, about 15 years old). The classmates are forced to fight to the death until only one is left, then that one is paraded on television as a reminder of the government’s control. Ok, so there ARE some parallels with The Hunger Games but only in the sense that they share a similar theme. The similarities are: totalitarian government, kids forced to kill each other, the government uses the game as a form of political intimidation, and the kids in that year find a way to turn the situation to their advantage. There are some marked differences, though:
1) Battle Royale is a lot more violent. There are 42 students, and the majority of them die by violent means. They are assigned backpacks rather than having to fight for them, but the weapons are unevenly distributed to add to the element of chance. One girl ends up with a fork, someone else with a musical instrument, while other students have fully automated weapons. Oh yeah, they get to use guns. And grenades. And there’s some pretty impressive chemical pyrotechnics. Some pretty nasty descriptions of death scenes too. The book was a runaway bestseller in Japan but almost immediately got slapped with accusations that it was exploitative, and it’s easy to see why.
2) There’s no real preliminary. You meet the class as they’ve already been hijacked, and aside from descriptions of some of the main characters at the beginning, you’re thrown straight into the action. Getting to know the characters comes as we watch them fight for survival. There’s quite a bit of flashback used to give character depth, but we don’t really see the action outside of the fighting area. Life in this fictional Japan is described through the memories of the kids and the stories they tell about their families. On the one hand, that makes it a bit easier to regard the bloodshed with some detachment because there’s less of an emotional connection. On the other hand, by the end of the book, you’re really invested in the last few kids.
3) This is an entire class, not a bunch of kids who don’t know or barely know each other. Think about your high school class. Think about the romances, the petty jealousies, the rivalries, the cliques. Yep, they’re all here and they play out as you would expect, with some surprising twists.
4) The battle isn’t televised — the students have collars by which the game makers can track them and blow them up if they try to escape (the collars have detonators). However, there seems to be no interest in having the public watch the game; it’s enough to show them the victor on TV afterwards. Interestingly, we find out that unlike the acceptance people show to the Reaping in the Hunger Games series, some of the parents do protest (and are beaten back) when the government informs them their children have been taken.
5) The level of technology is fairly sophisticated — cell phones and computers are mentioned and used. Food and water is scavenged for, so no need to hunt. That makes it more plausible that urban kids would survive in such an environment.
The reason the book is so long is because of all the flashbacks and explanations, but in the end they make the story stronger and it’s still a pretty quick read. I’m not sure who the target audience for this book is; some people who read The Hunger Games will not like Battle Royale and vice versa. Also, Battle Royale is aimed at an older audience and is definitely not appropriate for the under 13 crowd. I enjoyed it a lot and the final twists and turns in the plot left me breathless. I’ll probably read it again at some point, but it’ll take a while for my first impressions to fade.