Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami
translated by Yuji Onikj

I'm not obsessed with the Battle Royale books but I spotted the novel on the new book shelf of the library and decided I needed to read the source of manga.

Basic story: 21 male and 21 female students of the Third Year, class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School are transported to an island and equipped with weapons ranging in effectiveness from automatic weapons and hand grenades to a boomerang and a fork. They are released one at a time with only one goal, be the last one alive. The public reason for this game, called The Program, is military research.

Over the next 18 hours, some students try to opt out of the game, some accept it, and most spend the time in absolute panic and despair.The story concentrates on 5 main characters composed of two relative innocents, one weary but basically good person, a cold killer whose lack of emotion is related to a brain injury, and an amoral female who is a victim of her past. The deaths come quickly and graphically. There are acts of heroism, altruism, cowardice, and viciousness.

At the end, we find out that The Program has nothing to do with military research. The supervisor of this program tells a survivor:

Come on, why do you think we have the local news broadcast the image of the winner? Viewers might feel sorry for him or her, thinking the poor student probably didn't even want to play the game, but had no choice but to fight the others. In other words, everyone ends up concluding, you can't trust anyone, right? Which would extinguish any hope of uniting and forming a coup d'etat against the government, hm?
The manga volumes follow the novel closely though the manga give more back-story on the students. The origins of the beautiful, amoral, Mitsuko are described in graphic detail. I won't go into detail about the differences. Wikipedia has several detailed articles that describe the novel, manga, and movie.

I prefer the manga to the novel. The story itself is well suited to a graphic presentation. I am curious how the rest of the manga volumes play out. Volumes 1 to 3 of the manga cover nearly half the novel and there are 15 volumes. I'm expecting a lot more back-story.

I thought that the translation was a bit awkward. It had the odd phrasing that native English-speakers find off-putting. For example, the translator uses the phrases "that's right," "in other words," and "that is" with annoying regularity.

Battle Royals is a provocative book that would make for an interesting discussion on several levels: how would you act in that circumstance, nature vs nurture, would The Program be effective in pacifying the population. It would also be interesting to discuss it alongside Lord of the Flies.