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Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Hello Readers & Friends,

A great review for you today! As part of my BAME book haul, I specifically searched for some Japanese authors to support alongside black authors, as I'm half-Japanese myself. Obviously, the first one to come up was Battle Royale. I watched Battle Royale when I was at school, so we're talking over a decade ago, and I couldn't really remember much other than what a rip-off the Hunger Games was! So I decided to get the book and re-investigate.

Much of the premise is identical to the Hunger Games. I couldn't believe that Suzanne Collins was able to rip it off this much and there was no lawsuit. But anyway, let me talk about the similarities:
Both books are set in a dystopian future, and features a group of children forced to fight to the death on an island. Both books have things such as 'danger zones,' lists of the fallen read out at specific times, teams overseeing the game who add in extra obstacles and make bets on the winners, and a corrupt government behind it all.

The main difference between them is that whereas HG focuses solely on Katniss Everdeen, Battle Royale looks into each and every participant of the game, dissecting their past histories and how they inform the decisions they choose to make in the game, which makes it super interesting. Another difference is that whilst in HG the players are randomly selected, in Battle Royale it is a class of schoolmates, meaning they all have pre-existing relationships and histories which make it all the more fascinating, and in my opinion, far superior to anything the Hunger Games could hope to produce.

That said, there is one character which is focussed on slightly more than the others - Shuya Nagahara, who quickly becomes a beloved favourite due to his bravery, loyalty and unwavering belief in the best throughout the story as he tries to protect his best friend's love interest, Noriko, who is injured right at the start. Shuya and Noriko are quickly befriended by the loner transfer student, Shogo Kawada, who ends up being critical to their survival. And, of course, there's the baddies: Kiriyama, leader of the boys group who turns out to be an actual psycopath (no, literally, his chapter explains he feels no emotions), and the broken, Mitsuko Souma who has a dark, dark personal life and takes to slaying all her classmates as a release.

As for the other students, they all have their own backstories and react in very different ways to the game. Some play out of overwhelming fear, distrust and paranoia. Some shy away, hiding and witnessing their friends being killed. Some try to outwit the game, searching for a way to defeat the government. I loved all the characters, though I admit I found it quite hard to follow along with who was who. We already know I struggle with names (Chain of Gold's Matthew, William, Thomas and James was too much for my brain to distinguish!) so I did really struggle climatising to the Japanese names which all are spelt very similarly. On top of this, they used their first and last names interchangeably, so while there were 42 students I felt like I had to memorise 84 names. At the start of the book there was a list with all the students names and numbers which helped, and the first chapter of the book quickly ran through most of the characters so I highlighted their names and descriptors and just kept flicking back to be sure I was on the right path. One example which I found extremely tricky was two best friends, called Yukiko and Yumiko! To me, this is like having two best friends called Sarah and Sara, and having to distinguish between them accurately. But by the end, the five main characters who I already mentioned were well-known enough that I didn't have to think about it at all.

Overall, I think this book will become one of my all-time favourites. It was super fast-paced despite being a chunky 630 pages, and I could barely put it down! Each chapter was short and sweet, and left me wanting more. The translation was great and as I said, I really fell for the main character Shuya and was really rooting for him throughout the story. I also had a soft spot for Kawada and Noriko, so it was nice to have a trio that you really hoped would win, otherwise the book may have fell flat. Obviously I gave it 5 stars!

Love, C x


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