Fourty-two teenagers, lethal weapons, minimal supplies, one survivor. Hunger Games? No, Battle Royale. Before The Hunger Games skyrocketed to its place at the top of the best seller list, Battle Royale was released in 1999 in Japan. Portraying a dystopian Japan under a totalitarian government, author Koushun Takami sets a grim stage for his characters to walk upon.
What makes Battle Royale distinct from The Hunger Games?
Why should we bother reading both when a familiar one with easily pronounceable Western names would suffice?
To start, Battle Royale is a book that is geared towards a far more mature audience. While the plot of the book is generally the same, The Hunger Games’ depiction of the Capitol in all its whimsical corruption and the way friendships are so easily formed among the tributes, brings a certain levity to the story. Not so with its Japanese counterpart. In Battle Royale this is not a game to bring amusement so much as a calculated study. Forcing third year junior high students (eighth graders) to fight to the death is bad enough; bringing in students from the same class adds a new level of drama and tension. Minor characters receive nearly as much time in the spotlight as the central protagonists, allowing readers to grasp the complexity of the students’ relationships, which range from open animosity to romance. And speaking of romance, it played a major role in The Hunger Games, but Battle Royale focuses more on survival in the harshest of situations.
Koushun Takami paints vibrant characters against a gritty backdrop. The cover shuts on the conclusion of a bloody swath of devastation recounted in such a way that the most grotesque death is depicted in a vivid way that can only be described as beautiful. The story comes to life, characters breathe on the drawing readers into their world, a world ruled by fear, instinct, and desperate hope.