Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

8 July, 2012 Reviews 18 comments

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun TakamiBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
Series: Standalone
Published by VIZ Media on February 26th 2003
Pages: 617
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.

Dear all fans of the Hunger Games (both the book and the movie),

Don’t you just love the Hunger Games? Let’s look back at a great part. Remember that time when Katniss and Peeta got attacked by a tribute that had gone insane? Yeah, and then Katniss and the tribute went tumbling down the hill. But when they made it to the bottom of the hill the tribute had his hatchet lodged in his head. Then Rue saw Katnis standing over the dead body, and thought that Katniss was a brutal killer. Remember that? No? That’s probably because that didn’t happen in the Hunger Games. It happened in Battle Royale (with different characters, of course).

It pains me to say I picked up Battle Royale because of the whole BR-HG dispute. I’d already read HG, and I wanted to see how it stacked up with Battle Royale, and after reading it, I have something to say to all of you HG fans…

Sorry guys, but HG can’t hold a candle to Battle Royale. BR does so much more with the fight-to-the-death premise than Hunger Games did. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hunger Games! But Battle Royale succeeds at such higher levels in every category. Let me explain in more detail…

Author Koushun Takami somehow manages to create 40+ vivid characters with their own hopes, beliefs, traits, physical qualities, and fears. It’s interesting to see how these things affect how the novel goes on. One person might turn into the ultimate killing machine while another may try to form a group to escape the island. From the fearful Megumi Eto to the psychopathic Mitsuko Souma, (who might be one of the saddest characters in literature) everyone is compelling in their own way. All 42 students, the program instructor, and some parents of the students, are mentioned and most have backstories. This is a change from the Hunger Games, where Suzanne Collins chooses to focus on about 10 characters, and Katniss narrates the whole story.

After reading Battle Royale, I probably looked something like this:

It took a while for me to realize what just hit me, and before it did I was in awe. But when it did hit me I looked like this:

That’s right. There was action. There was betreyal. There was romance. There were tragic deaths. There were lucky breaks. There were unlucky life-ending mistakes. There was a bunch of other stuff that makes you wan to throw up and cry and jump up and down at the same time. That’s the kind of effect Battle Royale had on me, and will have on you.

I do some small problems with BR.
  • The translation wasn’t as great as it could have been. It doesn’t hinder the plot, but a “him” is called a “her” every once in a while and some helpful adjectives are left out.
  • I’d have appreciated a little more world building before we got into the action.
  • I feel like there wasn’t enough about Yukie’s group and about Mizuho Inada. These characters weren’t killed off in the beginning of the novel but weren’t talked about much there either.


If you’re looking for gore, Battle Royale is your kind of book. There’s lots of blood, people lose their insides, and necks get snapped. No, it’s not for those with light stomachs, but the rest of us will be satisfied with the action. One of the strong points about BR is that it’s not all action and death. There’s also a psychological element to it. Part of the novel is describing how some characters descend into madness, while others keep their cool.
So Hunger Games fans, in case I haven’t been clear enough, you must read Battle Royale. As great as Hunger Games is, it’s just not as good as Battle Royale. Read BR, and you’re eyes will be opened to a new kind of death match.
Read until your eyes fall out,
Jay Jason
Jay Jason
Don't worry about it if you disagree with my reviews. You'll just have an undesirable job when I take over the world. Find him on GoodReads.
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18 Responses to “Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami”

  1. Yael Itamar

    I loved both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. But while I loved how Battle Royale did more with the “fight to the death” premise, I don’t necessarily know if it did it “better.” I thought the huge cast of characters was actually a detriment; while some of the characters were really well-realized, many of them felt more like archetypes than actual characters. Although THG had fewer characters and fewer perspectives, I felt like I was more connected with them than with the characters in BR.

    And while it’s true to say that Koushun Takami analyzes the themes with more depth, I’m not sure this is something that made it a ‘better’ book. In THG, there is a lot that the reader doesn’t know (especially when it comes to most of the characters), and that makes you think a lot more about the book. In BR, it often seems like the author does all the thinking for you, and it leaves very little for you to wonder about on your own.

    With that said, they are both great books.
    Yael Itamar recently posted…Dear America: It is NOT a surprise that Europe is better than you at scienceMy Profile

    • Jay Jason

      @Yael Itamar: You have good points about both books. However, I think that there is still an element of mystery in Battle Royale when it comes to the characters. For instance, you might know that one person is going insane, but you don’t know how that person will act while insane or where they will go and how they will interact with other people. Both books have a mystery aspect, which is part of the reason they are both so intriguing.
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  2. Isabelle Doan

    I’ve been a bit wary of Battle Royale. In general, people who say that Hunger Games is a rip off of Battle Royale are also the people who say that the Nazis took the Swastika from the Hindu. Which is true, but not always said because people care. They just want to be cool.

    However, you presented a lot of good points in this book, so I may just have to check it out now.
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  3. Kate- Midnight Book Girl

    Luckily I read Battle Royale a few years before Hunger Games, and it was actually one of the reasons HG appealed to me. Personally I think HG is a cross between Battle Royale and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, but I really try not to compare them too much. Hunger Games was geared towards YA, while Battle Royale wasn’t. BR really got me into Japanese lit, along with the Ring trilogy (Ring, Spiral, Loop), and I’m glad that you can finally get the original BR movie here now. I had an old, poorly subtitled, copy bought off Ebay before the movie was finally sold here. And yes, I did watch the movie before I read the novel, but it’s actually pretty faithful to the book.
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  4. Nina Reads

    I read Battle Royale a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. Mitsuko is one of my favorite characters of all time, just because there are so many layers to her personality, and she’s one of the few characters who actually work in the movie adaption as well.

    If you want to read another similar story (which I liked more than BR and HG), you should check out The Long Walk by Stephen King!
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    • Jay Jason

      @Kate C.: I had to go on a little hunt to find it. The kindle store didn’t have it so I had to venture out of my home to the local Barnes and Nobel to get it. It was worth the 20 minute trip, though.
      Jay Jason recently posted…Book Review: AshfallMy Profile

  5. Archer


    Awesome review. I feel the exact same way about this book and it is most definitely due a re-read soon. I do wish that mor of the HG fans would check this out as it does a similar situation far better.

  6. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    I agree with you. When I reviewed this, I also went through the Hunger Games comparison. One of the things that was most obviously similar was that the kid who basically carried Shuya and Noriko through Battle Royale (don’t remember his name) was in it for the second time. Can you say Catching Fire? I do like THG more than you do, but I definitely cannot imagine for a moment that Suzanne Collins was not HEAVILY influenced by Koushun Takami.

    The translation in the pictured version is definitely awful; I read that one as well. I really wish I could read Japanese (for many reasons), but partially so I could read a non-translated edition and find out whether the issue is with the writing or the translation for sure. I have wondered if the newer edition has improved on that. The awkwardness of the translated writing definitely got in my way for the first part of the book. I eventually got used to it, but it was definitely clunky.

    The world building was definitely lacking. When I try to describe this book to people, I definitely have trouble explaining why this happens. Mostly because the government is sadistic and the Japanese love reality TV is about all I’ve been able to put together. This, too, does seem to carry over to THG, although Suzanne Collins does make more of a stab at explanation later, from what I remember.

    The differences between the manga, movie and novel are really fascinating. I went through them all back to back and was not bored, which I think is impressive. The manga adds a shload of back story, some of which is awesome and some which I hated, and also makes Shuya and Noriko defend themselves a bit more.
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  7. Chris

    I only heard about this after The Hunger Games came out, and I’ve been curious to read it. I wasn’t crazy about THG, either. I agree that it didn’t do a very good job of developing its characters. Even Katniss was flat, for me, though the book was written from her perspective, and everyone seemed somewhat oblivious to the fact they were living in a brutal society. I’ll have to read Battle Royale to compare.
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  8. Cyna

    Hm. As a fan of both, I think you’re kind counting Hunger Games out here. I’m genuinely curious to know how you thought they stacked up against each other in other ways besides the action aspect? You said that “Bat­tle Royale suc­ceeds at such higher lev­els in every cat­e­gory”, but really only make comparisons in the number of characters and the action and the gore.

    One of my favorite parts about HG was how it was tailored to take on distinctly American issues (violence in media, reality tv, glitz and excess, desensitization to violence, etc), and I think in that respect, it has a little more versatility than BR, at least for American audiences. From what I understand, BR was at least partially a commentary on the Japanese educational system, as well as a look at the lengths to which people will go to survive, but the former of which is probably lost on most of the American audience.

    Anyway, point is, I wouldn’t point to one or the other, as “better”, personally. I think they’re two different books that use the same premise to address different subjects, and putting one over the other seems to lessens the value of both 🙂
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