Warning: This post isn’t quite as chipper as some of my previous posts. You’ve been warned!
If you’ve never heard of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, think Hunger Games set in a futuristic, dystopian Japan, on steroids (this is obviously a huge oversimplification, but just go with it). There’s been a lot of controversy recently about whether or not Suzanne Collins ripped off Battle Royale, but that’s not the point of this post. In this post, I’m going to explain why I think everyone should read Battle Royale at least once, because despite it not being the best-written book in the world, it has some really important ideas that I think more people should be exposed to.
Reason #1: It makes you take a hard look at yourself
When we read books, we usually end up putting ourselves in the shoes of one of the characters. It’s hard to connect to a story if you don’t do that. But in Battle Royale, the characters are average junior high students trapped on an island, given random weapons, and informed that they have to kill each other or else the collars locked around their necks will explode. Not quite as fun slipping into those shoes, is it?
Battle Royale forces you to put yourself in the position of these teenagers and ask yourself: What would I do in this situation? And it’s such a hard question to answer, because there is no easy answer. My initial response when I started reading the book was that I would hide, try to avoid confrontation, and only shoot to kill in self-defense. Okay, great. Now skip ahead 24 hours, and it’s only you and your best friend alive. One of you has to kill the other, or you both die. What do you do now? Do you trust your best friend not to turn on you? Are you willing to die to let them live? Are you willing to live with the knowledge that you killed them?
It’s a really morbid story, and very depressing to think about. But self-reflection is never a bad thing — how else do we learn about ourselves and try to improve?
Reason #2: It drives home how senseless and tragic violence is
Battle Royale is a heart-wrenching book, and not just because 40 teenagers die for no good reason. The worst part isn’t that they die, but how they die. Two young lovers throw themselves off a cliff because they’re unwilling to even consider harming their classmates. One boy spends the entire game trying to find his best friend and the girl he likes, only to have one die in his arms, and the other panic and shoot him. Another boy comes up with a brilliant plan to tear apart the game and get them all free, but is killed right before he can set his plan in motion.
When you read Battle Royale, there’s a certain part of you that cheers for the two crazy killers who go around riddling their fellow students with machine gun rounds — survival of the fittest and all that. But the rest of you comes away feeling profoundly sad and disillusioned with the glory that the media places on violence and killing, and I think that’s something that everyone needs to feel.
I have many more reasons, but those are the main two. The one I didn’t mention is that Battle Royale is just a really, really good story in general. Again, not terribly well written, but it’s pretty much impossible to put down. So, go forth, read, weep, and enjoy!
Unrelated media of the day:
I read some of the manga. I’m still freaked out by it all these years later.