Battle Royale

In Novel on November 11, 2004 at 2:55 am

battleroyale-thumb.jpgBattle Royale (1999)
by Koushun Takami

The premise sounds great: A class of junior high students were forced to participate in a survival game on an isolated island conducted by a (hypothetical) Fascist government. Each were given a random weapon, ranged from utter useless things to a machine gun. They have to kill off each other within 3 days until one survivor remained, or else the collars locked on their neck will explode.

But the execution? Juvenile, cliche-ridden and full of goosepimple-worthy cheesy sappy soggy soap opera. I mean I didn’t expect some respectable literature (though some people did compare it to Lord of the Flies and 1984), it is basically a violent exploitative pulp fiction with a youth appeal. But it IS trying to be a hard-hitting badass controversial book calling out to youth. Maybe teenagers do respond to all those sappy, angsty, silly teenage soap-opera and cliche characterizations, which take up most of the pages of the book. A little dark humor could have given it a bit more edge. Like a lot of Japanese stuffs I don’t like, it felt contrived. It claimed to be high-octane thriller but hell all the angsty love-fest surely kills the thrills. Too much soap-opera, not enough actions and suspense. Nah…actually why it failed as a thriller was because the characters, plot and dialogues are too ridiculously predictable. Well to be fair it is quite an entertaining read sometimes but I too often got distracted and annoyed from rolling my eye. Major disappointment!

I haven’t seen the movie adaptation yet, now after reading the book I’m not so sure. Only a director with dark wit and biting edge could turn it into what it could have been — a punk rock novel celebrating youth idealism and fuck the adults/establishment/authoritarian.

You have your every student archetype in this class: nerds, jocks, elite genius, otaku, rich snobs, idol-worship girl, christians, student representative, delinquents, anti-social loner, fat kid, queer, bully and the bullied, etc. All characters are unbelievable as they were two-dimensional caricatures. The individual background stories are all repetitive and uninteresting. Nearly everyone has a crush on someone else in the class that are worth dying/killing for. How many times do we have to go through “He/She have crush on her/him, he/she gotta tell her/him he/she loves her/him” over and over and OVER AGAIN!?!?!?!? One of the major subplot in the book involved this boy wanted to find this girl, and it was setup throughout the entire book as if it’s some huge-ass mystery, “oooohhh why does he want to see her so bad!????” Oh yeah such great mystery to solve puhleaze~~~ According to this book, junior high school crushes are the most important, powerful thing ever. Alas, power of (young) love.

I understand that the characters are young, so the juvenile dialogues and thinkings merely reflect their age. But even when I was that age I could never relate to these way too overhyped “power of school-crushes.” It’s really hard for me to engage in the situation and emotion. Maybe I’m too old and cynical.

The Fascist government echoed the one in Orwell’s 1984. Given the author quote Orwell at preface so he meant for the parallelization. Except that in 1984 “love, trust and triumph of human spirit” can be broken easily. BR, a supposedly shock-novel, just couldn’t do anything for me. There’re so much details on gore, blood and psychological profile on fear but even with all that added up it just couldn’t compare to 1984‘s violent assault on mind+sense’s and the fear it induced.

As for the comparison to Lord of the Flies by William Golding (some called BR “this generation’s Lord of the Flies”), in which kids lost their moral and humanity without adults, the system and social contraint. BR is reverse: the adult/system forced the moral and humanity out of the kids. So it reminded me more of Orwell than Golding. The only resemblence is the kids killing each other part.

What started out as quite an interesting frightening character, Kazou Kiriyama, an elite genius who has everything in all-around perfection: great looks, superhuman IQ, rich and powerful family, superhuman reflexes/strength, master martial arts skill, etc. However he has no emotion nor moral core because of brain damage. He just turn into a boring and tiring robotic killing machine half way.

There’s another cool character, Shogo Kawada, a loner/transfer student with mystery past with thuggish face and laid back “devil may care” attitude and ended up as a powerful allied to the main character (in fact he did all the work, plan everything and saved everybody). I’ve been anticipating the rival fight between Shogo and Kiriyama, but turns out it’s not spectacular, what a let down. He’s that type “he looked like a badass but our hero choose to trust him and he’s been saving their asses, and at the twist climax he revealed to be actually ever-so-evil and betrayed the heroes…then another twist: turns out it’s all an act and he’s really a trustworthy good guy all along.” And the mystery past had to do with some sappy tragic love thing…argh… But he’s the only character that stood out for me.

Another killing machine is this delinquent girl, Mitsuko Souma, she’s slightly more interesting than Kazou. At least she isn’t a machine gun-firing robot. Without any special talent and powerful weapon, she relied on her acting, sexuality, charm and good looks to do away people. More variety at least.

The main character are blah…typical embodiment of Japanese youth idealism who’s ever noble, loyal, righteous and got the heroic mentality as if everyone is his responsbility. His rock-music interest a bit cringe-worthy too, always citing lyrics and how cool his guitar-playing was…very foolishly juvenile. The heroine is your typical harmless average love-interest girl whose only reason of existence is 1) providing heroic motivation for main character, 2) harmless maternal type who warmth men’s wounded soul and 3) non-threatening (to men) existence that get rewarded with getting the guy and ultimate survival (while the independent girls who fight for themselves in good and bad ways all died horribly).

The translation is pretty bad, please hire a better editor! There were tons of mistakes (grammar, punctuation, typo) that even someone with poor grammar like me couldn’t resisted using my pencil to mark here and there. Some of the paragraphs were almost unreadable because of clunky sentences.

p.s. saw the movie, irked by bad acting and equally bother by the ‘pure love’ angle and the ‘pure harmless girl who doesn’t do anything is every man’s salvation’

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