Battle Royale: Fight to the Death

Battle Royale UK version cover

So, I’ve recently finished reading the English adaptation of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale.

It’s quite the read. Very violent. Very morbid. But ultimately, very thought-provoking.

The novel is set in a fictional totalitarian country called the Republic of Greater East Asia. The government is ruthless. Martial Law is nothing compared to what these people are doing. Everything – yes, everything – is controlled by the so-called Great Dictator. Censorship is brought to a whole new level – anything considered ‘imperialistic’ (in other words, everything not Japanese) is banned. While the government is asserting that this is only in support of nationalism, it’s an extremely exaggerated case of being a closed country.

At the center of it all is the inhumane government military training experiment called The Program. How it falls under ‘military training’ is a mystery. Most of the others, however, simply term to it as a ‘game‘. A ****ed-up game, actually. Through the program, a third year (9th grade) junior high school class is chosen at random. All the members of the chosen class are thrown into an ‘arena’, supplied with limited rations and a certain weapon, and forced to face each other in a fight to the death. Only one can survive. 

It comes as a shock to the 42 students of Third Year, Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School. Of course, anybody would be shocked by this kind of thing. They all had their minds set on a nice school trip but instead, they were forced into The Program.

Their arena is a fairly small island. Escape wasn’t an option as military ships guarded each corner of the island. The students could choose to hide forever but that would lead to death as well. Forbidden zones were designated every three hours in order to force the students to move around. Any one caught in a forbidden zone instantly die, with the tracking collars they were wearing around their necks exploding.

The students all take in their situation in different lights. Several were driven crazy by the pressure, anxiety, and paranoia. Some simply chose to go with the flow and became true players of the game. There were those who chose suicide over getting killed by their classmates, while there were also those who chose to cling to whatever speck of hope there was left.

I can’t imagine how it must feel like to be forced to face your classmates in a death match. Trust is the big issue of concern here. In a rational thought, one would believe that not a single one of one’s classmates would truly want to kill. They belonged to the same class! It’s practically the same as being in the same family. Then again, one would eventually go into thinking, “Just how well do I know these people anyway? Am I really sure they won’t kill? Am I really sure they’re not selfish enough to think only of their own safety at the expense of the lives of other people?”

I certainly admire the spirit the novel’s protagonist, Shuya Nanahara (Male Student No. 15), showed. He was truly persistent in his resolve to escape, to not let the government’s madness get to him. Even before getting caught in the game, he had always wanted to be ‘free’ of the restrictions imposed by the government. His love for rock music certainly made him quite the rebel (rock music was banned on a account of it being from the American imperialists). Furthermore, Shuya’s innate kindness showed as he manifested, through both words and actions, the ever essential trust in his classmates. He figured there was a way to beat the game: all they had to do was work together towards a route of escape. Noriko Nakagawa (Female Student No.15) shares Shuya’s resolve and vows to help him. The two, however, began to see more of the cruelties the situation has forced upon them when they team up with Shogo Kawada (Male Student No.5). He is spot on when he asks, “Are you prepared to be merciless?”. Sometimes, when the circumstances asked for it, one must really be merciless.

Noriko Nakagawa and Shuya Nanahara as they appear in the manga

Battle Royale has been termed to as an exploitative novel and true enough, it puts into light such an unbelievable premise. Eventually turned into a manga and a movie, both with corresponding sequels, it proves to be quite disturbing with all the gore and violence. But in the midst of it all is a relevant thought: In the face of the unspeakable, we must learn to trust each other. Only by working as a team can we defeat the oppressing forces. Only by persisting and never losing hope can we reach a true shining future. 


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