My introduction to Japanese entertainment was during eighth grade, when I accidentally stumbled on the Inuyasha manga while looking at Teen Titans comics, and by the time I hit high school, I was practically a full-blown otaku. During my sophomore year of high school, I was watching anime on YouTube in 15 parts at a time.
That was when I’d first heard of Battle Royale, or at least about the movie. At the time, I’d started watching the Death Note live-action film, and when I was looking up facts about the movie, I learned that the actor who played Light was also known for his role as Shuuya in the film Battle Royale. Further research showed that Battle Royale wasn’t just a movie, it was a movie based on a book — and it was a book that was already available in the US.
Battle Royale, published in 1999 and written by Koushun Takami, follows a class of ninth-graders taken by an authoritarian government and forced to fight in the titular battle royale, killing one another until a single champion remains. It’s often compared to The Hunger Games, but it’s much more similar in tone and style to Orwell’s 1984 or Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a novel about paranoia, suspicion and fear, about the desire to survive and the willpower to make it so.
I was very intrigued. At 15, I was the sort of teenager with a marked fascination with classic dystopian novels, and despite my inability to stomach more than a quarter of Lord of the Flies the year before, I thought Battle Royale — featuring a three-day fight to the death between classmates on an evacuated island — might interest me more than a book about rich boys in a plane crash.
“Might interest me more” was a bit of an understatement.
After I read the book, I immediately watched the movie. I changed my computer background to three different BR-themed wallpapers I would cycle through for two years. I memorized the names of all 42 (!) students on the island. And when I finally found a copy in a bookstore, I bought it right away.
There’s just something about being a teenager that leads a reader to adore books about people in pain. (How else would books like Catcher in the Rye and Perks of Being a Wallflower become such adolescent favorites?) In many ways, being a teenager itself is pain. And for some, a book like Battle Royale — which introduces you to every character’s life and circumstances before cutting them short — may be exactly the thing to show you, the reader, that you’re not alone in your pain… and that things could be a bit worse.
Feliza Casano has an obsession with BR so deep, she’s converted countless individuals to the book and movie and has a rather grotesque BR poster in her living room. She is the editor in chief at Girls in Capes, where she writes for all sections of the site, and she’s the one behind GiC’s Facebook and Twitter. Follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.
If Battle Royale is also one of your favorite things, you can find Feliza’s discussion of the manga side story, ANGELS’ BORDER, here.
More interested in young adult dystopian? You can find Lorraine’s three-part series on dystopian YA and its context within contemporary American culture starting with the first part here.