Ben Reviews: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale is a gorey horror novel about a junior high school class in an alternate reality fascist Japan. These students are taken to an island and forced to kill each other in a game that would go on to inspire PUBG, Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, etc, etc. The book’s political message is paper thin. The real draw of the novel is the interaction between the students as ordinary junior high school relationships are put to the ultimate test.

Some students willingly play the game. Some students reluctantly accept it. Some would rather die than fight. Some hold out hope for escape. Takami pulls no punches in his descriptions of the hyperviolent slaughter that ensues. Will our heroes Shuya, Shogo, and Noriko be able to survive? Or was Shogo’s secret escape plan nothing more than a long con?

Battle Royale has been a guilty pleasure novel of mine for years. I initially read it during high school, and I couldn’t help but be somewhat captivated by the premise. To this day, I can’t really explain why I like it so much. It’s exploitative in the extreme. There is really no moral or anything of intellectual value. I like it the same way I like a bad drive-in horror movie from the 50’s.

It’s a bit like listening to a sad song when you’re already feeling down because the only way out of the negative emotion is to go through the negative emotion. In a world filled with utterly meaningless violence, Battle Royale steeps itself in meaningless violence to try to find some hope of coming out on the other side.


Content and Ideas 3/5: The students and the game are well developed, but that idea isn’t entirely original. The story also suffers from barely explored political themes that constantly try and fail to explain why the game exists. Whatever Takami was going for with this message, it never fully comes across. The book is vaguely anti-fascist, but it doesn’t have anything to say about fascism other than that it’s bad.

Organization 2/5: The book is constantly jumping from perspective to perspective, often to characters who exist only for a chapter or two. It works to show off the various set pieces and situations that Takami has come up with to make the book exciting and horrific, but it’s not the best way to tell a compelling story.  

Use of Language 2/5: This is difficult to judge as I am reading in translation. It’s possible that this translation is not an accurate reflection of Takami’s writing. The language was often clunky, repetitive and over-explanatory.

Personal Preference 5/5: I love horror. I love over the top violent manga. This book scratches a very particular itch for me. It is a personal favorite and a guilty pleasure. I’m well aware of it’s flaws: technical, logical, and moral. I simply don’t care. I love this book.

Recommendation Strength 2/5: The many flaws in the narrative make this hard to recommend to general audiences, or even casual horror fans. Battle Royale is a very particular kind of exploitation and gore-based thriller that will offend some with its premise and frustrate others with it’s lack of internal logic.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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