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One of the few times when the film is better than the book
on 28 September 2010
I'm pretty sure you know about 'Battle Royale' - most of us probably having seen the film first, so what does the original book bring to the table if we already know the story?
The simple answer is not that much more. The book itself is quite long and pretty formulaic. In fact, I'm not sure a novel is the best format for the story, and I think it would work better in a comic format - or as we've seen - on the big screen. In fact, I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that perhaps, this is one of the few occasions when the film is better than the book.
That said the book is OK, and the translation from Japanese to English is well done. The author cites Stephen King as one of his main influences and there are clear similarities between their styles of story telling; although Takami is nowhere near King's level of ability (but that's nothing to be ashamed of, as King is considered one of the best story tellers of our time).
One problem I found, or at least that I thought it would be a problem, was the shear numbers (42) of unfamilar Japanese names. In the end though, we only really need to try and learn/remember about 10 of them, as most of them are just cannon fodder to be dispatched in each chapter - this is what I mean when the book becomes a bit formulaic. It's not really a problem, but means there's little suspense and you can guess the twist before they happen. It's one reason I think this would be better in a comic format. However, do expect to get a bit confused when 3 friends are called Yuki, Yuko, Yoki for instance. As I said though, when you know all three will die within the next 10 pages, does it really matter if it's Yuki or Yoki who is shot in the head with a crossbow?
It does go into greater detail than the film with regards to the 'players' and their back stories, but again you don't really get anything more from this and also I found the life stories a little clichéd. For instance the sexually abused girl who becomes a cold hearted killer. I also found that what is obviously ' too cool for school' in Japan, in not so cool in the west and a little cringe-worthy, but this wasn't a huge problem and didn't really spoil my enjoyment, but it did leave you very aware you were ready a Japanese book. Again, this isn't really a problem though.
In the the end this was Takashi's 1st novel and it shows - but it's still a pretty good effort and has gone on to become a cult classic and I'm sure make him a lot of money, so he obviously did something right. That is come up with a good idea for a story. However, as I said before, perhaps that story's better told in other ways.
There are a few extras towards the back of this edition too - such as an interview with the writer himself who, in his own words, is sick of answering questions about this book (and interestingly has yet to write another book) and an interview with the director of the film adaptation.
I read Battle Royale just to say I've read it, really, as it is such a cult story now. I don't regret it - but I doubt I'll ever read it again. I'll just stick on the film.
Overall 7 out of 10.
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