Puppets and Strings: “Battle Royale” and Large Casts

If You Like…

  • The Hunger Games
  • Game of Thrones
  • Backstabbing and intrigue
  • Haunted house scenarios

Then You’ll Like…

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

dangnabbitIf you’re interested in reading Battle Royale, be warned that there may be spoilers ahead.

The first time I read Battle Royale, I was working in a used book shop. It was a tiny, converted storage room in the back of my neighborhood library that had been transformed into a place where every dog-eared copy was priced under $2. It was volunteer work, and for the most part was pretty boring. The only customers were the old ladies who came looking for a tattered copy of Danielle Steele or James Patterson, or kids buying feed for the ducks in the pond just outside. So, when days were extra slow, I would peruse the shelves myself. I spent many a dollar in that store, and still have most of those books today. I came across Battle Royale one day. I had heard of the infamous tale, had seen clips of the bloody film adaptation, and some pages of the manga (but the art was too butch for my taste). I had no idea that it had started as a novel, so I picked it up, slipped a dollar into the cash box and started reading.

I finished the book that day. A few hours volunteering, then hours on my bed spent finishing it, without any regard for my homework. I was engrossed in the story of kids my age who were forced to fight each other.

For those who haven’t heard of Battle Royale, it’s the novel that many complained that The Hunger Games had ripped off. As it were, the premises are eerily similar. A group of older children are dropped into an arena and forced to kill each other off for the amusement of those in government power. Where The Hunger Games tributes were pulled by lottery and considered it an “honor” to represent their district, Battle Royale  involves a single class of Japanese high school students who are tricked into the game, drugged, and transported to the arena unwillingly.

We all have a bloody side of us that we like to feed. Some of us feed it through mindless action films, steaming erotica, or stories of serial killers. For me, I’ll admit that I was attracted to the sheer violence of the story, and the incredible empathy I felt for the characters. Which ones, you ask?

Well, that’s what I’d like to talk about today: how Battle Royale handled a large cast of characters with relative ease, and how that impacted the story. The only other work that handles a large cast beautifully is “Game of Thrones” but I haven’t read the books, so I can’t speak for them.

The More, the Merrier

After consuming Battle Royale, I had the revelation that I loved stories with a large cast of characters right off the bat. It would explain why a lot of books that I return to time and again (The Dresden Files, Red Rising Trilogy, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, “Game of Thrones”, etc) all have this in common: characters so numerous that you often need to build a tree to keep up. One of the earliest stories I wrote had a cast of about 20 characters all within the first 50 pages.

I personally like to revel in discovering the hidden relationships between characters, understanding where they all stand, and what their histories are. Battle Royale entails a class of 40 students who are gradually killed off, but even as you know that they will eventually meet their end, Koushun Takami still takes the time to let you learn about them. It’s a very bittersweet sword to swallow.

IMG_1428One major complaint I heard from a fellow reader was that she was often confused with all the Japanese names. Having learned some Japanese in high school, I didn’t really have trouble, but I could see where she was coming from. It’s true that names are similar in this book, including two girls who publicly acknowledge how their names are only one syllable in difference. But what Takami does skillfully is he still gives each student a personality to identify with. It’s a skill that’s desperately needed with this many characters.

While we have a main trio that we follow for most of the book, the other students are not forgotten. We delve into their past, how their relationships with others stood before they were sent to the arena. I’m not usually a fan of flashback, but in this case it was necessary and only added tension to the tale. It was heartbreaking to see some characters barely make amends, or succumb to their vices, before being killed. But one thing I can say for sure is that I couldn’t put the book down at all.

If you’re looking for something fast-paced or full of characters, I recommend Battle Royale. Unlike The Hunger Games and it’s singular narrator in Katniss, you get a plethora of voices and perspectives that can make you question every move they make. And just who survives to win the game? You’ll have to read and see.

Will Make You Feel Like: Fall in love with multi-character perspectives

Music to Listen to While Reading: Classic Rock ‘n Roll

Publisher: VIZ, LLC ( I believe the book has been re-published by Haika Soru recently)

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