by Mike Favila, Editor
Even though any ‘real’ science fiction fan will tell you that Battle Royale: Remastered is the original, I’m going to have to go full disclosure and say that I’ve seen and read Hunger Games first. That being said, my friends ‘in the know’ have always tipped me off to the charms of Battle Royale, so this new edition seemed like a great time to check it out and finally take in the classic.
Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale takes place in a vague future dystopia set in the Republic of Greater East Asia, which could be reasonably taken as Japan. Once a year, 50 middle school students from one class are drugged, fitted with explosive collars, and placed on an island to fight to the death. The winner will be taken care of financial for the rest of their lives, but only after stabbing/shooting/maiming their classmates to survive. Its no wonder Hunger Games is often compared to this brutal classic.
Takami does an amazing job of humanizing what could have easily turned into a straight slasher novel. There are no Young Adult (YA) designations here, as any book company would be hard pressed to market a book about kids with guns to a younger crowd. There is excellent character development, and I could easily tell the differences between the characters, despite the high number of students introduced. Overall, everybody is nuanced and act pretty realistically, even if Greater East Asia country doesn’t exist. Shuya is a great hero, vulnerable yet idealistic. I kept imagining Kiriyama as a murderously psychotic Kuno, from Ranma 1/2. It was interesting to see Takami quote Rumiko Takahashi, when she said that there was a fine line between horror and comedy. In spite of unbelievable circumstances, the students don’t destroy my suspension of disbelief. I was surprised to hear that this is Takami’s only novel so far, since Battle Royale: Remastered comes together fully developed and hardly the work of somebody dabbling in the art. While I haven’t read the original translation, I have to say that I really enjoy this new translation from Nathan Collins. It’s poetic without distracting from the narrative.
After the end of Battle Royale, Takami answers a number of questions prepared by Viz, formatted as an informal interview. It’s very entertaining and casual, like sitting down with an old friend who happens to be famous. He addresses a wide range of topics, like whether he think Battle Royale would ever be turned into a movie (cough Hunger Games), where the title came from, and whether or not he was working on a follow up. Takami is self deprecating and funny, and not afraid to cite his references. This openness just makes him seem more disarming.
Overall, Battle Royale: Remastered lives up to its reputation. It’s an amazingly scary tale about what could go wrong in a society that favors control and discipline. It’s hard to think of children doing these heinous acts, but the real commentary lies in book’s willingness to explode the myth of innocence. Even though it was over 600 pages, I breezed through it over two days, unable to put it down or stop thinking about it. Although I’m not in a rush to see the movie yet (eek!), I can’t wait to revisit Battle Royale: Remastered in the future.
ComicsOnline.com gives Battle Royale Remastered 5 out of 5 kung fu pandas!