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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

TITLE: Battle Royale 
NARRATOR: Mark Dacascos
PUBLISHER:  Simon & Schuster Audio
PUBLICATION DATE: September 4, 2012 (first published April 1999)
FORMAT: Unabridged audiobook, 19 hrs and 30 mins
GENRE: Science Fiction/Dystopia, Thriller
ISBN: 9781442357501
Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, is one of Japan's best-selling - and most controversial - novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television. A Japanese pulp classic available in English for the first time, Battle Royale is a potent allegory of what it means to be young and survive in today's dog-eat-dog world. The first novel by small-town journalist Koushun Takami, it went on to become an even more notorious film by 70-year-old gangster director Kinji Fukusaku.


I received this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any compensation for my review, and the views expressed herein are my own. 

Battle Royale totally blew me away! Not only is it my favourite read of 2012, but it is also one of my favourite reads of all time! This book was originally written in Japanese and translated into English.

I love survival stories, and Battle Royale is the ultimate in survival. The book starts off innocently enough, with a group of 15-year-old students setting out on a field trip. Unbeknownst to them, they have been chosen to participate in the government’s sadistic reality game. The students are gassed in the school bus and awaken to find themselves in a classroom on an island with steel collars around their necks. They are told that their class has been chosen to take part in a battle simulation program conducted by the Republic of Greater East Asia’s ground defense forces which they say they instituted for security reasons. It is officially known as the “Battle Experiment 68 Program,” and it was first held in 1947. Fifty third-year junior high classes are selected annually to conduct the program for “research purposes.” The classmates in each class are forced to fight until one survivor is left. The final survivor from each class is awarded with a lifetime pension and a card autographed by the nation’s Dictator. The numbers are staggering. If fifty classes of 40 students are selected each year, that means that 1,950 teens are killed annually assuming that there is a winner from each class! The students are each given a duffel bag at random which contains one weapon and nominal rations of bread and water. If the students think that they can refuse to participate, they are sadly mistaken because those collars are wired to an explosive which will be activated if there are no deaths within 24 hours.

I can think of nothing more terrifying than being forced into such a situation: Kill or be killed. I would like to think that I would know how I would react if faced with such an ultimatum, but the reality is that one’s survival instinct would likely kick in. Some will choose to commit suicide because they cannot bear to be hunted. Others will try to band together to form an alliance, but how do you know who you can trust? At some point, the group will have to turn on each other because there can be only one survivor. To ensure that participants play the game, forbidden zones are implemented and rotated throughout the island so that everyone will have to keep moving. It is not possible to simply hide until the end.

Takami had me literally hanging on every word. It felt like I was watching a horrific car accident but couldn’t tear myself away. This tale is not for the squeamish, as it is quite graphic. I was riveted to the story, and Takami’s character development was fantastic! Kinpatsu Sakamochi, the Director of the Program, was a deliciously evil antagonist, who I loved to hate! My favourite characters were: Shuya Nanahara (the rock star wannabe), Noriko Nakagawa (the girl who Shuya’s best friend was crushing over), and Shogo Kawada (the dangerous loner). If I had to describe it in one word, I would say it was “intense.” I was horrified by the violence and brutality, choked up over the compassionate of some of the students who still managed to retain their humanity in such a desperate situation, and I wept with sadness during some of the more heartfelt moments. By the end of the book, I felt like I had gone through the wringer!

This is my first narration by Mark Dacascos, and his voice was clear and distinct. He did not try to make any vocal characterizations, but simply read the book. That is not to say that Dacascos was boring, because he was not. His voice still conveyed emotion, and his pace was excellent. Because the game starts off with 42 students, it was a little difficult in the beginning trying to keep track of who each character was, especially with all of the unfamiliar Japanese names. Dacascos could have made it a bit easier by giving each character a distinctive voice. However, it was because of all the Japanese names that I was glad that I was listening to the book rather than reading it because I could hear the way the names were meant to be pronounced rather than me trying to figure it out!

A film based on the book was produced in 2000. I have not had a chance to see it yet, but I plan to watch it.

If you are a fan of survival stories and like fast-paced thrillers and are not put off by graphic violence, look no further! I highly recommend it!! You won’t be disappointed!


5 stars!! It was superb! I loved it, and I will likely re-read it again in the future! You should definitely read it! Thanks to Simon and Schuster Audio for the opportunity to review this audiobook!

This book qualifies as: 


  1. wow..i love the premises of this tale and the world building sounds awesome.. so glad it was translated to English!

  2. I've heard that The Hunger Games was sort of based on this? Regardless, this original sounds absolutely stunning! I love books that are like a train wreck - you don't want to continue because it's so horrific, but you can't look away!

    I've been meaning to read more international speculative fiction anyways, and this certainly fits the bill for that too.

    1. Hi, littleredreviewer! I actually haven't read The Hunger Games yet myself but, based on internet chatter, it appears that people do compare it to Battle Royale. A big difference, though, is that The Hunger Games is geared to YA while Battle Royale is quite violent and graphic and (in my opinion) not suited for YA.


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