by Koushun Takami
The purpose of the Program is to solicit terror by exercising tyrannism and violence over a group of teenagers. The fact that the government is capable of achieving this kind of total dominance is because it is unpredictable and devoid of moral limits, as evident in the teacher’s death, and the subsequent violation of his corpse to silence the students. Two of the students are brutally and randomly killed before the game (yes, the officials call it a game) to–what? Activate instincts of survival by exposing young, innocent minds to unspeakable horror? For some morbid entertainment–for fun? The casual mentionings of rape and murder are either a true reflection of the soldier’s moral corruption, or they are used to provoke the student, Yoshitoki, whose love for his relative brings him to his death.
From the very beginning, Shuya is describe to be the last one to fall asleep, and the first one to wake up after the students have been gassed. This isolation immediately establishes him above the other students, and his family background gives him an unsettling and explosive edge. His parents had been rebels, and died as the enemies of the state. He also has a strong sense of justice and intolerance for violence. What motivates him, as we find out very early in the story, is revenge–for the death of his best friend Yoshitoki, and perhaps later in the novel–his parents.
Of course, there’s Shogo, unmistakably Shuya’s archenemy in the game, whom Shuya speculates to be a voluntary participant in the games. He has been the second to pass out on the bus, right before Shuya does. He is just as awake as Shuya, and undoubtedly he shall become the major antagonist in the story.
And then, there’s Noriko, who obvious is in love with Shuya, who now possesses a strong need to protect her because of his dead friend, Yoshitoki, who has confessed to have feelings for her. Automatically he places Noriko in his care, despite her wounded leg (shot by the soldiers) will certainly become a burden. Shuya, however, has never thought of relenting or giving in, not even after seeing his teacher’s mutilated corpse, and witnessing the brutal killing of two of his classmates. Right now, his determination: to stay together, as a class. But can his classmates withstand the trials of their humanity under the pressure of survival?
Why is this kind of narrative so attractive and compelling? Like the Hunger Games, Battle Royale concerns mostly of the survival of its characters. I have three conclusions: Firstly, as readers we are, for the most part, enticed and intrigued by the violence and bloodshed. The extreme graphicness provoke both our horror and fascination. At least, for me–I seek more violence as I continue with the novel, mostly due to my interests in gore fests. However, this only applies to any fictional setting since I know it is not real. Secondly, we anticipate the characters’ downfall. As the story goes, their humanity and morality are brutally tested–each and every one of them. Would they yield? Would they abandon their sense of righteousness and succumd to their survival instincts? Would they go mad? How long would they last? These are all questions that we actively seek answers for. We want to know who the winner is. Thirdly, the unpredictability of the government also drives us to pursue the story with passionate interest. The first three chapters have already revealed the ruthlessness of the government officials and their lack of morals and most importantly, limits. How far would they go to push the students to kill each other? What would they do?
Similar to the Hunger Games, the tributes have no idea what the gamemakers will do to them. As soon as we begin reading, we participate in the game as spectators–in some ways we are guilty for passively “allowing” these events to occur–yet the fact it is fictional becomes our moral failsafe. Perhaps, this becomes the incredible allure that draws us into stories like–a world of survival and brutality.
The protagonist Shuya is comparatively more conventional than Katniss Aberdeen. In my opinion, Hunger Games is more character driven because Katniss has a very strong personality. Shuya’s motivations seems obvious and common: revenge (his best friend’s death), rebellious parents and heritage, and strong sense of justice and indignation against the totalitarian regimes. Katniss is much more fascinating and independent–but perhaps, I am judging too quickly. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I don’t know how Shuya will develop as a character. I shall wait and see. Maybe he won’t end up the hero after all. Maybe he’ll stray and end up a villain, who knows.