The Program requires a battle royale between junior high school students from a randomly selected class. This game of horror is founded on fear, and the primitive, automatic desire for survival. A few students choose to consciously kill (such as Kazuo and Mitsuko) while the others murder each other, driven by an overwhelming fear and profound distrust. Kill or be killed. This mentality safeguards the smooth functioning of the game. Why do I refer to it as “the game”? This is not just because I am under the influence of Hunger Games, though I do draw comparisons. Throughout the book there are many references in which the story is injected with and flooded with these stream-of-consciousness sequences. Sometimes it’s an imagined scene of a possible outcome, such as a funeral, often utilized to juxtapose the current situation. Many of these sequences involve some sort of introductions, narrations or ridiculous notions that run through one’s head. I am lacking a proper term for it, so I am describing it as best as I can. The use of these interjections, I think, inevitably turns “the program” into “the game”, because these introductions or narrations are often addressed to an audience, which means the students involved in the program are all spectacles. In chapter 31, Shogo and Shuya discuss whether there is a purpose to this program. There is none, though the government claims this to be beneficial towards the state’s military, to which Shogo responds: “That’s just crazy nonesense. Of course this whole country’s insane, so maybe it’s complete rational.” They are all victims of a crazy regime, a highly well-run country where people are kept ignorant and passive. I recall at some point in this chapter, Shogo criticizes the Japanese’s culture of comformity. The famous Japanese quote: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This novel embodies that quote to the extreme. This kind of socially constructed need or urge to obey the norms and blend in causes the people of the Greater East Asia (unsure of exact name) to passively accept whatever the government has thrown at them. Eventually, do they get used to it?
Compared to Hunger Games, Battle Royale seems a much crueler game. Not only does it compel best friends to murder each other, it instigates a profound corruption and mutiliation of the soul. Everyone is mad with fear. They are 15 year-olds. Their perdicament seems more abrupt and sudden, unlike the Hunger Games, you are more or less mentally “prepared” since you know it is possible for you to get selected as tribute. The glamourization of the Hunger Games (fashion, sponsors, training, media) really overrides the cruelty and insanity of the game. It’s like putting on cosmetics on a newly dead corpse…you make it look better and it seems to look better, but it’s nevertheless demented. Perhaps this is even more nightmarish than the Program, since it is disguised by the popularity and the audience from the Capitol. (But then again, we see the story through Katniss’ eyes, and we are limited by the first-person narrative.) Anyway. I still think there is a difference in mentality, and overall the “climate” is very different. Hunger Games, in many ways, is more like a “competition” with the contestants trying to win. To survive. The Program seems altogether more brutal–or maybe it’s because of the graphic depictions of the violent deaths? Hunger Games is pretty violent, but not as much blood. (This paragraph is turning slightly disorganized…but oh well.)
Anyway. I want to talk abut Shuya. Other than the points I have established before (him being a rather conventional protagonist: rebellious nature, strong sense of justice, etc) he is also an idealist. He believes in the goodness in men for sure–“nobody could be that bad”, he still believes that after witnessing several deaths. This kind of characterization isn’t uncommon in Japanese pop culture–I recall several animes that portray the hero as someone who refuses to conform and succumb to the reality–the reality of the human nature. This kind of character will sacrifice himself for a nobel cause, which will often seem trivial compared to the “larger picture”. For instance, Shuya insists on advancing to the clinic to obtain medical care for Noriko, perfectly willing to severe his alliance with Shogo and ignore their safety. His desire to protect Noriko (a kind of loyalty to his dead friend) is also a common trope as well–“to protect”. A few years ago I came to this juncture that I could no longer endure another Japanese anime with characters screaming “I will protect you no matter what” or variations of that line. It’s really been overdone. But so far Battle Royale hasn’t trampled that convention…since it’s not outrightly spoken. Shuya embodies it as an inner attitude that radiates out of him. That doesn’t particularly interest me or make me admire him, but at least it’s not annoying like many of the animes I have come across. Other than that, I seriosly like Katniss better.
A few thoughts about the other major characters:
– Kazuo the Killing Machine: no emotion due to accident and head injury during childhood. This class is truly diverse in its people, eh? His existence seems a bit far-fetched and it doesn’t feel realistic, even in a dystopian/fiction setting. Of course, he will be one of the primary villains for Shuya to overcome; that’s for sure. He is probably a major obstacle to their final escape/attack plan–I have no idea yet, since I am only halfway through the book.
– Mitsuko the Manipulator: The girl with a disturbing angellic smile, but a demonic heart. She rummages around the picks on the weak. She waits for a brawl to simmer down and finishes the survivor off with ease. Effectively uses tears to deceive other students and to appeal to their sympathy. Her character seems to be one of the conventional tropes as well–the pretty, doll-like, demon girl. It’s also very common in Japanese animes–and the anime vibe is especially strong with her. When I’m reading I keep picture her with a shrill laugh, in a child-like voice that the anime girls tend to have.
– The Class Clown: I forgot his name. But his weapon was a fork? Seriously. A fork. What a joke.
– Shogo the Veteran: again, this class really contains a diverse bunch of people, which makes the novel all the more exciting, I suppose. I mean, considering this is a novelization of a movie (if I read the Forward correctly), it’s a dramatization I am willing to accept. He’s participated and survived the Program before, so he has experience. In the beginning when I see him opening the window upon detecting the gas, I KNEW he had been a survivor.
I think that’s most of my thoughts for now.