I finally finished reading Battle Royale. A few things I want to talk about in this post. First, a brief recap of my book club meeting: all of us agreed that it’s incredibly violent, and also on the suspension of reality or the deliberate manipulation of plot to ensure the survival of the protagonists. Three of my friends deemed the violence unnecessary and excessive, which is the majority, remarking on the discomfort the story has caused them while they were reading. I think the violence is necessary, however, and this book is meant to be disturbing to unsettle the readers emotionally. Without the graphic and meticulous descriptions of violence and gore, such effect would not be possible.
The essence of this novel consists of: one, totalitarian and absolute control vs absolutely helplessness and inanity. The characters remain passive, reacting rather than acting. The circumstances of the game force them to confront a sort of primitive fear, and this fear takes over killing becomes second nature–shoving guilt and conscience aside. Second, of course, is the inevitable violence and cruelty that results from that. The game operates and functions on fear. Save Kazuo, who is psychologically “damaged” and devoid of empathy, the others just want to live, and are terrified of the very thought of death. This fear has be to real, it needs to manifest into the physical world through violence–for the story to create a sufficient impact on our psyche. If “death” is just “death”–it’s too abstract for us to grasp. Of course we know what death entails. But death needs to be real, because it’s real for the characters, and for the story to be real, death has to be real for us, the readers, too. We need to see Takako gauges out someone’s eyes (forgot his name). We need to see Mitsuko pretends to cry and slit Yukiko’s (that’s her name, I think). We need to hear the sounds of the machine guns next to our ears, watch the blood burst out of one’s veins, and feel the explosion of brain-guts splashed onto our dismayed faces. That’s why I think violence is absolutely necessary in this book, because it is a story about an absolute government, hosting a game that operates on absolute fear, which ultimately leads to absolute chaos and brutality.
Okay–I want to talk about Mizuho, who appears briefly in chapter seventy, and dies immediately at the end of that three-paged chapter. She imagines and perceives herself as warrior Prexia Dikianne Mizuho from the Land of Light–under the command of her honoured god, the God of Light, who speaks to her in her thoughts. Without any further background information on this character, I assumed that she begins to hallucinate as the game progresses to block out the harsh reality that she now exists in. She transports herself to another reality to escape the present world, in which her classmates slaughter each other to survive. She encounters Kazuo, and having been commanded by the God of Light, embarks on a mission to slay him. She charges at him with a dagger, which in her mind transforms into a glowing, magic sword–
and without even looking, Kazuo raises his hand and fires twice. Cold. Mizuho, dead. You can almost say this is a pointless episode, if only to illustrate Kazuo’s cruelty. Other than that, Mizuho is completely pathetic, yet there is something uncanny in this short encounter–something that sets the tone for the final “showdown” between Kazuo and Shuya, Noriko and Shogo. I can’t properly verbalize it at the moment, but Mizuho’s death renders Kazuo to become utterly demonic and almost supernatural. It twists up something inside of you. Something just snaps and sends shiver down your spine.
Anyway. A few quick things to say about the characters, and maybe plot:
- At book club, we talked about the cast of archetypal, flat or stock characters that undergo no transformation. Being a largely plot-driven novel, the characters populate the book for the events to occur. This is what sets it apart from the Hunger Games, which is a character and voice driven story. Hunger Games is all about the narrative, and of course survival, but Battle Royale is more about how the story unfolds. And, on a perfectly cynical and blood-thirsty, note, you just want to see how people die and how long they are going to last. The spectacular allure of the novel cannot be ignored. Given the popularity towards action films, the violence certainly becomes an attraction for those who seek it. (Okay, I admit it, I love blood as long as I know in my heart that’s it’s not real–that’s why I love monster films but not psychological horror films that involves torturing people, etc. But seriously though, reading this book makes me cringe. Me! Who has high tolerance of blood. I totally loved Piranha, although it sucked–it had been a wonderful gorefest because it was so fake yet so real with the torn flesh and all.)
- Alright. A little off topic here. The almost impossible set of characters (especially Shogo, who seems to know everything) perhaps seeks to appeal to all kinds of audience with different backgrounds. The typical “constituents” of a class–the female leader, the popular guy, the otaku (the nerd), the jocks, the gossipy girls, the delinquents, the shy girl, the delusional (don’t know if this is particularly “typical”…) or rather, imaginative one, genius hacker, etc. It’s hard to believe that a regular junior high school class contains characters of such diversity. Shogo’s ability to dismantle the collar at the end seems too far-fetched. But then, we’re willingly suspending our disbelief to participate in the story and enjoy the almost cinematic ride as the events unfold.
- Mitsuko suffers constant abuse from the ones around her (having been raped, exploited and misunderstood) and therefore turns into an abuser herself. She died a long time ago, even before the game started. When the class otaku saves and dies for her, a genuine part of herself surfaces, though at this juncture there is no way for Mitsuko to redeem herself. She has fallen long ago. Perhaps it doesn’t matter to her if she dies in this game or not, or how many people she kills.
- I keep thinking that the white cat will serve some important role at the end! I thought maybe the cat would lead the characters to a hidden passageway or cave that would aid them in their escape, or something–but that would render the story too fantastical, I suppose.
That’s all I have to say about Battle Royale for now…I am going to watch the movie tonight. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll write another post, maybe.