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a student is not a tangerine.

This book is bitter and angry. Sometimes it's downright painful to read. I recommend it highly. (by the way, this review contains a few spoilers. fair warning.)

[ movie review ]

Battle Royale is not as good a novel as I would like it to be. There is no genius to its tone, no eloquence in its direct, forceful, expository style. There are no subtexts. Virtually nothing is left unexplained. While reading it, I did not feel challenged in the slightest.

Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading it. The book is remarkable in several ways, not least in that it is precisely what it claims to be: a pulp thriller with an inflammatory premise. (Note, in passing, the book is not printed on pulp. The paper is thin but bright white, though not as opaque as I'd like. It's quite readable, though.)

Actually, it should probably be written thus: a PULP!! thriller. The book is stuffed with cheap thrills and cheap laughs alike, intertwined with the drama and pathos expected of students who suddenly find themselves forced to comprehend: "If I don't kill, I will be killed." Like all well-written pulp, Battle Royale is impeccably plotted, tightly paced, and direct as a shot in the head.

Even so, it frequently reads like a running commentary on the movie, tying up loose ends, amplifying character development, explaining narrative purposes. The movie version of Battle Royale makes more sense for having read the book. (Though I'm left kicking myself for having missed the point of several scenes.) The style even occasionally drops into self-parody or makes funny little comments or comparisons on the action. It's not an immersive way of writing, but it's consistently entertaining, even gripping.

In some ways it reminds me of Rurouni Kenshin. Whenever Kenshin was fighting, one of the other characters would be standing around, explaining to the audience why his style was so amazing. People do the same thing in this book.

I'm not sure how much of the blame belongs with Viz. Certainly, the production values for the book could have been higher. The cover is nice, the printing and typesetting are both quite good, but there are several typos. The translation is readable, but plodding, and there are some artifacts. (There's one sentence: ". . .caught unarmed except for the gun in his hand." That has to be an error on someone's part. Writer, publisher, translator. . . I don't know.)

The novel follows the movie quite closely all the way through, but there's a lot of added detail. Some scenes are changed. Several students die in radically different ways. Many of the changes were for the better. Some are not. In general, though, the book's plotting was better, more realistic, while the movie emphasized the epic nature of the story, occasionally sacrificing realism. (And creating a few gaping plot holes in the process.) The movie's students are sketched quickly, while the book's are boldly defined. Mitsuko Souma, in particular, is treated with far more detail and sympathy in the book. Both works maintain their artistic integrity throughout. I found the movie more satisfying, but I can understand those who prefer the book. My praise of the movie carries through to the book almost unchanged.

But, with all I've said, I still read it, almost uninterrupted, until I had finished. The book is very direct: Shuya Nanahara is a good person. Everyone says so, and his actions in the course of the story prove it. Shogo Kawada is a good person. Noriko Nakagawa is a good person. That's the reason Battle Royale transcends its gore-drenched genre, and is a good book despite itself. The reader is left with no choice but to care for even the minor characters, individually, by name.

From the epilogue:

Now, once again, "2 students remaining."
But of course they're part of you now.