Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s been over a decade since I read Battle Royale. It was a book that amazed me with its emotional resonance. It was the first book that ever made me tear up with the lighthouse scene. The author did such a great job building up both the stakes and the relationships, that it was devastating to read. I have enjoyed many a book since then, but few in number are the books who have affected me so much.
The deepest proof for the artistic quality of the story is the fact that these essays represent a bunch of different (and also a few similar) interpretations of what we can gain from the story. There are both obvious lessons and ones that make you think, “Oh yeah!”. There are even a few that deal with my original rejection of The Hunger Games as an anglo ripoff and being upset that it was more well-known than BR. Within a context of remakes of Japanese horror rather than just bringing out subtitled or dubbed versions, I think it’s understandable, even if it’s misguided.
Well, as is the case for anthologies, magazines, and essay collections – here are the thoughts I had as I read each one; a collection of my status updates.
“Death for Kids” – A guy who lived through an evil police state in Argentina sees death at 8 years old and realizes how the world is. Sees BR as a lesson kids need to experience.”
“Blood in the Classroom” – Intro essay to the book. Discusses how the subversive books of yesteryear are today’s boring books that kids are forced to read in the classroom. Mentions that Battle Royale probably won’t suffer this fate.
“The Fight the Night Before” – About deliberations on Battle Royale winning a horror prize and why, perhaps, it did not win.
“Happiest Days…” – Showing ways that reality is like BR and comparing other novels, including Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Also a great section of how school shootings are nothing new.”
“Innocence Lost and Regained” – Touches on similar themes to the essay before it – innocence of children is a construct, relatively recent, & a false one. A bit more of a scholarly style of writing & so a bit harder to read than the previous essays in that it it has more complex sentence structure that my brain isn’t quite awake enough to parse right now. Also neat exploration of how Bradbury tackled similar topics.”
“From Dangerous to Desirable” – A look at where BR fits in with gender norms in Japan via various media that is its spiritual ancestor. There’s a lot I missed as an American reading the story and applying my ideas of gender to the story. My takeaway after reading this essay is that the author was a bit more adventerous with the male characters.”
“Girl Power” – A great example that with art, each person takes something different out of it. While many have criticized BR as mysoginistic, this author sees strong women in some of the female characters.
“Over the Top” – An exploration of how wrestling in the USA and Japan inspired the author to write Battle Royale.”
“Generational Warfare” – The author of the essay takes a look at the societal issues that drove the zeitgeist as the author of BR composed his book. Also inadvertently taught me the origin of the motorcycle gangs in Akira.”
“Killer Kids in Jeopardy” – the essay explores how we have been OK with kids being in trouble in novels, but not movies. Or rather that it’s been a reluctant march towards acceptance in movies of that which has been happening in novels for hundreds of years.”
“Seeing the Sequel First” – The writer had a bad childhood in school and talks about how BR2 was a spark of inspiration for him.”
“Dead Sexy” – The author essentially posits the same theory that eventually came to guide how I understand sex and violence in art. There is a difference between the gratuitous and the story-rooted acts. Take, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s key to the story that the sex scenes both in the book and TV are depicted the way they are. That is not gratuitous.”
“The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival” – An analysis of BR as a criticism of what the post-WWII generation did with the country. I’m not sure it resonates as well as the author posits, but it certainly has merit.”
“Children Playing with Guns” – uses BR as a reason to talk about gun violence in schools in America (with a few world examples). Best case I’ve heard yet as to why all the gun laws we can come up with won’t do a darn thing to stop it from happening again.”
“List, Combination, Recursion” – a strange, stream of consciousness essay I did not enjoy. Perhaps something was lost in translation.”
“Buelller” – The author starts off with the same criticism I had when Hunger Games first got popular – It’s a rip off of Battle Royale. Then used this to go back through the history of teen movies since they’re all riffs off each other. Then ends with an absurdist version of Battle Royale containing characters from nearly every movie he mentioned.”
“Whatever you encounter” – How BR demonstrates Zen teachings.