Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Battle Royale (Koushun Takami)
Given that, I don't really know why I agreed to read the source novel when my friend Oz foisted her copy on me. I was certain I was going to get more of the same violence I remember from the film, perhaps even more. What I didn't expect was a clearer look at the lives of each of the students. Even if they only appeared for a few pages, the students were given motivations and back stories by Mr Takami's skillful pen. This way, I really begun to see more than just typical cannon fodder, something that was not clearly evident in the film adaptation, though of course I can see why a different media would choose to treat the material differently. For the first time since I watched the movie, I understood what made Shuya Nanahara the most ideal protagonist in this situation. Shuya, a former star shortstop, is athletic, well-liked, calm under pressure -- and what's more is that he exercises estraint and aggression in equal measures. There is enough warmth and charm in him to enable him to get close to his other classmates at certain points during the game, thus affording us readers a better glimpse of their interactions and their beliefs. Through his eyes we see pacifists and sociopaths. We encounter cowards and idealists.
Shuya teams up with two of his classmates, Noriko Nakagawa and Shogo Kawada. Shuya feels a certain sense of responsibility over Noriko, his best friend's crush, and vows to protect her until the end of the Program. Shogo is a different story: an older, mysterious classmate whose survival skills greatly increase the group's chances for survival. Shuya and Noriko don't immediately trust Shogo, but eventually the two defer to Shogo's knowledge. This makes for some interesting dynamics. Shogo never wrestles the unofficial leadership position from Shuya despite the difference in their skills, acknowledging that he needs the protection Shuya offers as well. There's strength in numbers, especially when one of them is as athletic as Shuya. Shuya's trust also keeps Shogo from being targeted -- though not mistrusted -- by the others in their class. In the film, I actually questioned Noriko's role: superfluous and stereotypical. From start to finish she was a damsel to be rescued, pure and innocent, more disadvantages than strengths in a game like this. But it was the novel that enabled me to see her more as a symbol -- the hope buried underneath Pandora's box -- making her as essential to the purpose and message of the story, if not to the action.
When I finished the novel, I found myself reacting differently to it than I had to the film. Maybe it's because I'm a little older now and my perspectives have changed. Maybe the fundamental differences between both media naturally push my biases towards the written form. Whatever the reason, I am glad that I gave the Battle Royale novel a chance. Not only has it made me want to look for my old film CD and consider picking up the manga version as well (co-written by Mr Takami and Masayuki Taguchi), it's also given me much food for thought about fear and desperation in a collapsing society.