*Spoilers, probably? I don’t know. I wrote this warning before I finished the “review.” Also not just for Battle Royale by the way, there are even Danganronpa V3 spoilers in this.*
*Also, there is no discussion of the movie here. And also there is so much mure I want to say about this genre. Like I didn’t even talk about resistance and rebellion that inevitably emerges in these situations. Not everyone wants to participate in the killing game. Maybe another post for another day?”
You ever wondered what would happen if you were kidnapped and then placed on an island with your classmates from high school and then asked to kill each other or be killed? I generally don’t, because I know for a fact that I’d die first mainly due to a heart attack.
Luckily for me, I don’t have to wonder too much, because Koushun Takami has already done that. In case you haven’t figured it out already, I am of course talking about the 1999 novel Battle Royale. In one word, it’s a wild ride and has become one of my favorite reads already. But the one question that I kept asking myself was: “Is it okay that I like this book so much?” I’ll get to that question, but before that let’s talk a bit about the book.
The book starts off inconspicuously enough, in a bus with 42 high schoolers going on a “school trip.” The first chapter is actually very cutesy. There is an implied love triangle going on and everyone’s cracking jokes. Everything seems pretty normal. In fact, it seems almost impossible to even think that these teenagers would be capable of killing each other.
But I guess they were and there was nothing I could do to stop them. (Or was there?) To be honest, I didn’t really want to stop them in the first place, because I was just completely absorbed by the action in this novel.
This action makes you invested in the story. Things happen very fast and you want to know everything. Sure, there are only a handful of “main characters” worth caring about, but this book is ultimately about 42 different students. Each have their own ambitions, drives, and so on. The problem, however, is that there isn’t enough time to get to know them well enough.
Why? Well, it’s because whenever the narration changes its focus to another seemingly random student, that student ends up getting killed. So in this sense, we only get to know these characters during the last few minutes of their lives. These scenes are tense and while we do get to hear a lot about what’s going on in their heads, that’s pretty much it. They come and they go.
So yeah, we don’t even have time to feel like you’re missing out. In fact, we’re just so obsessed with the action that you want it to keep going and we hope that it never stops.
And the fact that we feel this way, or rather, the fact that we’re SO engaged with this book brings me to my main point.
Us and Killing Games
By reading the book and engaging with the characters, we inevitably become a participant in the game. One of the main questions that Shogo Kawada keeps asking the two protagonists is whether they’re prepared to be ruthless. But while we’re reading about how Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa are becoming more and more desensitized, it is actually us who is becoming more ruthless.
After all, we haven’t stopped reading the book, right?
I think this is my favorite part about killing game stories and what got me started thinking about this originally was the latest installment in the Danganronpa series. Battle Royale just helped drive the point home.
Danganronpa is basically a series of visual novels revolving around high schoolers being trapped in a certain setting and being forced to kill each other by a crazy bear named Monokuma.
It’s also a battle between Hope™ and Despair™, which, if you think about it, is the case with most killing games. we hope that the main characters will survive while the storyteller tries to pull us deeper and deeper into despair by making them fail. Again, see, we ARE a part of the story. Therefore, it could be argued that our obsession with hope and repulsion for despair are the cause of these characters’ suffering.
In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which is the latest instalment of this franchise, the big plot twist at the very end is basically this. The game breaks multiple layers of fourth-walls and basically accuses the player for being the main culprit in everything that has happened to the characters.
I was fricking fuming what that happened, to be honest. I felt personally attacked, mainly because I WAS attacked, but also because the game was right.
It’s Our Fault They Died
In a sense, the worlds in these works exist only as long as we are engaging with them. That makes sense, right? Action wouldn’t take place if we didn’t flip the pages, or click a mouse button, or keep watching the movie. The characters wouldn’t exist if we didn’t read about them. But by engaging with the works, we put things in motion.
What I am trying to say is that by reading Battle Royale, I have caused the deaths of more than 40 high school students, only because I love works about killing games. Despite that, however, I still enjoy engaging with killing game stories.
What does that ultimately say about me? Does it mean that I enjoy watching people die horrible deaths? Does it mean that I enjoy watching people suffer? In a primal level, I must; otherwise why the FUCK would I keep engaging with those kinds of works?
Then again, I wouldn’t watch a video depicting an actual death. Even though I know that these aforementioned deaths are my fault, I also know deep down that they are fictional. These people are not real; but is that really an excuse? What’s the difference between a regular movie death and one in a snuff film? Assuming the effects in the regular movie are good enough, they would be visually identical. And, if I weren’t told beforehand which is which, I don’t think I would be able to differentiate between the two. And neither would you, probably, unless you have a degree in some related field.
But that’s just it. I know that I am engaging with a work of fiction. Furthermore, I’m not doing this just because I love watching people die. The killing game genre allows for some really cool ways of experimenting with the human mind. By putting a person in a situation like this against their will, you force them to become a concentrated version of themselves. This might sound like it makes writing these kinds of characters easier, but I don’t think that’s the case. You’d have to know your characters extremely well to be able to make the reader feel like you had to reduce them to mere caricatures.
So, because I know these killing games are works of fiction and because I can genuinely say that I am not in this for the violence, I can enjoy killing game stories and keep my existentialist moral high ground. Isn’t sophistry neat?
Feel Free to Like Killing Games
I think I’ve just justified liking stories about killing games, which is great because this is truly one of my favorite genres.
The bottom line is, you should go read Battle Royale. It’s a fun read. A bit too gory at times; but you get to learn so much about yourself.