In addition to the new books we’re bringing out here at Haikasoru, we’re also refreshing and reissuing some hits, like Battle Royale, which will feature revised text and new content from some old friends. It won’t be out till later this year, but recent news stories about Catcher in the Rye led to me thinking about school days and school essays. So here we go—an essay I’d write today were I trapped in some junior high school somewhere.
Battle Royale in the Schools: Will Takami’s Cult Hit Ever Be Assigned Reading?
Most of our readers will be familiar with the classics of the high school classroom: the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, and…Battle Royale? Hey, it’s not that farfetched.
At first glance, placing Kosuhun Takami’s bloody thriller next to work like the American classic Mockingbird may sound strange. After all, one of these novels is about the political and personal awakening of an adolescent, the systematic injustice of an unfair system, and working to fight against injustice with the help of a few good friends and a competent and kind paternal figure. And that novel also became a classic motion picture. The author has yet to write anything else of length, perhaps having perfectly captured a theme the first time out. And the other book was written by Harper Lee. See, maybe not so strange.
Further, Battle Royale has an important social message—you can resist oppression. Not so Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, to which Battle Royale is often compared. In that classic, when children are sent to a desert island without the guidance of adult society, they go mad and devolve into violent barbarians. In Battle Royale, adult society is the cause of the violence, and many of the characters refuse to participate in violence, or even try to overturn the corrupt order. Those few characters that revel in the opportunity to kill, such as Kazuo Kiriyama, are depicted as mentally ill. Most people don’t have it in them to be killers, and only turn deadly when pushed to some extreme. I know which vision of human nature seems more accurate, and healthy, to me. We won’t even talk about Poe, whose tales of uncomplicated revenge and spiraling madness have been required reading for American grammar school kids for over a century. “Here you go, Timmy,” say teachers every autumn, “this will teach you how to read for thematic context, and suggest a really good way to kill your enemy and hide the body at the same time.”
Many of the kids in Battle Royale are intelligent computer hackers, virtuoso violinists, slick athletes, and kindhearted friends who watch out for one another. Much better role models than whiny ol’ Holden Caulfield, the talentless and disturbed rich kid who thinks everyone but him in a “phony.” Plus, Battle Royale actually has a plot and is relevant to today’s kids, not like Salinger’s once well-regarded novel (which has been implicated in real-life violence itself, now and again).
Finally, the works of Poe and Salinger and Golding and even Lee were once cult hits themselves. Members of the generations of teens who re-read and treasured these books grew up to be English teachers, and then in turn issued their favorite titles to the next gaggle of kids coming up through the school systems. Yesterday’s transgressive cult novel is today’s term paper assignment. And for those worried about the violence and gunplay in Battle Royale, and what that might mean for a bullied high schooler, just remember one thing: one of the best ways to make sure a kid just ignores a book is to have it endorsed by the local school board.
There! That’s a solid B- if I don’t say so myself.