Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Battle Royale Slam Book
Fanbook - Essays on the Cult Classic
A collection of essays by scholars, writers, and filmmakers explores the meanings of both Koushun Takami's original novel and the two films, the original and the sequel, made from it. Theories about gender, feminism, filmography, and depictions of violence are among the essays included.
You don't need to have read or watched Battle Royale to read this book, but it helps. Published and edited by Viz's Haikasoru prose imprint, The Battle Royale Slam Book is a collection of reflective and analytical essays looking at both Koushun Takami's cult classic novel and the film version directed by Kinji Fukasaku, as well as the original film sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, directed by Fukasaku's son Kenta. If you are familiar with the basic plot of Takami's novel or Fukasaku's film – a class of middle schoolers forced to play a killing game – and have an interest in depictions of children and violence in the media, there's a lot of interest in these essays. Naturally if you've actually read or seen the story in question, the depth increases; however the basic concepts are clear and well-researched enough to make this a good read regardless.
Each of the seventeen essays takes a semi-unique approach to the tale, with some overlap in the basic theories used to analyze the text. For example, there are two essays looking at themes of feminism and quite a few discussing media violence; all of the essayists, however, put their own spin on their chosen lenses. In terms of essays that are completely unique, Jason S. Ridler's piece on the importance of professional wrestling to the structure of the story is fascinating, albeit a bit heavy on the pro-wrestling history, and Sam Hamm's comparison of the Battle Royale film to American teen movies of the 1980s is bizarrely wonderful, particularly when he ends it with a recreation of Takami's plot played out by Brat Pack and other 80s teen classic characters. He is also the only essayist to make the comparison between Battle Royale and the 1988 American film “Heathers;” a connection that seems somewhat obvious when he presents it.
By far the most analyzed character is neither Shuya nor Noriko (although the latter gets a lot more attention than the former), but Mitsuko. When you think about it, this really makes perfect sense, as she is in many ways the stand-out character – a victim turned abuser/villain at a tender age, someone with a more deeply troubled psychological background than many of the other characters, as well as a younger depiction of that character type than we generally see, or are comfortable seeing. Steven R. Stewart's essay takes the tack of trying to defend the sex and violence in the story, using Mitsuko as his base, and he proves her to be a well-researched portrayal of what could happen to someone with her history when placed in such a situation. (As an added bonus, he explains the “death erection.”) Carrie Cuinn takes a more classically feminist approach, comparing Mitsuko to Noriko and analyzing their senses of agency. Incidentally, she takes the most positive approach to Noriko, seeing power where most others do not.
Most of the essays touch on school shootings as a basis for their analysis. Given that all but three authors are American – two are Japanese and one is British – this is hardly surprising. Battle Royale was first published in 1999, the same year as the Columbine shootings, but one essay tracks school violence back to the 1880s, taking a much more historical view of child-on-child aggression. Likewise Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech are brought up in more than one essay, and the sense of fear that keeps Battle Royale in cult status, rather than elevating it to simply a classic work of horror fiction. (One of the essays is by a judge who initially rejected the novel for a prize.) One fascinating essay by Kathleen Miller looks at our fear of the book as a product of the manufactured culture of childhood, arguing that children are not inherently innocent but rather are treated as such by society.
The sourest note in the book is the introductory essay by editor Nick Mamatas, who apparently never had a good English teacher. His essay is less about the importance of Takami's book and more a rant against teachers who neuter classic works for the classroom. It smacks of hipsterism, proclaiming that Battle Royale can never be neutered because it's just that much deeper and darker than, for example, Lord of the Flies. (The better argument would be that it's simply newer and easier for a contemporary audience to relate to.) While I may, as an English teacher, have found him more offensive than you will, his overall tone is much less academic than the other essayists' and his piece does not serve as an effective introduction to the book.
If you have an interest in literary criticism or film studies, or if you're just really fascinated by the thought behind Battle Royale, The Battle Royale Slam Book is a very interesting read. There's a bit of something for everyone, and if the same theories pop up across multiple essays, they are all treated a bit differently by each essayist. From the impact of teen sexuality to feminism to how Home Alone functions as a Battle Royale-style horror film, this book is full of ideas and interpretations that will make you think differently, or at least more deeply, about Takami's classic work.
Overall : A-
+ Each essay is quite unique, clearly lots of thought and research went into the writing.
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