It is a sad fact of life that many YA books seem to reflect a teenage obsession with death. A teen does something stupid–drinking and driving, unprotected sex, vacationing at Camp Crystal Lake–with disastrous consequences; usually, most of the teen’s friends die horrible, spectacularly creative deaths. Works such as these form a subgenre of YA literature that I call “dead teenager books.”
Battle Royale is the ultimate dead teenager book–the members of the SHIRO IWA Junior High School Class B are enlisted in The Program, a government-sponsored game show. The rules are simple: put 42 teenagers on an island (21 girls and 21 boys), give them weapons, and the last teen alive wins. The moral center of the first volume is Shuuya Nanahara, guitarist and all-around good guy. Shuuya does not want to kill his classmates, and he is determined to hook up with his friends and turn the tables on Yomeni Kamon, The Program’s vile host.
Battle Royale is not an original concept, but it is very well done; the work that came to my mind as I read is The Lord of the Flies. However, Battle Royale is a good deal more graphic than William Golding’s classic. There is sexual depravity (rape, panty shots), bad language, and extreme gore (exploding heads, flying eyeballs, etc.). Battle Royale is exceptionally “b” material, especially in the wake of Columbine; it is not for conservative communities, and it is not for younger teens. The publisher has a Parental Advisory Explicit Content Warning on the cover, which says “Warning” to parents and “Read Me” to teens. Battle Royale could fit into adult collections or collections that cater to older teens and aren’t afraid of graphic material. Be careful.