Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Review: THE BATTLE ROYALE SLAM BOOK
VIZ MEDIA/Haikasoru – @VIZMedia; @haikasoru
EDITORS: Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
COVER: Tomer Hanuka
ISBN: 978-1-4215-6599-6; paperback, (April 2014)
192pp, B&W, $14.99 U.S., $19.99 CAN, £9.99 U.K.
The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami is a collection of essays about the world of Battle Royale. Battle Royale is a Japanese horror novel written by Koushun Takami. Originally completed in 1996, Battle Royale was not published until 1999 by Ohta Shuppan, but it went on to become a surprise bestseller. In 2000, the novel became a manga which Koushun Takami co-wrote with artist Masayuki Taguchi, who drew the manga. A controversial film adaptation directed by Kinji Fukasaku was also released in 2000.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the publication of Battle Royale the novel, Haikasoru (the fiction imprint of VIZ Media) published The Battle Royale Slam Book. This original paperback release is a collection of essays by writers of popular fiction on the impact of the novel, the two film adaptations, and the Battle Royale manga on pop culture. The essays also discuss the controversy and continuing social debate that has surrounded the novel ever since its first release. The Battle Royale Slam Book is offered in print and also in digital editions as an eBook for $7.99 (U.S. / CAN), available for the Amazon Kindle and through Apple’s iBooks Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book Store, and the Kobo eBooks Store.
Nick Mamatas, co-editor of The Battle Royale Slam Book, and 16 other authors offer an array of opinions on Battle Royale and about the enduring power of the acknowledged cult classic. New York Times best-selling author John Skipp (The Light at the End) connects the novel to his childhood. Cassie Cuinn talks about girl power. Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film, Batman (directed by Tim Burton), speculates on the survival chances of Hollywood cinema’s leading teen icons in a battle royale. Jason S. Riddler (Blood and Sawdust) discusses the novel in the context of the popularity of professional wrestling. Douglas F. Warrick closes out the book with an essay on Zen.
In order to enjoy and understand The Battle Royale Slam Book, the reader needs to be familiar with Battle Royale the novel or its adaptations. I saw the film six years ago via a DVD available through Netflix. The manga adaptation was collected in 15 graphic novel volumes, which were published by TOKYOPOP during the middle of the previous decade. I read TOKYOPOP’s Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Vol. 1, which collected the first three manga volumes in one hardcover edition. So I understand much of the context or what is being discussed in The Battle Royale Slam Book, although I have not as yet read the novel.
I think the best essay is the introduction to the book, “Blood in the Classroom, Blood on the Page: Will ‘Battle Royale’ Ever Be on the Test,” written by Nick Mamatas. Basically, this piece is “what becomes a cult novel most.” Mamatas discusses other controversial novels (such as Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies) that eventually end up on high school and collegiate reading lists, which, in a way, serves to take away the edginess these works originally had. I agree with a terrific instructor I had in college: controversial novels with something meaningful to say about the human condition end up becoming children’s literature. It is almost as if adults believe that turning such books into juvenile fiction can rob these works of their power to affect change. I liked how much Mamatas’ essay engaged me and made me think, rather than just be passive, reading for amusement; I read the essay twice and picked through it a third time.
Two other essays also grappled with my imagination. John Skipp’s “Death for Kids” uses his experience as the child of a U.S. government employee in late 1960s Argentina as the launching point for his essay. The harrowing personal tale he tells should already be a memoir.
Before it was published, Battle Royale was entered into the 1997 Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel competition. It did not win any prizes, as it was eventually rejected in the final round due to its content. Japanese literary critic and editor, Masao Higashi, was there in the competition as a judge. Higashi’s essay “‘Battle Royale:’ The Fight the Night Before” talks about his thoughts on the novel and why he voted the way he did.
Anyone who has experienced Battle Royale and/or its adaptations will find that The Battle Royale Slam Book is a collection of insightful essays. Even those who normally don’t read essays will find the essays here worth reading.
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux
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