Before Koushun Takami completed "Battle Royale" in 1996, three major events happened in Japan a year before its publication. The Kobe earthquake, the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, and the economic recession. These happenings hit the Japanese so hard, as they thought their homeland was safe and unaffected by the economic markets in other parts of the world. And then an incident took place in Kobe on May 27, 1997. A teenage boy murdered an elementary school boy and impaled his severed head. This would be more disturbing, as the Japanese people were gentle and courteous by nature.
"Battle Royale", about junior high school students who were forced to fight each other to the death, became a bestseller. It achieved a cult following internationally. Fans of Takami's novels would suspect that "The Hunger Games" trilogy had similarities with this dystopian novel, but Takami thought otherwise. What made this book a phenomenon? Here are five reasons:
Violence wasn't used to gratify readers. There was no doubt that the premise would shock some readers, but this was nothing new in literature. "Lord of the Flies" also employed a similar device, where William Golding would prove a few insights. The line separating civilization and savagery could be a thin one. In the case of these (English) school boys, it would be blurred. And authority was needed. In the case of "Battle Royale", this would present an intriguing case. Japan would try to distance herself from her role during World War II, but forgetting seemed like a hard thing to do. How about putting it into a perspective? There could be disagreement. Violence would remind them of the past, which could be unpleasant. It was the only way, though.
The premise could be a horrifying reminder. In the novel, the authoritarian Japanese government was known as the Republic of Greater East Asia. Some would suggest Japan's (bigger) neighbor, which would be another issue. But let's focus on the Japanese side. History could repeat itself. Enough said.
It was all about the economy. Jingoism was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the Great War, but wealth was the main reason. It won't be hard to see the succession of events from there. Money would make the world go round. It could be the root of all problems. No need to mention the next one (and what follows next).
You must take the good and the bad. The first rule in fiction is not everything is meant to be emulated. It rather serves as a caution. Some would argue that man is only human. (To err would happen.) But too much won't be a good thing. On a personal level, there's a thing called taking the high road. This doesn't necessarily apply to Takami's novel, but readers would deduce the message right away.
The novel doesn't present an unflattering image of Japan. Beauty would be the apt word for this East Asian nation, and "Battle Royale" was the antithesis for it. Some might be appalled at the thought of finding beauty in such violent events, but Takami's story had redeeming values. It won't be the surviving students turning into fugitives.