This was the first book by Oe that I have read, and although it's probably not one of his better known books (he wrote it when he was just 23) I found it very powerful and insightful. The story itself reminded me a bit of William Golding's Lord of the Flies (which was actually written a year AFTER Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids was published). The major difference I found between the two books was the difference in where the authors placed the evil forces in their book: for Golding, the evil (the gaping void, the mouth of the "Lord of the Flies) was inside of each individual. For Oe, the evil was in the system, the outside pressure from society on the group of young boys. When outside forces intrude in Golding's book, chaos ends and civility is restored. The opposite happens in this book.
Additionally, Golding's tale is an extremely universal one. The boys in the book happen to be English, but there's no reason why they couldn't be American, Japanese, Brazilian, etc. On the other hand, Nip the Buds is written with specific regard to its setting: wartime Japan. Oe himself is surprised by his worldwide appeal: he says he writes to his fellow Japanese, his own generation in particular. Several of the themes, including that of heartless, fickle villagers, is common to Japanese fiction (Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" and Abe Kobo's "Woman in the Dunes" come to mind instantly). This book in general is written with obvious scorn for senseless violence and specifically, Japan's role in World War II. This is not to say that Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids can only be appreciated by elderly Japanese people (I certainly am not in either category). But, as is often the case with Japanese literature, it's very important to try to understand the environment the author was living in and commenting on at the time.
Oe's writing is supposed to be a bit abrasive to the Japanese eye, but in translation at least, it was straight-forward and simple to read. It would be easy to call Nip the Buds a graphic book, but journalistic might be a better term. This book is told through the eyes of a youth who has seen it all. He doesn't link ideas such as love and sex or violence and killing, but often treats them as completely separate ideas. Despite the callousness in this book, there is a lot of emotion as well. The reformatory kids' bond is solid (until the end), and the tie between the narrator and his younger brother, and the narrator and the girl is very real and vivid. Seeing these bonds wrenched apart one by one until the narrator is completely alone at the end is part of the reason that Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids is such an amazingly powerful book. Oe has created a truly unforgettable work.