At the beginning of this year my mum spoke with a book reviewer online and told her that I was having trouble finding a dark fantasy female author who could write strong, independent women (who don’t go funny at the sight of an attractive man). The reviewer recommended The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (not dark fantasy – I wonder what this says about dark fantasy writers) and my mum promptly ordered it for me.
A month or so later the hype of The Hunger Games movie started and with it came the accusations that The Hunger Games is a rip off of Battle Royale.
I hadn’t heard of Battle Royale so imagine my surprise when I discovered that my non-film loving husband had a copy in his meagre DVD collection. We watched it immediately.
I have just finished reading The Hunger Games and couldn’t help but make a list of the similarities between this novel and the Battle Royale film.
Please note, I haven’t seen The Hunger Games movie or yet read the Battle Royale novel.
I’ve done some internet research on this subject and have discovered that this argument is becoming Twilightified; are you Team Games or Team BR?
Before I go into the similarities and differences between these two, I would firstly like to say that I enjoyed both immensely. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and both are compelling and fascinating stories (possibly because they are the same story).
Battle Royale is a movie adaptation of a novel of the same name. The novel was published in 1999 and the movie made in 2000. It is about a class of Japanese teenagers who are taken to an island, given bags with weapons and provisions and made to fight to the death. The last one standing wins.
The Hunger Games was published in 2008 and the movie was released this year, 2012. It is about a group of teenagers who are taken to an arena, allowed access to bags of weapons and provisions and made to fight to the death. The last one standing wins.
So it’s very easy to see why people would accuse The Hunger Games of being a rip off of Battle Royale. The basic concept is exactly the same, but this happens all of the time. There are only so many stories in the world. It may be that Suzanne Collins is lying and has seen Battle Royale, but then it is equally plausible that this is all her own work. At the end of the day, we are all humans with limitations of the mind, it is natural that certain minds will have the same ideas.
When I was a teenager and suffered from writers block, I would spend my time reading articles on writing to give me inspiration and I read a quote that has always stuck with me;
‘Originality it the art of hiding your source’.
Using other people’s ideas is ok, as long as you make them your own.
At a first glance the main differences between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are fairly obvious; Battle Royale’s main character is a boy and The Hunger Games’ is a girl. In BR, Shuya’s mother is dead and his father commits suicide upon hearing that his son will be fighting in BR. In Games, Katniss’ father is dead and her mother essentially dies upon his death, leaving Katniss to look after herself and her little sister. If Katniss hadn’t done this they would have been put in a home. In BR, Shuya’s best friend is in a children’s home.
In BR, Shuya creates an alliance with a girl, Noriko, who has a crush on him. They both survive at the end by tricking the organisers of Battle Royale into thinking only one person has survived (notably, there is a third person in this alliance). In Games, the boy tribute from Katniss’ district is in love with her, they form an alliance in the games and end up tricking the organisers into letting them both win.
Hmm…so what about the games themselves? Battle Royale was started because of a problem in society. In a heavily populated country, the youth have no respect. They boycott school and are not playing their part in society. Battle Royale is created to stand as a reminder, to keep children in line. There are issues with this, which I will come onto later.
The Hunger Games is set further into the future where invisible hover crafts and huge screens in the sky exist. North America (naturally) is ravaged by war and out of the ruins the Capitol city is built and around this 12 districts are created, each specialising in a trade (jewels, agriculture, coal, etc). Every year a boys name and a girls name is pulled from a lottery in each district and these 24 teenagers are put into The Hunger Games. A whole class of students, 48 in all, are taken in BR and put into the battle. There is no mention of how they are chosen but they are labelled boy 1 and girl 1, boy 2 and girl 2, etc similar to The Hunger Games.
The Capitol city of The Hunger Games is filled with over the top, colourful, fast talking people with high pitched accents and I couldn’t help being reminded of some Japanese television, especially the training video in Battle Royale.
So, there must be some differences between the two games. The Hunger Games is a heavily televised event that the whole country is forced to watch. Battle Royale has media coverage but not through the battle itself, which leads onto questions regarding its position in society and how this would work as a tool to frighten children into behaving. This concept is worked out more thoroughly in The Hunger Games but I must state that many plot points in Battle Royale have been lost in translation.
One of the differences that really stuck with me is the tributes themselves. In The Hunger Games they don’t know each other; they may not even know their counterpart from their own district. They undergo training, they have come from either poor backgrounds where they must be strong to survive or they come from prosperous backgrounds where they are well fed and physically able. In BR all of these teenagers know each other. They have grown up together, formed friendships and relationships. They are teeming with hormones and sexual tension as all long formed groups of teens are and now they are forced to kill one another without any training (they are shown a video explaining the game and the rules before being sent out onto the island).
For me this makes Battle Royale a lot more powerful.
Battle Royale is a lot bloodier than The Hunger Games – although this may be down to a question of visuals. I do know that The Hunger Games was cut before its release to make it less violent, taking away the main point perhaps. Both of these stories are about society turning their teenagers into violent animals for sport. Perhaps it is also a question on the teen age itself, don’t all teenagers feel violent? I wonder if The Hunger Games or Battle Royale would work with adults.
Battle Royale is grittier and more realistic than The Hunger Games. It has loud speakers, technological threats (exploding head collars) and a city and society that we can recognise. The Hunger Games have mutated experiments and a world that we don’t know, making it more science fiction and a little departed from reality. When looking at it from this point of view, the stories are very different.
You only get to The Hunger Games themselves half way through the book and by that point I was beginning to feel that this was fan fiction for Battle Royale, the similarities were so stark. I also wondered how Suzanne Collins would keep up the danger in the Games without the use of BR’s collars that explode if a teen wanders into the wrong zone. BR keeps its tributes on their feet, always moving, in a very simple but terrifying way. The Hunger Games does this by creating obstacles, controlling the weather, creating a wall of fire to herd the tributes and creating mutated creatures to tear them apart.
Actually, that was possibly the only gory moment in my opinion and I would assume it didn’t make it into the film in all its gory glory.
In this way, BR is superior. I found this truly scary whereas there is nothing clever about a wall of fire or thrilling about a group of mutated creatures (I found this a little too much). But then, perhaps the organisers of The Hunger Games are not clever. Maybe this was the point. Without reading the two sequels it is hard to judge this.
The Hunger Games is well written in the sense that I felt compelled to keep turning the pages. The characters are much better developed than in BR, but then they often are in books, and there was more scope with Games. However I found the writing clumsy in parts and dumbed down in others. The talk of boyfriends and girlfriends always makes me uneasy but this is a book for teenagers so must be forgiven. Battle Royale is dark, gritty and painful but there are plot holes and strange twists that the translation doesn’t necessarily explain.
Apparently Suzanne Collins asked her publisher if they should go ahead when she was informed of Battle Royale. This makes me feel very angry towards the publisher. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t have happened if Battle Royale had been written by an American. There is such a division between the East and West of the world when it comes to books and films, it is disgusting in this day and age that people are not credited with something on different sides of the planet. Before The Hunger Games were made, a Western remake of Battle Royale was being planned but was blocked because of the images of violent teenagers. Why on earth, then, did The Hunger Games get made?
In my opinion, Suzanne Collins is not to blame, she just wrote what was in her head. It is the industry that is at fault, for not asking her to rewrite it until the concept was entirely different and for being hypocritical in allowing a Western idea to be made into a franchise rather than an already successful identical Eastern idea.
I had to read to the end of The Hunger Games to see if the endings were the same. Would Katniss and Peeta make it out alive? They don’t have the third counterpart like Shuya and Noriko do and they don’t trick the organisers in quite the same way. The conclusion of BR is also missing from Games, naturally because Games is a trilogy. As Shuya and Noriko become fugitives, always running in case they are caught, Katniss and Peeta return home and instead of fearing for their lives as with BR, I was left with a feeling that it was about to turn into a romance story.
So what can writers take from this?
I enjoyed the structure of the chapters and this is the main piece of writing advice I’ve taken from this book. Katniss is indeed the strong, independent woman I was looking for. I don’t mind that she became confused with her emotions for the boys in her life towards the end; this is what happens in life. At least she wasn’t gushy and her feelings never compromised her which is all I wanted. Still, I missed the grit and blood of BR and I was a little disappointed that it felt like the romance building became the focus towards the end. I won’t be reaching for the sequel just yet nor will I be rushing the see the film but I would gladly watch BR again right now.
Take from that what you will.
Below are a couple of links to other well informed opinions that I’ve found;