Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games

This week we return to our normal format of me ranting about something:

What are your thoughts on The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale?

Books Without Any Pictures

I would like to thank you for providing me with the opportunity to rant about this subject, as it’s something I have a bit to say on.  It’s questions like this that make me wonder why I decided to have a write-in blog.  I have a lot to say about a lot of things.  I could have just as easily wrote an unsolicited blog on this topic, but there’s some part of me that feels the need to maintain some outward facade of humility by letting people ask me for an opinion.  If I don’t act like everything I have to say is super important, maybe no one will notice how super important I think I am.  But enough of that, just sit down and pay attention to me.

Ever since Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games the web has been inundated with people accusing her of ripping off Battle Royale and not giving Koushun Takami any credit for his ingenious idea.  For anyone who hasn’t read or seen Battle Royale, it takes place in an alternate timeline where a totalitarian government attempts to keep its population under control and free from revolt by terrorizing them with something called the Program.  The Program takes a bunch of teenagers and dumps them on an island together to fight to the death.  Sound familiar?

If you haven’t yet read or seen The Hunger Games the plot goes as follows: It’s the future and a totalitarian government attempts to keep its population under control and free from revolt by terrorizing them with something called the Hunger Games.  The Games takes a bunch of teenagers and dumps them in an arena together to fight to the death.

Yep.  And in case you were wondering, Battle Royale was written in 1999 and the move was made in 2000.

So blatant rip-off right?  It seems obvious enough.  But sadly, as much as I’d like to bash on Suzanne Collins, the simple fact is that Collins and Takami both ripped off something else: Ancient Mythology.

Enter Theseus and the Minotaur.  The Greek myth goes as follows: King Minos of Crete attempts to keep the city of Athens under control and free from revolt by terrorizing them in a way that should be familiar to you all by now – he demands 14 tributes, 7 boys and 7 girls, which will be thrown into the Labyrinth and sacrificed to the Minotaur.  Theseus volunteers to replace one of the other tributes, fucks some shit up, and beats the game.

The basic structure of the epic fantasy/sci-fi story has more or less been in place for thousands of years.  George Lucus knew this, J.R.R Tolkien knew this, and most great authors take advantage of this.  There’s something very primeval about mythology that stills appeals to us today, and any story in which a Hero saves the day is based upon ancient archetypes and myths.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  All artists borrow from what they know.  Our experience informs every creative decision we make, but so does the collective experience of humanity.  We can’t help it.  And it’s good.  Art that’s only based on our own narrow experience of the world can never be universal, and if you’re not trying to reach an audience, what’s the point?

So now that that’s out of the way, the more important question at hand is which is a better modern-day interpretation of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur?  For me, it’s a no brainer: Battle Royale is superior in far too many ways.  It’s written better, it has deeper and more engaging characters, its exploration of basic human psychology is richer and more thoughtful, and its main characters aren’t as irritating and whiny as Katniss.  The Hunger Games are trite and cliche, and anything written in the first person suffers from the fact that we can’t get fully inside the other characters.  Even with a comparison of the films Battle Royale comes out on top for me, for mostly the same reasons, but also because it doesn’t have nauseating camera work.

Taken from the Uniblog.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I hated The Hunger Games.  The books were quick reads that got me hooked (up until about half-way through the second book when things got unbearably dramatic and everyone whined way too much), but they’re little more than fluff.  They’re entertaining, and offer me no keen insights into humanity.  There’s nothing original, nothing thought provoking.  No unique perspectives.  Just another young adult novel with teenage characters that I would punch in the face if I ever met, and then tell them to grow up.  So if you want a piece of genuine literature, pick up Battle Royale.  If you want a quick read for the train, The Hunger Games will probably do the trick.

Please submit more questions! 

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15 Responses to Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games

  1. Random says:

    I didn’t hear about Battle Royale until right now! However, Suzanne Collins was interviewed by Scholastic, her publishing company, and she stated that her inspiration for the book was Greek Mythology. She never mentioned Battle Royale. But who knows? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Battle Royale VS The Hunger Games « The Nightly Silence

  3. Gabrielle Meik says:

    True. Sorry about that.

  4. Gabrielle Meik says:

    One of the things that makes me really mad is that Battle Royale is SO MUCH BETTER OH MY GOD than The Hunger Games.
    Aside from the Hunger Games being written in the present tense (which hurt my soul every step of the way), it’s just a more petty YA-ey approach to the subject and more focus is put on the greedy, High-Fashion position of the Capital than the politics. It seemed more like a commentary on the role of the media than on the role of the government. Koshun Takami made a HUGE POINT about totalitarian government and terrorism with his Republic of Greater East Asia.
    Another thing: the characters. First of all, Takami’s characters being all taken from the same homeroom class adds a really neat layer to the plot line because these kids aren’t just killing other kids, they’re killing their friends. We get to see kids choosing killing themselves over killing each other, we get to see friends not killing friends but killing acquaintances, friends risking their lives for the girl their best friend had a crush on, we see friends killing friends, we see strangers helping strangers, and we see kids banding together to take down their own government.
    In the hunger games we see kids hiding in trees, risking their lives instead of risking their little sister’s lives, pretending to fall in love, and trying to be likable enough for people to send them money, and kids getting makeovers.
    Hunger Games has gotten way more recognition than Battle Royale, and probably because we can relate to it more. That is just sad.

    • Thank you Gabi. I agree on all points. The sad fact is that “bestsellers” and “blockbusters” will almost always be trash, because only hack authors and directors “create” for a large enough audience (i.e. an audience that craves entertainment over thoughtful art). The Hunger Games is to Battle Royale what Reality TV is to Real Life. People would rather be amused than have to think, and so they avoid meaning and purpose in favor of “fun”. Amusement for the masses is unfortunately worthless, trite, cliche, mind-numbing nonsense and overall a waste of space in my brain (except that it’s so useless as to not really require much space in my brain). I think you’re point at the end there is a very apt observation. We relate more to The Hunger Games because it’s juvenile, just like our country.

      • Grace says:

        I’m okay with the occasional escapist bestseller though because I generally don’t get to talk about books with the IRL friends, just because they don’t read as much as I do or the same type of things. It’s nice to have the occasional Harry Potter or Hunger Games just for that. Yeah, it could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse.

    • Also, regardless of what you think of the Hunger Games, it’s still your fault I had to read Twilight.

  5. Grace says:

    Part of why I normally avoid YA unless I know more about the author is that a lot of YA characters are annoying as hell. I also get that slight feeling of unease as I think to myself “Oh dear god, was I that obnoxious at that age???”

    Love the fact that you brought up the Minotaur. Great post!

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