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If You Enjoyed The Hunger Games, You Have to Read Battle Royale!
Please note when reading this article that it is written by a Hunger Games fan. The author enjoyed both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale and wishes to share this with readers. No harm is meant to Suzanne Collins, author of a very beloved series who deserves praise for her books.
This page may contain some spoilers for The Hunger Games. Spoilers have been avoided for Battle Royale.
Did You Know The Hunger Games Isn't an Original?
When The Hunger Games was new, it became a reintroduction to the genre of dystopian fiction. A whole new generation had the opportunity to learn about the power of government and the travesty of war from the pages of a fictional novel the way that their parents and grandparents read 1984 and A Brave New World. Coming from the craze of Harry Potter and Twilight, young readers needed somewhere to place their attention, and The Hunger Games was the next big thing.
In the latter half of the first decade of this new century, the book blogs were teeming with information about this book series. Some of this information was somewhat misleading, but the more the books were reviewed, the more readers they garnered, and as more and more teenagers read, young adult dystopian fiction was born and thrived.
Or maybe not. Dystopian worlds have been the subject of fiction for centuries, authors attempting to teach lessons to readers young and old alike. Sometimes those messages are misinterpreted, and occasionally they are unclear (as is sometimes the case with The Hunger Games) but the key to this brand of fiction is that there is, most often, some kind of lesson to be learned.
Would you be surprised to learn that The Hunger Games isn't an original? In fact, another novel exists with a plot so similar that even the most hard-core fan will have to confess that the similarities are too strong to be coincidental.
Battle Royale Came First (in 1999)
Battle Royale, written by Koushun Takami in 1996, was first published in 1999. At the time of its publication, the book was terribly controversial because it suggested that the over-reaching power of a tyrannical government could result in such travesties as a game show depicting children murdering one another until only one survived. The obvious premise of the story is terrifying, and Battle Royale does a wonderful job of being truly terrifying.
One year later, the book was turned into a (very controversial) movie which has been rocking and terrifying audiences since. The movie was released in 2000, and is one of the most raw and terrifying depictions of a corrupt society you're likely to see on DVD.
The Basic Premise of Battle Royale is Very Similar to the More Familiar Hunger Games Trilogy
In an alternate universe in 1997, forty students from the Kagawa Prefecture (Republic of Greater East Asia) plan on going on a school trip. All the arrangements are made and the students board their bus. They never reach their destination, however. Instead, they are gassed and the teenager (14-15 years old) wake up in a classroom they've never seen before. A cruel man greets them and informs them that they have been selected as that year's class for the annual game show Battle Royale.
Battle Royale is a military experiment, the explanation for which is never quite given throughout the novel. Over a period of three days, the forty students will compete until there is but a single winner left. Each student is given a pack containing necessary items, including food and weapons. Weapons range from small knives to machine guns.
Students must kill one another (much as in The Hunger Games), but that's far from the only way to die. Every few hours a "hot zone" is declared in which any students remaining in that zone will be executed using exploding collars which have been placed around their necks.
If, at the end of three days, there is no single winner, the collars will all detonate and no winner will be declared.
This entire event is televised as a reality T.V. show.
The story of a terrifying dystopian alternate universe in which forty junior high school students (9th graders) are forced onto an island where they must kill one another in the great Game. Who will play?
Summary of Founding Similarities
In both novels, a group of teenagers is pitted in a fight to the death in an outdoor arena, and in both cases the affair is televised. Additionally, the government is behind this persecution in both novels. This is much of what makes these books so utterly terrifying.
What you should know, however, is that Battle Royale is framed in such a way as to suggest -- or to at least imply -- that this could really happen in a country with a totalitarian state. Battle Royale serves as a much stronger warning against allowing the government to take over in a totalitarian or communistic system.
One of the most controversial films of the 21st century so far, Battle Royale is a must-watch for lovers of horror and gore. This is a truly terrifying film!
The Battle Royale Film
The film remains controversial. As most reviewers of the movie will attest, it is full of gore and gratuitous violence purely for the sake of violence. Both the film and the manga draw out this gore and violence in the extreme. Still, that's not what really makes this movie so terrifying. The horror of Battle Royale is that the forty students turn quickly from innocent youngsters into killing machines.
Admittedly, the film does a weaker job of illustrating this than the manga does (the mange goes the furthest to showing the effect of the game on the students who are -- and those who are not -- playing it). However, if you have access to either the novel or the film, the film is recommended. The manga is available online for those who have the patience to read at the computer. If you can get your hands on that, read the manga. It's better.
The film only recently became available to American audiences, just in time for The Hunger Games to hit theaters.
The manga is available online. This is not, strictly speaking, a legal version of the manga and therefore you won't find a link to the site on this page. If you're a manga fan, you probably already know where to look.
Most of the time, publishers don't dispute the online publication of these graphic novels because they are otherwise too difficult to find in English.
Warning: The Manga is Very Explicit!
You can purchase the manga version of Battle Royale to the right. The eBay ink to a complete set of the graphic novels is provided. If for some reason you're given an incorrect item, please pass over it and find the series on Amazon. eBay will probably save you some money over purchasing each of the graphic novels separately on Amazon or at a used book store. Bear in mind that these are not easy to find, and double-check that your purchase is an English version of the books.
The manga is recommended. Though it is very graphic (both sexually and violently), it tells the story in a progression that is missing from the novel, which can be entirely too fast-paced to tell the story effectively. The manga allows you to get to know the characters at a slower pace, particularly if you break between parts.
If you can't afford the complete set of manga and don't want to read online, by all means, the novel is a good option and will allow you to digest the story. It's not recommended to purchase the manga purely for comparison, so if that's your goal, purchase the novel second hand.
Did Collins take too much from Takami's story?
What about The Hunger Games?
So where does The Hunger Games fit into all of this? The similarities between the two books are striking, and many fans of Battle Royale believe that Suzanne Collins was heavily influenced by Battle Royale. Surely there are some striking similarities: A number of children confined to an arena (or on an island) where they must fight to the death, with only one individual coming out in the end.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
In both stories (The Hunger Games -- which is to say the first novel -- and Battle Royale) the story ends with not one but two survivors, and in both cases, those characters have romantic feelings for one another.
Some believe that Collins copied Takami's story. If she did, she made it more accessible to younger people and to American audiences. In some ways, young Americans most need to know this story, and therefore it's hard to argue with Collins for having produced one of the best young adult series of all time.
What's Your Opinion on The Hunger Games and Battle Royale?
Please feel free to use the comments to leave your feelings about these books. I'd like to share mine on a personal level, as this is something which has become very personal for me. On numerous occasions I've been recommended to read Battle Royale (which I have read) and it was because of this that I chose to write on the subject at all.
I believe that Collins was strongly inspired by Battle Royale and that the original novel's influences are clear throughout the more recent trilogy. This is understandable, and I believe that it's mostly acceptable. Needful Things (Stephen King) was clearly inspired by Something Wicked this Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) and it's rare to hear someone complain about these books. It's the sheer popularity of The Hunger Games that has caused so much hype.
That being said, you should read Battle Royale and decide for yourself. If nothing else, it's a terrific, very pro-American novel you're likely to enjoy if you liked The Hunger Games. Just be prepared for more horror than science fiction!
© 2014 Becki Rizzuti