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I didn’t read any of the Harry Potters. I shudder at the thought of picking up a stephanie meyer’s book except to use as a wheel chock for when I need to change the oil in my car. I was, however, intrigued by the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It is impossible to go through a week without someone mentioning it or seeing it on the subway. and since the movie opened last weekend, the Hunger Games have been all people can talk about at work, too.

I was a bit hesitant at first to read the Hunger Games, likening it to the Twilight series – adequately written, aimed at teenaged readers, and incredibly embarassing to be caught reading on the subway. But then I heard about the story:

Hunger Games is written in the voice of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds absolute power over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.

wait a second….

I’ve heard this plot before….

Forty-two students, three days, one deserted Island: welcome to Battle Royale. A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school have been forced by legislation to compete in a Battle Royale. The students are each given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred (with a few minor rules) game to the death, which means that the students have three days to kill each other until one survives–or they all die.

school-age kids? check.
government oppression? check.
isolated venue for the battle/games? check.
fight to the death? check.

and I couldn’t help but wonder, is Hunger Games a rip-off of Battle Royale?

hmm. well. I can believe that this is a coincidence – using kids is a great tool to garner instant sympathy from the audience. government oppression is another easy tool to create an overarching antagonist. and fight to the death? well, you gotta pull some heartstrings somehow. maybe Collins was just writing a story that logically made sense. there is a large enough time difference (>10 years) from where BR was published and when HG was printed, so it is possible she may have never been exposed to the relatively unpopular BR.

but what about the other similarities? can they all be attributed to being coincidence? would other writers likely follow the same logical plot progression/twist? or is this a clever re-boot of the BR from a decade earlier?

let’s look at some of the things that jumped out at me – fair warning, there are going to be hints of spoilers as well as direct spoilers, so if you don’t want to know anything, just stop here and go read/watch them both first.

kids were both given resources and weapons at the very beginning of the battle/games.
– at first they aren’t allowed to attack each other (HG: mines. BR: classroom)
– as soon as the kids were freed (HG: deactivated mines, BR: left the classroom), the killing began (HG: cornucopia battle where 13 kids died, BR: teacher kills 2 students off the bat)

teams form
– the large one (HG: the Careers, BR: the girls in the lighthouse, the boys planning the bomb/escape)
– the lovers (HG: Katniss and Peeta, BR: Shuya and Noriko)
– the lone wolves (HG: Foxface, BR: Kawada)
– the ones who volunteered to go to win (HG: the Careers, BR: kazuo)
– the best friend/ally (HG: Rue, BR: Yutaka Seto)

notification.
the use of a PA system (BR) and the more elegant images in the night sky (HG) are a way to notify the players who had died (and who is still out there), as well as re-center the reader as to the overall status of the battle/game.

environmental control.
The HG gamemakers are able to control the weather and have booby-trapped areas of the forest to force the players to move (Katniss and the flames that gave her the burn). in BR, the government is able to declare “forbidden” zones which are mined – an effort to get players to move.

both game parameters require only one live winner, who will go back with honor (BR) or to great fortune/notoriety (HG), in both stories, the lovers survive.

The lovers in both stories did not have a strong love connection at the beginning of the games, but then grew as the days went on – this becomes a way to survive (HG: two winners rule, BR: motivation to survive and make sure Noriko lives).

Older mentors develop in both stories, where Kawada (BR) and Haymitch (HG) are instrumental in the survival of the lovers.

Each story takes a class (HG: tribute class at the training center, BR: Kawada prefecture 9th grade class) to an isolated venue where surveillance (HG: video cameras, BR: micro-phoned collars) is used by the government (HG: Panem, a conglomeration of north america, BR: Republic of Greater East Asia, a conglomeration of asian nations) to terrorize the public into submission to “big brother’s” will (HG: to continue to remind citizens of the government’s power and prevent uprisings, BR: to upset any potential for insurgency).

I do think they are very similar in plot and plot tools but Collins does a good job separating her Hunger Games in two big ways:

1. the teenage romance. clearly this is a book directed at a younger age group. the quickness of the plot development and the lack of writing depth speaks to being less than desirable – especially when trying to describe a dystopian environment of north america, where District 12 is supposed to be (presumably) west virginia or anywhere else along the Appalachians. The same groups that love the Meyers series are good candidates to be HG fans, too. I would have liked more gore and more development of the dystopian society as a whole. It was written like it was meant to be PG-13, and almost written as if it was supposed to be easily adapted into a screenplay. The foreshadowing of Gale and Peeta’s conflict over Katniss’ affections is palpable, and makes me less interested in reading the following two parts of the trilogy.

2. deus ex machina via reality TV. BR wasn’t televised and did not have the audience participation that HG had. I thought this was a nice feature and would be interesting to see if the book delved into how the districts reacted to the occurences inside the game. Collins doesn’t use it this way, instead, the reality TV aspect serves a more of a deus ex machina situation where problems like katniss’ burns and peeta’s infection are magically cured because it was sponsored by the reality tv viewers. it isn’t used much beyond a plot tool – primarily because collins keeps the reader inside the games – seeing what Katniss sees and leaving the rest a mystery.

so do I think it’s a rip-off? I’m leaning towards no. but I can see how the similarities can be drawn together. The entire zeitgeist of Battle Royale is more reality-driven, reminds me of Lord of the Flies in a way. BR is the grim, dark underbelly of how our societal mores are tested when our lives are put on the line. I think BR does a good job of getting the viewer to relate to a character or group, likening it to the viewer’s own personality. are you the kind who wants to preserve all society’s rules like the girls in the lighthouse? are you likely to find the loophole like the boys looking for a way to detach the collars? are you likely to go mad, like Kazuo? or are you going to be the hero for someone you love, Shuya?

in contrast, Hunger Games does not go into the grimness and suffering of District 12. Collins creates a desolate world with a lot of silver linings. There is no empathy for other characters in the games except maybe Foxface (if you’re the run & hide type) or rue (if you’re a capable sidekick). Collins wants you to empathize with Katniss and only her – well, unless you’re a bloodthirsty teen in which case it’s the Careers for you. The Hunger Games seems too soft. Although both Katniss and Shinya did not rack up many kills, Shinya’s innocence is believable, where Katniss seems as hardened as a soldier who just came back from a war-torn tour. I have trouble really believing Katniss is that capable or that unaffected by the environment she was put in.

Is it a rip-off? I think so. The author claims she’s never heard of battle royale and she was inspired by flipping channels and saw reality tv and news on the Iraq war. that’s fine and all for inspiration, but she lacks too much in the writing (which could very well be her writing skill showing) to make me believe she was trying to show something poignant about reality tv, war, or other social norms we take for granted.

the good news? she isn’t going to give a crap because she’s raking in the dough from the movie and likely subsequent movies. but personally, I’d feel a little less satisfied knowing I’m being compared to Stephanie Meyer rather a good novelist. luckily she’ll have plenty of hundred dollar bills to dry those tears.

I realize I’m not the first to do this, but I did avoid reading other comparisons before writing my own. the first link below is a guy who put together a really well thought-out set of essays:

http://www.jonathanlack.com/2012/03/hunger-games-versus-battle-royale.html

and here are some other references for the similarities/controversy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunger_Games#Critical_reception


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392170/faq#.2.1.8

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Royale#Hunger_Games_controversy

so what do you think? rip-off? or coincidence?

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