Did Hunger Games rip off the Japanese novel “Battle Royale?”


What? This is not our typical blog post. It is not a free and cool web tool for educators to use. However, since our audience is comprised mainly of educators, I thought I’d post my comparison and review here- so please indulge me just this once:

After reading the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, I stumbled across several websites mentioning Battle Royale- with many claiming that Collins “ripped off” Battle Royale for her own Hunger Games. I only found a handful of reviews by people who had actually read both, so I set out to do it myself.

When my book arrived (unexpectedly early from a hold at our public library), I was intimidated by it’s mere length- over 600 pages (in standard trade paperback size). This book was a difficult read on many levels. But the fact that it was translated from Japanese complicated matters. Engaging with over 40 character with similar Japanese names was quite confusing (see notes at bottom about the translation). But after a month or so of sporadic reading, I finally finished it!

So here’s my review. But rather than bore you with extraneous words, here’s a bulleted list for you…

Commonalities of both:

  • Dystopian, Post-modern setting
  • Annual game
  • Controlled by the government
  • Location of game differs every time
  • Purpose of the game: to quench any idea of rebelling against government (punishment for defiance)*
  • Contestants chosen at random
  • Boys and girls numbered*
  • Starting point is a bloodbath
  • Small group of thugs make alliance and travel together killing others*
  • Whistle of a bird used to reunite players when they were separated*
  • The dead are announced to all players at regular intervals
  • Tragic loss of innocent players
  • Climax battle scene with leader of the thugs
  • Surprise ending with a twist- allows for more than one survivor
  • Room left for sequel

Unique to Hunger Games:

  • Tributes have a little time to say good-bye to families and mentally prepare
  • Strong female lead
  • Game televised
  • Pageantry in the Capitol
  • Players are coached/trained
  • Players enter game simultaneously without supplies
  • Use of genetically modified animals/insects
  • Sponsors lavish gifts on players
  • Government manipulates the environment
  • Explicit romantic involvement between characters (though implied in Battle Royale)

Unique to Battle Royale:

  • Over 40 students in game- back stories told by author
  • Whole class is chosen to play, unknowingly to all players and families
  • Players all know each other- have grown up with each other (making killing more personal)
  • Students given maps
  • Time limit to make sure the action proceeds
  • Students enter game from same point, alphabetically
  • Forbidden zones every hour to keep players moving
  • Steel collars around necks explode if boundaries are violated
  • Steel collars also serve to spy on the players (microphones, GPS tracking)
  • All players have a day pack with bread and water and a weapon
  • Way more violent- think ripping eyeballs out with fingernails

My Conclusion

As you can see, both novels are very similar in some aspects, but differ in a great number of others. The basic premise is the same- kids must fight for survival in a horrible “game” that they were forced into by a relentless government as a reminder that defiance will not be tolerated.

But the two books differ greatly in their handling of the game. In Battle Royale, it’s all about bloodshed and gore from the very beginning- and most of the kids turn into psychotic killers. No wonder the movie was banned in the U.S. in wake of the Columbine tragedy at the time. I have not seen the movie- but can’t imagine the movie would be thorough in any way. They would have to cut way too much out to do a good job. It would be better as a TV series- OK, a rated R cable series, that followed the characters and their back stories per each episode (fans of FOX’s Alcatraz series can relate).

Hunger Games focuses more on a couple characters, the love that drives them and makes them human. Battle Royale does a great job of characterization also- but in many brief splotches through flashbacks. The main characters in Hunger Games seemed to have a higher purpose for manipulating the game- rather than just for the sake of personal survival.

Still, there are very uncanny similarities (as noted by the asterisks in the similarities list). But what really made me stop and question was the use of a unique bird call to reunite players once they were separated. What are the chances of that being coincidence? I’ll let you decide.

My final verdict… I must agree with Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.” This basic plotline has been around for years- think Steven King’s “The Running Man” or even earlier with the “Lord of the Flies.” It’s even been suggested to me to read Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery” and Aldous Huxley’s 1932 “Brave New World” to see glimpses of this same plotline.

Did Suzanne Collins creatively “borrow” from Battle Royale? I’d say there’s a good possibility (though she denies having even heard about it until her novel was turned in). But was it anything illegal or unethical? Probably not. As a fellow author and writer, I understand that the stories inside us are comprised of our life experiences- things we have read, heard, seen, and lived. So it’s only natural that similarities exist in any form of art, music, or literature.

The author of Battle Royale sums it up quite nicely. “I think every novel has something to offer,” Takami told ABC News, in an email. “If readers find value in either book, that’s all an author can ask for.”

About the Translation
Like I said, the original story was written in Japanese. So some of the customs and behaviors came across as a little peculiar. Keeping up with so many characters with similar foreign names was burdensome. Thankfully, the translator prefaced the names with the gender and alphabetical number of each student the first time they appeared in each chapter. Example: Shuya Nanahara (Male Student No. 15).

And I’m not sure if the original text included this or not, but the translation summed up the body count at the end of each chapter. Example: “17 students remaining.”

With these two helps, reading the book, while difficult in some ways, was at least possible. Go ahead, read it for yourself!

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