BATTLE ROYALE: THE NOVEL « Haikasoru: Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.

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BATTLE ROYALE: THE NOVEL [Archive]

BATTLE ROYALE vs THE HUNGER GAMES

It’s been a fun time over here at Haikasoru HQ as Battle Royale: The Novel has been getting a ton of ink from the mainstream news, thanks to the hype for The Hunger Games film. That’s been a common conversation in the online nerdosphere for a while, but the last week saw articles in the Wall Street Journal, on National Public Radio, and many other venues. Of course, the film is now finally available legally in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray, and is getting reviewed in major newspapers as well. The film naturally leads back to the novel. If you’ve been to Target or Hudson Booksellers (in many airports and transport hubs), you’ve likely seen Battle Royale on the shelves in great numbers recently, often next to signs suggesting it for fans of The Hunger Games.

Don’t feel bad for else—we’re doing very well. I can think of no better promotion for Battle Royale than the success of The Hunger Games. (Well, except for an American remake of the film, but such a remake could also just end up being awful…)

On the question of the link between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins says she was unfamiliar with the former when writing the latter. Of course there is absolutely no reason to doubt her, but Collins was working in television around the time of the initial Battle Royale controversies—the media trade followed that story pretty closely. It’s certainly easy enough to have heard of something, then forget about it, only to have it emerge in one’s mind a few years later as a “new” idea. But again, there’s no evidence of even that. (How could there be?)

There are plenty of similarities between books: teens given weapons and forced into a death match, a pair working together to undermine the game with the help of an older mentor who had previously won the game, and even bits and pieces like using signal fires and bird calls. The Hunger Games also includes a “reality show” premise, but that premise can be found in the US-version of the Battle Royale manga as well. (Then there are claims that the ancient Greek story of the minotaur and the tribute sacrifice of children is a common root for both stories—hard to believe given that the central theme is the children being compelled to kill one another, rather than being sacrificed to some outside force.)

Then there is a fact that the mere use of a premise doesn’t always or necessarily rise to the level of plagiarism. One is reminded of the controversy around author Yann Martel’s famed Life of Pi; Martel had allegedly read about the unusual premise of a man on a raft with a big cat in a review of an earlier book and created his own novel from it. Then there’s Osamu Tezuka’s manga Metropolis, which rather than being based on the Fritz Lang film of the same name was actually inspired by seeing a single still from the film. Older books such as The Long Walk, Logan’s Run and others are clear antecedents of both titles. So even if Collins had heard of Battle Royale and had later forgotten, she’s not necessarily plagiarizing.

And naturally there are differences: The Hunger Games is in the first person, Battle Royale uses roving third-person point of view. The former has many more science fiction elements than the latter. Female versus male leads, triumphalism versus an open ending. We can go on. For fans of Battle Royale who feel a little put off by the success of The Hunger Games I can only suggest taking the opportunity to share your enthusiasm for Battle Royale with your friends and others who may not have seen the book yet, rather than getting angry at the success of the other book. We’re doing just fine! Reading is not a death match!

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Battle Royale vs Hunger Games

We’re hardly the first people to note the similarities between Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, and the recent bestselling Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. We were pleased to read an interview with the normally reticent Collins in today’s New York Times, which discusses the issue:

Even more pronounced are the similarities between “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale,” a Japanese novel published in 1999. Each book involves young people selected at random and pitted against one another in a game of survival staged by tyrannical authorities. The parallels are striking enough that Collins’s work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a baldfaced ripoff. The authors share an interest in the mechanisms of state control, but their agendas clearly diverge. “Battle Royale” is a more deliberate study of adolescence, its coming-of-age savageries and posturings. “You’ve become quite a stud,” a dying girl tells the classmate who cradles her in his arms. When it was published, “Battle Royale” played into Japan’s fears about a rise in youth violence; Collins’s heroes are, if anything, models of responsibility. When I asked Collins if she had drawn from “Battle Royale,” she was unperturbed. “I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue with what you’re doing.’ ” She has yet to read the book or to see the movie.

Ooh, someone at the Times read Battle Royale! The article is pretty interesting; apparently the upcoming Hunger Games film “will be safe for viewers as young as 12″…unlike the Battle Royale film. I wonder though…should I send Ms. Collins a free copy of the novel? Surely she can read it now that her trilogy is published and the movie is on the way!

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Epic Book is Epic

I got the advance copies of Mardock Scramble today and oh boy, is she a big book. See?

Hmm, maybe it’s a little hard to tell how big a 784 page paperback is. Here she is, side by side with Battle Royale:

Lookin’ a little skimpy there at only 614 pages, BR!

Or to put it yet another way, Mardock Scramble is the size of four copies of All You Need Is KILL:

It’s big I tell you. Go clear a space on your bookshelves for this one. You’ll need it. If you buy five copies, you can make a sofa out of them!

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Backlist Buying Guide!

I wasn’t going to do a holiday buying guide for our 2009 titles as they might be a bit more difficult to find on bookstore shelves, but because YOU demanded it (well, because a couple of people demanded it), here we are!


All You Need Is Kill
Who I Thought Would Like It: Fans of action-packed SF.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Fans of action-packed SF…eventually. The common publishing wisdom in the United States is that 50,000-word novels don’t sell. Personally I think they do sell just fine, but are most often sold by being embedded in another 50,000-word novel that just happens to be about the same characters opening and closing doors, raising their eyebrows, discussing their hobbies (often hobbies shared by the author), sipping beverages, and having and then recounting ominous dreams. This book really picked up when the movie news hit. Of course, movie news doesn’t last forever, but it was in April of this year when a critical mass of readers finally found the book and then word-of-mouth took over. Even after the bump of the movie announcement, and a subsequent spike following the announcement that Doug Liman would be helming the picture, sales have remained strong. So, good!


The Lord of the Sands of Time
Who I Thought Would Like It: The manga crowd.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Old-school SF fans. The folks who came of age reading the SF of the 1950s really dug this one. Perhaps it’s because many paperback novels from that era, and really, into the 1970s, were fairly short, but this audience didn’t mind another 50,000-word novel. Some actually explicitly declared missing exciting and plot-filled novels that could be read in a single sitting. They didn’t find Messenger O goofy, liked the time-travel and Many Worlds conceits, and found the whole thing rather rollicking!


ZOO
Who I Thought Would Like It: I was afraid nobody would like it!
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Horror fans, thankfully. Two things need to be understood: a) generally speaking, horror doesn’t sell in the United States anymore unless “disguised” as thriller, or paranormal romance, or some other genre; and b) short story collections don’t sell in the US either. So putting out a horror short story collection was very risky—one can imagine the intersecting area of two small audiences as our total potential audience. Well, as it turns out, that intersection was big enough to buy some copies and hungry enough to snap up Otsuichi rather greedily. And ZOO was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. His follow-up, Summer, Fireworks, And My Corpse was also nominated for a prize—the Black Quill award. So if you want to see a third horror short story collection, you know what you need to do, right?


Usurper of the Sun
Who I Thought Would Like It: Hard SF fans.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Correct! I was pleased to see Nojiri’s first contact novel reviewed in Locus, given a shout-out on National Geographic planetary science blog, and other places beloved of the nerd hardcore. Hard SF is always a little tricky—in recent years in the US it has become dominated by a sort of libertarian politics that one isn’t going to find in Japanese fiction—but it all worked out.

We did reissues of Battle Royale and Brave Story and those continued to sell extremely well to their young audiences. And then there was…


The Book of Heroes
Who I Thought Would Like It: Brave Story fans and creepy weirdos who like nineteenth century decadent fiction.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Many but not all Brave Story fans. Many of Brave Story’s young readers were impressed with that book’s heft. It’s a real achievement for a kid to read an 820-page book. The Book of Heroes isn’t quite the epic Miyuki Miyabe’s other novel with us was, though those who discovered Miyabe through Brave Story and picked up her follow-up quite liked it and many of her new fans are still discovering it—it’s a good backlist seller. My little daydream of Robert W. Chambers fans discovering book—the “King in Yellow” was originally his idea—didn’t quite come true either, but we can’t have all our books for young girls read by middle-aged men, can we?

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