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!