If you don't know the story of The Hunger Games, first of all, under which rock have you been hiding? And second of all, check out the summary from Goodreads:
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.
While I do see the argument that Suzanne Collins plagiarized from Koushun Takami, and would love to know if she had seen the movie or read the book before penning her trilogy - there's a lot of character parallels, especially Kawada, who seems very much like a precursor to Finnick from Catching Fire and Mockingjay - there actually is a huge difference in driving force between the two stories. The Hunger Games is a war story, a story of the utter cruelty of those in power, of the exploitation of the Third World, of big, "world" issues, and of course, a big time dig at reality TV. Especially when you look at the trilogy in association with Suzanne Collins's previous work, the middle grade anti-war series the Underland Chronicles, the high school metaphor looks entirely incidental. In Battle Royale, however, it's quite obvious that it's the entire point of the exercise, and the author has even said so in interviews.
While it's implied that the outcome of the Battle Royale "games" is national news in the incredibly creepy first scene - I'm keeping it more or less kid-friendly here on my blog, but if you're not particularly attached to a good night's sleep then check out the first still on the right in this review - reality TV doesn't come into play at all in Battle Royale, and the focus is placed almost entirely on the fact that these kids have been friends all through elementary and middle school. (They're 9th graders.) It's hard not to get that the point is that people change in high school, as even me, the homeschooled kid, can attest to, and even people you think are your friends can, literally, stab you in the back. Or shoot you, as the case may be. There just isn't that subtext in The Hunger Games - they're all strangers. Did anybody really believe that Katniss would (spoiler) find herself in a position where she would end up killing Peeta or Rue? Or even her newer allies in the second and third novels? Didn't think so.
Also, the distinction between adults and kids is rarely present in The Hunger Games. We're rooting for Haymitch, Cinna, Johanna, Finnick, and all the other adult characters just as much as our teenage protagonists - they're all victims of the Capitol. In Battle Royale, however, it's all very Don't-Trust-Anyone-Over-25, to make a gratuitous Little Brother reference. Actually, even Kawada at sixteen or seventeen is pretty suspect. Shuya Nanahara's dad commits suicide and is discovered by Shuya (not a spoiler as we're informed of this in the first scenes of the film), leaving him to face foster care, and the teacher is clearly out for sadistic revenge. Only Noriko seems to have a good relationship with her parents, and even that is subtly implied, not directly shown. The overall message seems to be that adults are out to get you, a theme as a teen blogger that is worthy of another whole post in and of itself. The angst puppy within almost demands it.
The point of all this soliloquizing is, while I doubt Suzanne Collins will ever spill the beans on if Battle Royale was a major influence in the brainstorm that gave birth to The Hunger Games, they're fundamentally very different, and both worth experiencing. Also, while BR is admittedly a total and unabashed slasher film that just happens to have a deeper interpretation, and I could see a lot of places where they could have cut down on the gore, I'm still very curious to see how they plan on getting a PG-13 rating on a film adaptation for The Hunger Games. I hope Hollywood doesn't chicken out on us, but I also hope they don't go overboard. I guess we'll see in December 2011.
Have you seen Battle Royale and read The Hunger Games? Do you think that Suzanne Collins was plagiarizing? Both have also been criticized for their level of violence and their effect on "sensitive and developing" (cough, cough) teen minds, so if you feel like opening that can of worms, I'm all ears. Please leave your thoughts in the comments!