Its inevitable: Every time we start a conversation about Hunger Games, someone always starts a "Battle Royale did it first" argument. It's unavoidable. So we decided to compare both series, to settle this debate once and for all.
Both stories originated as books. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins came out in 2008 and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami was published in 1999. While we didn't have a copy of Takami's book handy, we did get a chance to screen the Battle Royale Blu-Ray release, which is what we're using as basis for most of this debate. So please, if we've missed something vital from Takami's original book, let us know.
Now let's get started, here are all the similarities between the two:
While Battle Royale takes place in an alternate timeline in the not too distant future of Japan, The Hunger Games is set in the post apocalyptic wasteland of what once was North America.
The Program or the BR Act (as it is referred to in BR) and The Games (as they are called in HG) are both used by the government instil a sense of terror into the population. Both sets of children grow up a totalitarian government — but in the BR movie The Program was enacted specifically to scare the pants off the new rising groups of angry and violent youths:
"At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act..."
The Hunger Games, meanwhile, were created as punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol. It is the Capitol's way of reminding the 12 Districts that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. So both events are used for governing the masses with terror (albeit for slightly different reasons).
However, The Program is kept under lock and key, while The Games are broadcast throughout the land of Panem like the Superbowl.
Verdict: Similar in themes, different in reasoning.
Battle Royale features Teacher Kitano, while Hunger Games has the supreme leader, President Snow. While both characters are twisted, sick men, Kitano appears to have some sort of snake soul writhing about under his skin, due to his strange relationship with his student in The Program, Noriko. The movie even attempts to humanize him by showing him on the phone with his spiteful surrogate daughter, and he paints a picture of her killing everyone else. The filmmakers paint a picture of sick, sad lonely little man who delights in the deaths of children, but deep down just wants to be loved. Meanwhile, President Snow is nothing but a monster, who stinks of blood after his murderous rise to the top. He kills whomever he wants, whenever he wants for political gain. Snow loves power, and nothing else.
One could argue that the only real similarity between the two is that they both have strange obsessions with the lead females, and they're both dudes — but that's about it.
Both narratives rely heavily on using dreams to illustrate various characters' states of minds. And neither set of dream sequences is really that necessary for the story. So yes, it's true that both BR and HG utilize strange murder dreams.
Both BR and HG rely heavily on advanced technology to monitor, create and police their games. Without the exploding collars permanently attached to each child on the island in BR, there would be no real threat. While the technology utilized in The Hunger Games is infinitely more diverse than BR (the Gamekeepers can create walls of fire, and control herds of flesh hungry monkeys) it's still a very important part of the their world. The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy seems to poach quite directly from Battle Royale, when the tributes are made aware of various "danger zones" that they must move out of at certain times for fear of death — which is something that BR did first. So while the technology is infinitely different, it's still used in an exceptionally similar manner.
Verdict: Both Different And Similar
The Students/The Tributes:
Yes they are both kids, but let's look past that. Actually, the makeup of the Students versus the Tributes is the biggest difference between the two series. First and foremost, the tributes in Hunger Games are given training. They have a small amount of time to try and learn to defend themselves (how to use weapons, how to use hide, hunt, fight etc.) They know that their death is approaching, and they have to deal with that, so it makes for a fun read.
On the flip side, the students in Battle Royale are just gased and dropped off on an island. There they're handed a weapon (maybe) and told to kill each other. It's brutal. But because it's so abrupt, you get horrible humanizing twists like suicides and paranoia panic attacks that cause a pack of best friends to shoot each other to pieces over misplaced poison. Almost every character in Hunger Games at least tries to defend themselves, but it's a much more tangled mess of emotions over at Battle Royale, because these people used to be friends.
The BR Act happens entirely off camera, and in the book they say The Program is for military research. Meanwhile in Panem, The Hunger Games are used as a visual whipping post for the entire world. The tributes spend weeks in front of the camera, so the whole country can get to know them, and then watch them die.
The The Volunteers:
As mentioned earlier, BR and HG both have their own collection of lunatic volunteers who happily sign up to kill other children.
The Love Story:
The love triangle in Hunger Games is possibly one of the larger selling points of the series. Two men pine over the lead Katniss. This storyline has spurned Team Gale and Team Peeta T-shirts, and arguments over who deserves the fierce girl with the braided hair. Meanwhile the love story of Shuya and Noriko is downplayed to make room for more violence. While you still root for these two, it's hard to really get inested, since everyone is so ridiculously in love with Shuya — enough to kill for her. But there are a few other good romantic moments, as well between a handful of side characters. Which leads to yet another difference between the two — these kids have a history. In Hunger Games, Katniss doesn't get to know anyone besides little Rue, so it's not the end of the world when Glimmer gets it. However, watching high school kids deal with a lot of baggage adds a whole other layer of terror — like when Kazushi basically threatens to rape female character Chigusa so they both won't die virgins.
While The Hunger Games is very, very bloody, Battle Royale is full tilt splatter gore. That being said, they're both bloody as hell.
The Final Verdict:
It's undeniable, there are a hell of a lot of similarities between the two. But even after listing off all of the parallels (and there are a lot), Battle Royale doesn't own the thunderdome (even if BR did have the brilliant idea to put kids in it). The Japanese original owes a debt of gratitude to Lord of the Flies, Mad Max, The Running Man — and oh yeah, the Romans, who started Bread and Circuses, before there were even movies. There is no such thing as an original idea in Hollywood, and lets not forget The Hunger Games takes place in a post apocalyptic landscape with cat people. Different.
The Battle Royale Blu-Ray will be available on March 20th, and The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 22nd. Coincidence? We think not.