Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Hunger Games - Another Round of Battle Royale?

The moment Katniss explained what the hunger games are, Battle Royale (novel by Koushun Takami, published in 1999) came into my mind. I think that anybody who read the book or saw the movie will do the same, regardless she/he likes it or not. Battle Royale was made into movie in 2000 featuring, among others, Takeshi Kitano, and was a mega hit. A lot of people know the movie. I should admit the fact that I like Battle Royale a lot, both the novel and the movie, before putting forward this point of mine: The Hunger Games is a poor-quality carbon copy of Battle Royale.

I do not know whether Battle Royale had any influence on Suzanne Collins when she wrote The Hunger Games, and I am not attempting to make any judgment on that part. I would like to compare the two, simply from the perspective of a pop culture consumer.

The single most impactful difference between the two is the depth of the story. In Battle Royale, there are at least five (yes, 5) very deep plots that run intertwined with the main plot - those of Shuya, Shinji, Shogo, Kazuo, and Mitsuko. In addition to this, almost all the students are given characters deep enough to make readers think from the point of view of each character. In the movie, even the bad-ass teacher (Takeshi Kitano) is given a very deep character. On the other hand, in The Hunger Games, it is just Katniss and, to a much less degree, Peeta, who are given enough character to brood upon. The majority of the game participants are not even given a name, to begin with. Consequently, The Hunger Games feels like a shoot-them-all kind of video game, for which no literary plot is required.

However, The Hunger Games does not win even in terms of action. Even from the perspective of pure action (and gore), Battle Royale has a landslide victory over The Hunger Games. This is partly because of the difference in narration point of view - The Hunger Games is a first-person narrative while Battle Royale is a third-person one. However, the lack of more intense action is because of the lack of inter-relatedness of the game participants. In Battle Royale, the participants are from the same class in school - they know each other, and some of them are in more intense relationship such as love, friendship, or even feud. But this is not the case in The Hunger Games. In my opinion, Peeta is the only character that has the potential to move readers, and this is because of the conflict between his emotion and the situation. Other characters that show human emotion, such as Thresh, are not convincing enough to drive emotional response from readers because their stories lack depth.

The first-person point of view also brings many uncomfortable flaws to the novel. In a first-person narrative, the narrator is sometimes forced to make voice for the author, for example, to explain some background. This is done numerous times in The Hunger Games, and it hurts the character building of the heroine. For example, Katniss knows so much about details of past Hunger Games - which is not very convincing given that Katniss had to work so hard (with no holiday) to support her family. (Yes, watching the Hunger Games is mandatory, but will she remember all the details after all, when she have so much burden on her shoulder for daily survival?)

Another striking difference between the two novels is the setup of the characters. In The Hunger Games, it is apparent that both Katniss and Peeta are distinguished for their attractiveness. This is typical of novels these days, which presupposes multi-source use of its contents - especially for movies. So, in short, beautiful girls and handsome guys are our heroes in The Hunger Games. By contrast, this is not the case in Battle Royale. The most beautiful girl in the novel is one of the main villains. In the movie version of the novel, the main heroine is depicted to have some moral defects. Even the most intelligent and resourceful hero, Shinji, fails because of a flaw in his personality. Battle Royale has full and diverse plots because it is full of such multi-dimensional characters. Nobody’s one-dimensionally perfect like Katniss.

It is true that The Hunger Games is an enticing novel that drives you to read more. But the source of the power is the novel’s unique idea of a battle royal among attractive kids - which was already used in a novel that was written more than 10 years ago. Furthermore, the depth and intensity of the story, and the power to make readers think about human nature, is beyond comparison.

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