How Has The Author Of The Hunger Games Not Heard Of Battle Royale?

DISCLAIMER: The worst way to ruin a perfectly good argument is to mix up its subject, so before we get into it, let’s get a few things straight:

While I’ve read Battle Royale and watched the movie, I haven’t read The Hunger Games (I may go see the film). You can complain that this makes me uninformed and biased, but being familiar with both books isn’t necessary to this argument and if I am biased, my case is obviously still vulnerable to facts and logic, so come at me, bro.

I don’t need to read The Hunger Games to have this argument because this isn’t about whether or not it’s similar to Battle Royale. The two have enough in common to get otaku nerds angry and tweens defensive, so there must be something to it. Also, enough effort has already been put into cataloging the similarities between the two books, while similarity doesn’t even necessarily imply plagiarism; tons of things have been independently created or discovered by more than one person. No one is arguing that Battle Royale is the seminal text of the genre. William Golding threw down childhood bloodlust with Lord of the Flies in junior high school, and themes of adolescent sacrifice are at least as old as the Minotaur. Everything is derivative, nothing is original and yeah, “Simpsons did it” — no one is saying otherwise.

What we are arguing about is the claim by Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, that before handing in her manuscript, she had never heard of Battle Royale.

Suzanne Collins’s Background

Collins spent the better part of the last two decades working in television, specifically on children’s shows. Her incomplete IMDB filmography, spanning 1993 to 2009 (2012 if you include The Hunger Games movie), includes writing credits for five different television series. Prior to working in television, she attended New York University, beginning in 1988 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing. Collins started writing children’s books with The Underland Chronicles, an admitted re-imagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In September of 2008, Scholastic published The Hunger Games, which Collins acknowledges was inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

So the entertainment industry and the literature world are the spheres Suzanne Collins is familiar with, having worked or studied in one or the other from 1988 to 2012. She is also accustomed to re-imagining others’ work — though there’s no harm in that when it’s admitted.

Battle Royale as a “Cult Hit”

People like to describe Battle Royale as a “cult hit,” ostensibly meaning that it has a small, though fanatic following and little mainstream exposure. The problem with classifying things as cult hits is that it’s often meaningless or even false. Think of Fight Club, the perennial cult film: If its fan base is so small, how have all your friends seen it? If it’s so esoteric, why is there a Fight Club poster hanging in every college freshman’s dorm? Calling something a cult hit is typically a reflexive action, saying more about the speaker than the subject, the equivalent of describing your favorite band with the words, “You probably haven’t heard of them.” It’s a means for people to claim they have a premium on knowledge, a way for kids to win Cool Points.

Battle Royale’s supposed cult hit status is also the favored argument of Hunger Games fans in denying the mere possibility that Collins could have been inspired by the Japanese book or film. “Ugh, no one outside of Japan-obsessed nerds has even heard of Battle Royale,” the reasoning usually goes, with the speaker casually unaware that they themselves seem familiar with it despite apparently not being Japan-obsessed nerds.

Essentially, the problem is: If no one’s heard of Battle Royale, who keeps bringing it up in the first place? The answer is that people have heard of Battle Royale. Both the book and the film have received coverage in the American press, and both have a number of Americans fans that seems larger than the U.S. population of anime nerds.

Let’s start with the book: The English translation of Battle Royale was released in 2003, and besides the obligatory write-up by Publishers Weekly, it was also reviewed in Entertainment Weekly by famed novelist Stephen King, who included it on his summer reading list after being introduced to it by Kelly Braffet, another American author. To date, Battle Royale the book has 171 customer reviews on Amazon, where it’s the 23rd best seller in science fiction short stories (odd considering it’s a 624-page novel), and 98 customer reviews on Barnes & Nobel, most of which predate the publication of The Hunger Games. Nothing compared to the success of Collins’ books, but certainly not unknown.

Onto the movie: The Japanese film-adaptation of Battle Royale was released in 2000, and despite not having an official U.S. release nor distribution until 2011, it received a relatively considerable amount of coverage in America. In fact, its international premiere took place in Los Angeles, as reported by Variety in the entertainment industry magazine’s first piece about the film in 2001. Variety also reviewed Battle Royale II in 2003 and covered the purchase of the original film’s American rights in 2006 — which was subsequently reported by The New York Times in 2006, five years after the “newspaper of record” published its own review of Battle Royale. TIME magazine also reported on Battle Royale and its sequel in 2003. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 36 critics have reviewed the film, along with the 73,883 users who rated it (again, most prior to the publication of The Hunger Games). To date, the DVD has 199 customer reviews on Amazon, and the film has 513 user reviews and 68,036 ratings on IMDB, which also lists references to Battle Royale in a number of popular American movies, including Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Juno and Thank You for Smoking. Almost all of these numbers are bound to be surpassed by The Hunger Games, but the figures go a long way in dispelling the notion that Battle Royale is some incredibly obscure movie that only hardcore Japanophiles have ever heard of.

_____

Your judgment of whether or not Collins borrowed or outright stole material from Battle Royale for The Hunger Games obviously rests with you. Despite denying any knowledge of Battle Royale’s existence, she did work in the entertainment and literary worlds while Battle Royale was being covered by major publications relevant to those industries and she has a history of reaching out for inspiration, so the possibility is there. It comes down to whether or not you take her word for it — which is fine either way because, ultimately, it has no bearing on anything but a meaningless microscopic sliver of your own particular take on the world.

The only thing I ask is that we stop pretending that there’s literally no way Collins could have even heard of Battle Royale because it’s sooo underground. Apparently you and I have both heard of it, and neither of us is all that cool. TC mark

image – David Shankbone

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  • http://www.facebook.com/iamahmad Ahmad Radheyyan

    Congratulations, you just wrote over 1,000 words on how a popular kids author is unaware of your favorite Japanese cult classic.

    • http://twitter.com/judderwocky Perpetua

      idiot.

  • Taylor

    Okay then.

  • Alex

    WTF is Battle Royale??

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

    That’s nice.

  • _____

    I’ve known about Battle Royale since 8th grade. My english teacher mentioned it because it related  to a story we were reading called Most Dangerous Game. just sayin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747626213 Asmaa Faris

    I actually get pissed when authors like Collins deny ever having heard of Battle Royale, when it is very very obvious where she got her inspiration from. I’m not a Japanophile but I’ve seen Battle Royale, thus it’s not a “cult hit”.

    But I agree with Ahmad, making an article about it is maybe a bit too much haha.  

  • Age

    I remember seeing a commercial for The Hunger Games and thinking, “Oh. This is like Battle Royale.”

    I’ve never read Battle Royale and I only caught the movie when I used to hang out with people who were into that sort of stuff. It was f*cking fantastic. I’ll never watch The Hunger Games and that has nothing to do with Battle Royale. I, personally, take issue with movies like this. I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie or any of that Twilight stuff. 

  • Jessica

    Well, as you say, there’s no real harm drawing inspiration from prior material.  What’s her prerogative in denying knowledge then, other than maybe she actually didn’t know what it was?  As you also say, there’s a chance she’s heard of it.  And just as easily, there’s a chance she hasn’t.  If it doesn’t matter either way, I don’t really understand the undertone of criticism.

  • Michaelwg

    Never heard of it.

  • Kdbelle

    Never heard of it, toolbag.

  • CM

    I’m not defending Suzanne Collins because I don’t really care either way. But there’s a bit of a flaw in your argument. Have you ever considered the possibility that there’s a middle ground between “obscure, underground, japanophile, etc.” and “hugely successful mainstream, etc.”, a middle ground made up of stuff where there’s about an equal chance that an average 50-year-old has or hasn’t heard of them?

    • http://www.twitter.com/ArvSux Arvind Dilawar

      Of course there’s a chance that she hasn’t heard of Battle Royale, that’s why I wrote:  “It comes down to whether or not you take her word for it…”

    • http://twitter.com/judderwocky Perpetua

       i agree with you completely. nearly everyone at  my university was talking about this movie when it came out. everybody was saying it was “banned in america” (whether this true or not i have no idea) and this seemed to fuel a lot interest in watching it as an act of social rebellion.

  • Kristen

    I read a lot, was a philosophy major in college (i.e. in with “cult classics”), and haven’t heard of this. My initial thought was, “is Battle Royale a James Bond move?”  I really like the series and think it’s a great way for kids (the target audience) to think about broader issues pertinent to our world today.  Also, I heard from Collins that she got the idea from a real event in Ancient Greece.  I looked it up. It was more similar to the Hunger Games than the brief synopsis of Battle Royale I just read. Thus, I’m siding with Collins.

    • http://twitter.com/judderwocky Perpetua

      You must have not been very good at it. 

    • geoff kl

      real event in ancient greece? the minotaur is a mythical creature…and you are the perfect audience for collins….go back to your college, demand a refund

    • Diego Umejuarez

      I have nothing intelligent to add. You’re an idiot. – My gf

  • StinaAlex

    I will say that the first time a friend mentioned these new books she was ready called “The Hunger Games”, my immediate reaction was “what?! that’s Battle Royale!” I have always wondered since then whether or not Collins had gotten the idea from that or not. I’m a huge fan of Battlw Royale, but I’ve also read all of the Hunger Games books. It’s not a snob thing because I am no more a fan of “Japanese cult films” as I am of my teen drama guilty pleasures. haha It is interesting to wonder the truth though.

  • Dan

    This article is 95% too long. You could have shortened it to a tweet.

    • http://twitter.com/judderwocky Perpetua

      Typical of the tween generation. You believe you can cut all the meat out of an argument and still hold on to an understanding of the logic behind it.

      Lazy.

  • Cal

    She ripped it off Battle Royale, clearly. I’m not Japanophile but everyone I know has seen Battle Royale – it’s just a movie that most 5-30 year old cinema fans have seen.

    • Weltschmerzer

      Of course she ripped it. The Japanese movie version of Battle Royale which, by the way, is an excellent piece of cinema, came out as early as in the year 2000 and was a huge commercial success in Japan. Later on it became a kind of a cult movie elsewhere from Europe to the US, where it did not have a real theatrical release but was seen mostly on DVD. Finally, last year a 3-D- version of this outstanding Japanese film was shown in Japanese theaters, ten years after the big sucess with the original version. Come on …

  • Me

    The Hunger Games books aren’t particularly spectacular anyway, so… Meh.

  • Genesys_16

    Similarities between the two stop at the point where kids are faced to kill each other… The hunger games have more of a political and social justice undertone. As well as A nod to what war and poverty types of trauma can do to people. Whereas battle royale was more like a social experiment that looks at human nature aka self preservation (I agree that HG has this theme too).

    I’m a fan of both HG and Battle Royale, so I can objectively say that the only similarity is the bit where kids kill each other. It wouldn’t surprise me if Collins really not know about battle royale… I mean even if she’s heard it in passing conversations, how often are older white people inclined to look up foreign films and books that are aimed at adolescents?

    • Guest

      What about the part in both where two of the ‘players’ are in love with each other?  Or that both times the people going into the fights are chosen via lottery?  Or that there are certain areas within the arena which can be triggered by moving into them & then some kind of attack is set off?

      • Guest

        It’s a young adult series.. the likelihood of a romance is high. There’s a sort of love triangle thing going on, but I doubt people assume she ripped that off of Twilight or any of the THOUSANDS of similar stories involving a young woman torn between two guys (L.J Smith uses this a lot). That’s not a new concept. Neither is the lottery thing. Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery” uses this method to decide which of their villagers is sacrificed.. again, not a new concept. Although I do agree that the bit about certain areas having certain trigger/responses did bring to mind Battle Royale, but it wasn’t exactly the same. 
        I wouldn’t be surprised either that Collins hadn’t heard of BR.. just because “everyone you know” has doesn’t mean that everyone in the world has.

    • hi

      Battle Royale definitely has ‘political and social (in)justice’ under/overtones as well. And its a little hard to believe that Collins wouldn’t be inclined to watch (foreign) films, as she worked in television for 2 decades and was interested in writing books geared towards adolescents, even though shes an  ‘older white person’ but also also in addition besides that don’t older white ppl LOVE foreign films????

  • Juan

    I remember being 13 years old and playing with my school friends how we would react to a battle royale, and who where the ones to die first… but, I’ve never heard of “the hunger games”… is it readable at least?

  • Sophia

    I’ve never heard of Battle Royale. The least you could have done was described the movie a bit more, as even at the end of all of that I’m still unaware of what exactly they have in common.

    • beatrice

      it’s actually an anime..

      • Henry

         No it’s not..

      • pat

        Don’t listen to Beatrice she is wrong.

      • Anonymous

        now that’s just sad -___-

      • Gonagaidevil

         NO…wrong. Battle Royal High School is an anime and NOT related. Please do research before posting inaccurate information.

      • geoff kl

        it was a novel, written in 1999

        then it was a movie, released in 2001

        then it was a manga comic

        anime is a cartoon

        and you are stupid

    • Jenesuispasmorrissey

      Google it.

  • Southernvtgal

     I have never heard of Battle Royale, I am sorry…but a lot of books are similar…

    • http://twitter.com/judderwocky Perpetua

       ”  I have never heard of Battle Royale” doesn’t support you conclusion. What you have or have not heard about is irrelevant to the author’s argument.

  • P.

    THANK YOU for writing this!

  • Jess

     
    When I first read the
    plot outline for the Hunger Games my intimidate thought was that it
    sounded like a mix of Battle Royale and The Giver and now having read
    it (just finished the second book hope to read the third very soon) I
    do not think I was very far off in my guess. That being said,
    weather or not she knows of either of those titles the author of
    Hunger Games has written something that I think is very good and can
    be held to a much higher standard then the majority of young adult
    writing I don’t think it needs to be assumed that she definitely
    took the idea from Battle Royale but neither do I think it is a
    problem if she did. Stories of post apocalyptic distopian societies
    often have a lot of similarities and there are enough big differences
    here that I think there is no way you could call it plagiarism.

  • Del

    I actually think that the Author of The Hunger Games probably heard the concept of Battle Royale years ago, put it in the back of her mind, then later wrote a story after she was inspired from other things. The basic concept is just too similar for her to not be familiar with it.

    I don’t think that it was on purpose and I think that she took the basic concept and ran with the idea to make her own world and her own story. She probably forgot that a similar story had already been made.
    Both stories are good!
    The only problem that I have is how popular and facinated people are by Hunger Games when it’s not a new concept. It would be nice if this Battle Royale/Hunger Games issue was publically talked about so people can compare novels and movies and enjoy both. The original Japanese author developed this concept FIRST and he should be acknowledged for that. No one wants to talke about this on TV shows I’ve noticed. I think that THIS is why some people are so upset. This Hunger Games is a “seen it before” moment for them while people new to it are so excited by it.
     I wonder how well Hunger Games will do in Japan because if anyone should be upset about this it’s the Japanese. However, I suspect they will not mind at all. So why do Battle Royale fanatics?

    Just MY take.

  • Anonymous

    I like this piece. Ignore the critics labeling Battle Royale as a mere Japanophile thing. PSH. HATERS BE HATIN!

  • beatrice

    Thank you for writing this article on such a renowned platform such as thought catalog.. from what I first heard, battle royale is an anime? Either ways, didn’t find much commendable about the hunger games aside from being a very solid and normal adventure novel. However, the movie made it so raw and realistic, it was absolutely brilliant. 

    • Henry

       It’s certainly not an anime, but a regular feature film, a quite good one at that :)

    • Gonagaidevil

      Battle Royal High School is the anime and not related to the manga/live action being discussed.

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