Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project 52 2012 (13/52): On Whether Hunger Games Was A Rip-Off Of Battle Royale (Even If I Like Them Both)

.:Project 52 2012 (13/52): On Whether Hunger Games Was A Rip-Off Of Battle Royale (Even If I Like Them Both):.

In an alternate timeline, the totalitarian government has enacted policies for an annual tournament for children to fight each other to the death. This is done as a means to establish control by the government, and... waiiit. Which franchise were we talking about again?


This discussion will focus mainly on the film versions of Battle Royale and the Hunger Games. If any other medium or version would be used for comparison, it will be specified as such. Otherwise, assume I am referring to the movies.

It was inevitable for this discussion to crop up. Since the year 2000, when the controversial novel by Koushun Takami was turned into a film by the late Kinji Fukusaku, the controversy surrounding the film's violent and mature themes as portrayed by 15-year old kids shocked anyone who has heard of it, read of it, or seen it. Whether it was Japan or America, whether it was the novel, the film, or the manga, controversy hounded it. The premise of children fighting each other to the death, sanctioned by the government (As opposed to due to sheer savagery due to anarchy, as categorized by "Lord Of The Flies."), was an upsetting notion that gave people pause.

I've always been a fan of the film and the manga. I'm still in the process of reading through the novel, but I honestly feel that the loss in translation is keeping me from appreciating it as much as I did the film and the manga. I loathed the sequel of both the film and the manga and in my headcanon, neither of these things ever happened. In fact, I've watched something Battle Royale-related as recently as a few weeks ago.

As for the Hunger Games, I watched the film last Friday, and even gave it a very glowing review. On its own merits, the film stood strong and had more than its share of great moments, exciting action, and great character arcs. The lavish budget the film obviously had only aided in making the experience all the better.

And true, netizens far and wide were castigating The Hunger Games the minute the first book came out as being a ripoff of "Battle Royale." What? Because every single film with the same premise is now a ripoff, even if the execution is pretty much worlds apart?

Totally different, see? Only one of them didn't suck.

I was mostly insulated from this because I haven't read Young Adult material since Encyclopedia Brown (Harry Potter doesn't count.). I have heard of The Hunger Games, but I was by no means a fan, since I never even read it. Despite that, as a huge fan of the BR franchise, I definitely felt protective of anyone who would dare rip off and bastardize the premise. Few things are as masterfully terrifying as putting kids in life or death situations where they need to kill other kids to survive.

Although of course, this ripoff was much scarier because 
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was trying to act. Oh, synapse!

I walked into the movie with certain expectations, and a keen eye on the story themes, eager to jump in on the "how dare you rip off Battle Royale?!?" bandwagon when the unthinkable happened...

... don't take this the wrong way, but could it be that somebody on the internet was actually wrong, and The Hunger Games isn't a ripoff of Battle Royale? Like, at all?

Gasp! How dare you, xkcd?

If you can't look past the themes of totalitarian government, kids as the victims, and wholesale murder as themes, then of course you'd think one was a ripoff of the other. It's when you actually look at the directions either franchise decided to take with these notions where you see the meat of contention and just how absolutely far apart the two films are.

In the tradition of Cracked, here are three reasons why Battle Royale wasn't really ripped off by Hunger Games. And, for the sake of argument, even if it were, I feel that the two works are vastly different enough to each stand on their own merits.

1. Battle Royale is a Program. The Hunger Games is a Game.

First of all, Battle Royale's premise didn't take it in the direction of the BR program being a game, but an actual control mechanism. While there is media coverage and whatnot, and while the manga translation turned it into a reality show concept, the film version did not turn it into a matter of entertainment. It wasn't a top ratings bonanza, or else the kids in the Program would have been very much aware about it.

In contrast, the Hunger Games made it very clear that this annual competition was a highly-anticipated spectacle by the people in Capitol, while even the 12 sectors participate as spectators as well to the Games, reluctantly or otherwise. As I pointed out, being satirical in nature, the Hunger Games were a matter of course and a matter of fact, and for the most part, looked wrong only to us and to the ones who didn't want to be in the Games.

2. Battle Royale is a Morality Play. Hunger Games is Deadpan Satire.

Which leads us to the second point: I would show Battle Royale to an ethics class as part of their course work, but not the Hunger Games. Battle Royale is clearly framed as a morality play, what with the tagline "Would you kill your best friend?" The theme of right and wrong is very big throughout the film, while it is downplayed at best in The Hunger Games. I'm aware that at some point, how wrong the Games are would become more emphasized in the succeeding books, but if we started including the sequels in this discussion, then yeah, Battle Royale wouldn't have a leg to stand on at all, I'm guessing.

The reason Battle Royale appealed so much to 2003-2004 me was because it was a genuine moral quandary that they posed, and one that really made me think. When you saw each character death excluding arguably Kiriyama's, you felt compelled to know about their story and what brought them to that point. Even the clear villains, such as Takeshi Sensei, were sympathetic, and the psycho femme fatale, Mitsuko, was even more so. While I was taking up ethics then, it made me think about themes that really felt appropriate.

The Hunger Games regarded the killings with a certain resignation and banality. The lead character was clearly willing to play the game, and the entrenchment of the Hunger Games as part and parcel of the Treaty of Treason has made it virtually unquestionable and more of a backdrop to a riveting adventure where we root for Katniss and maybe even Peeta and Rue to survive against all odds as the ultimate victor. Battle Royale makes no such attempt and instead makes us wish all 42 students didn't have to die.

3. Battle Royale is a tale of one class. The Hunger Games is a tale of one Tribute.

And that's the third biggest distinction between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games: BR is the tale of 42 kids sent to a deserted island to kill each other off. HG is a tale of Katniss Everdeen outplaying 23 other competitors to win. The fact that there is a focal character where everything happens through her point of view changes how we view the story as a whole. Even in the film, except for the bits involving the Gamemasters, the film was told nigh-exclusively within the sphere of Katniss's presence.

This changes the whole dynamic of the way the films play out, and who we root for throughout the movie. In Battle Royale, the movie wants us to root for the class as a whole .

Except for this guy. He tried to rape Gogo Yubari, so screw this dude. 

This was why Mimura was one of the favorite characters in the franchise to begin with, as he wasn't playing the game: he was trying to break the game. He had the right plan, and quite frankly, if it weren't for Kiriyama, he would've succeeded at it, too. There's just something really admirable about that.

Or how about Sugimura? How his quest to find Kotohiki could've been a movie in itself, and how his character arc was just nothing short of beautiful until the predictably grim and hopeless ending? Maybe even the girls at the lighthouse? These characters were sympathetic independently of Shuya and Noriko. You knew the kids in Battle Royale as a class, and wanted them to survive the games collectively. By the end of it, you didn't want to see Shuya playing the game, and when he ended up shooting Takeshi-sensei, that was the only time he actively tried to kill anyone, and certainly not a classmate.

In contrast, in The Hunger Games, it's clear that they want you to root for characters only in relation to Katniss. Heymitch, Cinna, Peeta, Rue, even Thresh. The arcs are centered around Katniss, so you aren't led to feel sympathetic to anyone who is antagonistic of Katniss, and it's also great how they managed to avoid turning Katniss into a Mary Sue just because she got an 11 in the Gamemaker evaluations. At the end of it all, you only cared about Katniss, and you wanted her to win the game, all the other kids (Excluding maybe Thresh, Peeta, and Rue.) be damned. You didn't get to know the other players the way you got to know Katniss and Peeta.

True, there is no question that I like Battle Royale more than Hunger Games. Despite that, there's no reason for me to hate on the Hunger Games on the basis of its originality or the lack of it. Not only does it not feel derivative of BR when you watch them side by side (Which I did.), but it isn't like the themes BR and HG share in common, totalitarian rule (1984, V for Vendetta, Brave New World), children in dire situations (Lord Of The Flies), or life or death struggles (Bloodsport, The Running Man) are particularly original and never-before touched upon, to begin with.

Yeah, they took the same initial premise, but they ran in parallel and starkly different directions, the least of them being the fact that while Battle Royale was clearly an adult-oriented film, Hunger Games was aimed at a young adult market. After everything has been said and done, I believe there is room in the world for both franchises.

And thank goodness for that.

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