Columns > Published on November 21st, 2011

Book Brawl: Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games

Every month I’ll pit two books, somehow related, against one another in a brutal, literary fight to the death. Two books enter. One book leaves.

This month the brawling books are Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (1999) and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008). They are fighting it out due to their shared subject matter of kids killing kids in a government-sponsored bloodbath. So who shall prevail in our own me-sponsored bloodbath? Read on to find out!

Round One: By Any Other Name

The title Battle Royale offers essentially all you need to know about this book. This is the battle. It’s epic. It’s glorious. It’s ferocious. And it’s to the death.

The title The Hunger Games evokes tremendous cruelty. Who could make a game out of the devastation of hunger? It’s a simple title that represents the gleeful brutality of The Capitol.

Round One... is a draw!

Round Two: A Book By Its Cover

Battle Royale has one of the great covers of all time. The orange is vivid and an interesting departure from the expected red. The silhouette of the students in their school uniforms is an unsettling reminder of the wickedness inherent in celebrating violence between children. The retro font and graphics are slick as hell, too.

'Battle Royale' by Houshun Takami

The Hunger Games cover is a little busy for my taste. I dig the mockingjay logo, but I’m not crazy about the font or the grey lollipops. Grey lollipops sound super gross, but not particularly scary.

'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

Round Two goes to…Battle Royale!

Round Three: Does the Premise Have Promise?

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate universe version of Japan. A group of junior high students—21 boys and 21 girls—from one district in a totalitarian republic are gassed on a school bus and taken to a remote island. They are each outfitted with metal collars, weapons and supplies, and told that they have 24 hours to kill each other, leaving only one winner. They are under constant surveillance. If in 24 hours more than one person survives, the collars will explode, killing everyone. The children form various alliances and their true natures are revealed. Protagonist Shuya is reluctant to kill, but he must overcome his qualms in order to survive The Program. The concept of this book is severe and merciless. Battle Royale is not messing around with you.

The Hunger Games takes place in an alternate universe version of North America. Each of the twelve districts in a totalitarian republic must offer up one boy and one girl to be taken to a remote location, given weapons and supplies and told that they must kill each other, leaving only one winner. They are under constant surveillance. The Capitol will kill all of them if they do not comply.  The children form various alliances and their true natures are revealed. Protagonist Katniss is reluctant to kill, but she must overcome her qualms in order to survive The Hunger Games. This is a pretty seriously intense concept that is also not messing around with you, but, you know, Battle Royale did it first.

Round Three goes to…Battle Royale!

Round Four: A Hero You Can Root For

Battle Royale’s Shuya Nanahara is kind and warm-hearted with an ebullient personality that uplifts everyone around him. He’s an idealist who stands up for those he cares about and he has a lot of integrity. He’s pleasant enough, however not terribly interesting, and he doesn’t exactly stand out in the crowd of vaguely interchangeable characters featured in Battle Royale.

Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is prickly and fierce. She can be clueless to a tiresome degree—she never seems to understand the motives of those around her due mostly to her own self-involvement—but she’s got enough backbone and grit for a dozen people. Katniss is an impeccable marksman when it comes to archery and she’s been feeding and protecting her own family since she was a little girl. She can be a pain in the ass and she makes some seriously dubious choices, but she’s an undeniably interesting and memorable character.

Round Four goes to…The Hunger Games!

Round Five: Diabolical Villainy

Kazuo Kiriyama is the antagonist of Battle Royale, a brilliant sociopath who manages to kill fourteen of his classmates in The Program. When he was in utero, his mother suffered a car crash that resulted in Kiriyama’s being born without the ability to experience emotion in a normal human way. He is a prodigy at painting, academics, the violin, martial arts, and killing classmates. He forms an alliance with four other students in The Program and eventually kills them all with no remorse.  Kiriyama’s cold, systematic elimination is terrifying because he cannot be reasoned with or manipulated. He isn’t killing out of anger, fear, or a love of violence. He’s merely doing something that needs to be done, and he will not be stopped.

The ultimate villain of The Hunger Games series is President Snow, and he’s a fearful opponent who could certainly give Kiriyama a run for his money. However, Snow isn’t truly introduced as the antagonist until the second novel of the trilogy, so Kiriyama’s in luck. Cato, the male tribute from District 2, is Katniss’ most intimidating nemesis in the first novel. Cato is huge and immensely strong, proficient in most weapons, and he takes a savage glee in his kills. He’s more than a little unhinged and has a troublesome temper. However, his rage and love of killing make him easy to manipulate, and he’s no genius. Katniss is able to outsmart him with ease.

Round Five goes to…Battle Royale!

Round Six: The Hot Parts

There are plenty of hot parts in Battle Royale, but many of them are really disturbing in nature. Mitsuko Souma is a beautiful and seductive young woman who uses her sex appeal to hoodwink her classmates, but as she both rapes and has been raped, her scenes hardly qualify as hot. However, a sweetly yearning crush between Shuya and Noriko Nakagawa adds some much-needed romance to the novel.

The Hunger Games is written for young adults, and young adults always appreciate a good, steamy make-out sesh. Katniss and the other tribute from her district, Peeta, work out a strategy of presenting themselves as star-crossed lovers to win the attachment of the crowd, and they spend a solid portion of the book on first base, closing in on second. Of course real feelings complicate the charade, and that’s not even factoring in the deep connection Katniss shares with her hot friend Gale back home.

Round Six goes to…The Hunger Games!

Round Seven: What A Lovely Language

The language in Battle Royale is both poetic and ruthless. The words, translated from the original Japanese, are captivating and poignant, as many chapters end with the death of a student, bringing the reader into the student’s dying thoughts while calmly describing the violence suffered.

Kazuo Kiriyama’s Ingram burst out once again and Shinji’s thoughts came to an end. The bullets tore apart his cerebral cortex. Near his head, the cracked front windshield was now shattered. Most of its fragments were sliding into the car, but some of the finer mist-like particles fell on Shinji’s already dust-covered body.

Shinji slowly fell forward onto his face. Debris bounced up on impact. It took less than thirty seconds for the rest of his body to die. The memento of his beloved uncle—the earring worn by the woman he loved—was now stained with the blood running down Shinji’s left ear, reflecting the glow from the red flames of the farm building.

And so the boy known as the Third Man, Shinji Mimura, was dead.

The language in The Hunger Games is pretty but utilitarian, very simple and straight-forward. There are certain passages that create beautifully evocative images, however.

Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries. We settle back in a nook in the rocks. From this place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight. The day is glorious, with a blue sky and soft breeze. The food’s wonderful, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries bursting in our mouths. Everything would be perfect if this really was a holiday, if all the day off meant was roaming the mountains with Gale, hunting for tonight’s supper. But instead we have to be standing in the square at two o’clock waiting for the names to be called out.

Round Seven goes to…Battle Royale!

And the Book Brawl victor is…BATTLE ROYALE! The crowd goes wild! This was a much closer bout than last month’s brawl between Geek Love and Water for Elephants, but early on a fairly clear winner was emerging. After all, just consider the physical weight of the books. I could literally murder a child with the heft of Battle Royale, while The Hunger Games couldn’t do much more than wound.

Congratulations to the winner! Now it’s time for you to weigh in with comments: was this a fair match? Who do you want to see in the ring next time?

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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