Titles: The Hunger Games, The Running Man, Battle Royale
Authors: Suzanne Collins, Stephen King (as Richard Bachman), Koushun Takami, respectively.
Genre: Future dystopia
Verdict: Read on.
Because I love The Hunger Games so much, I frequently read stuff about it online, and occasionally I find people who have bad things to say about it. (Yeah, believe it or not.) The most common complaint is that it's a rip-off of other books with similar themes that came before it. Which books, you ask? Well, they're listed above.
Side note: some people have tried comparing it to Lord of the Flies by William Golding, but that's a little too far-reaching. In LOTF, the boys were marooned on a desert island after a plane crash and started killing each other because they reverted to the most basic, animalistic form of society--it was a literary examination of how nations function when they're run by adults, i.e., not all that differently.
Out of these three books, Collins' work most closely resembles Golding's, if only in narrative tone and description. Other than that, I don't feel the connection is strong enough to make a comparison in light of the other works.
Anyway, here's the rundown. Hunger Games is in blue, Running Man is in green, and Battle Royale is in red.
2008, 1982, 2001 (2003 in English)
North American nation of Panem, date unspecified
United States, 2025
Japan, alternate history (sometime after 1947)
Every year, the Capitol forces 24 children to fight to the death in an arena.
A man needs money to buy medicine for his sick daughter, and decides to compete on a game show.
The nation forces 42 random teenagers onto an island where they have to kill each other.
Reason for conflict:
The Capitol needs to remind the Districts that they have no power to rebel.
The economy sucks in the future, and game shows pay big.
The nation depends on the fear of the population to keep their power.
Reason for characters' involvement:
Katniss Everdeen volunteered to go in her sister's place.
Ben Richards loves his daughter, and she's dying.
Shogo Kawada was gassed on a bus and woke up inside the Program.
Consequences of non-compliance:
Katniss has to comply or she'll be killed in the arena.
Richards chooses the highest-paying game show, The Running Man. He's declared an enemy of the state, and Hunters are sent after him with kill orders. He has to stay alive for 30 days or else he loses and will still be hunted until dead.
If an entire 24-hour period passes in which nobody is killed, all of the Program's unwilling participants will be executed via exploding collars.
Consequences of failure:
You and your family die.
Flawless. Just enough detail for you to envision what's going on. Moves wonderfully.
A little hard to follow sometimes, description also minimal.
Tedious like you wouldn't believe--probably because it was translated from Japanese. Extremely over-detailed, at least twice as long as any of the other books. I don't list this as a fault, just a matter of "what's lost in translation." The dialogue was pretty quick though.
THG was an examination of the evils of totalitarian power and the effect that it has on societies and individuals. Supreme dictatorial power is never obtained except at the expense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The characters all struggle to cope with life in their own different ways, including those who have won the Hunger Games in the past. Also, though it deals with a gory subject matter, Collins did so with minimal focus on the graphic parts of combat, and focused more on the precious nature of life.
TRG was basically an exercise by King to get a lot of his negative emotions out on paper. The ending of the book made the whole thing pointless (he himself has discussed this in interviews.)
BR had a cast of simple characters with a few distinguishing traits among them. One of them defied the rules of the Program and found a way to beat it, but not after days and days and days of an explicit gorefest.
Caliber of audience:
Best-selling authors and critics of all walks have praised THG since it came out. It's what they call a "four-quadrant" book, with appeal to both male and female, both young and old.
Hey. It's Stephen King. If you've read anything else by him, you know what you're in for.
If you love senseless violence, BR is your dream come true. It handles this concept (teenage gladiators) through that particular lens, with few other layers to the story. Honestly it falls more under the category of a cult classic, given the feverish passion of its narrow fan base.
The Hunger Games is definitely not the first time this concept has been dealt with. Forcing people to commit acts of violence and murder for entertainment goes all the way back to the Romans, and probably even before that. Doing it as an act of political suppression is nothing new either, so Battle Royale fans can stop claiming to own the deed to that piece of real estate.
To best illustrate what I'm saying, look at Fantastic Four and The Incredibles. They both have a near-identical lineup of a bigly huge buff guy (The Thing/Mr. Incredible), someone who stretches like rubber (Mr. Fantastic/Elastigirl), someone who can go invisible and create shields (Invisible Woman/Violet), and a hotheaded younger brother character related to the invisible girl (Human Torch/Dash.) If Incredibles is a rip-off, I don't care. It did a better job with that cast of characters than Stan Lee ever did.
Or even look at Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves and Avatar. Every single one of those stories is exactly the same. Avatar just had the best execution of it. Granted, the story is complete dog s***, but it's still the best of the crop, and the other three movies all came before it.
Even after having gone through these three books, I still feel a major disconnect between The Hunger Games and the other two. It's on such a higher level that a comparison hardly merits mentioning. And when you do compare them, it blows the others out of the water. (Not that any Battle Royale fan boys will ever agree with that, but again, cult hit.)
The third and final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy is Mockingjay, out August 24th of this year. Mark your calendars.