Monthly Archives: April 2012

Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale

I have had this argument so many times on the internet in the last month, I felt I needed somewhere to compile all of my thoughts and arguments against the idiotic masses.

The idiotic masses look at Hunger Games and say: “I liked it better when it was called Battle Royale. What a ripoff.”

I look at them and say: “Clearly you have never read the Hunger Games or you wouldn’t be making such a comment.”

To sum up the truth of what is being said, it’s like saying that Star Wars is a ripoff of Star Trek because they both take place on ships in space.

So let’s begin shall we? Standard spoiler alert here.

Point 1: Suzanne Collins never read Battle Royale. You can take this as truth if you want, but honestly there is no way to prove it one way or the other. She says she didn’t. However, it is a point in her favor that many many people have never heard of Battle Royale. It wasn’t released in the US. If she isn’t a fan of Japanese anime and writings, she wouldn’t have had a chance to be exposed to it.

Point 2: She has a completely believable story of where she came up with the initial idea. Flipping back and forth between channels and seeing reality tv and soldiers in Iraq. Add to this her father’s experiences in Vietnam and her own love of Roman and Greek history and mythology and you have all the components required to make Hunger Games.

Point 3: There is prior art before Battle Royale that sets up the idea as well. Running Man, Lord of the Flies, even back to the Roman gladiatorial games.

Point 4: The Roman Connection: even before really thinking about it, I remember being surprised at the very Latin names giving to characters. Cinna, Seneca, Cato, and dozens of others. I know enough Roman history to recognize the names. I was surprised to say the least. After reading the second and third books, I was convinced that the true basis for the idea was the Gladiatorial games and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur where 7 men and 7 women, even called Tributes, are drawn by lots, and sent to die to the Minotaur every year. There is a parade of chariots. The entire world watches the arena, as the entire world watched the gladiators. We find out in book 2 that Finnick was “sold to stud” much as the Roman gladiators were. Battle Royale is very Japanese. It doesn’t have a single Roman connection or reference.

Point 5: The pageantry. Oh and was there pageantry. The costumes, the stylists, the interviews, the dresses, everything has been turned into something for the audience to revel in. There is tradition and ritual in everything. This all ties into the sponsors and earning the assistance of outsiders in the arena. Unlike Hunger Games, Battle Royale has their competitors chosen in a very sneaky and sudden way. They aren’t trained, interviewed, paraded, or even televised. They are simply taken. This really shows the reality show influence Collins used in telling her tale.

Point 6: Yes, they are both stories about kids, but the relationships are different. Imagine, for whatever reason, you had to push a button, knowing, a 1000 miles away, it would kill someone. But if you didn’t push that button, instead your whole family would be killed. How hard, really, would it be to push that button? Hard, yes, but not as hard as say, if instead it were, you have to push that button and kill a friend, your close friend, who has spent years at your side, to save your family? That defines the largest difference between the children in Battle Royale and the tributes in Hunger Games. The tributes do not know one another. Katniss feels little pain when many of the tributes die in the initial bloodbath. Why should she? She’s never met them. They mean nothing when compared to Prim. The chances of even having a person chosen in your own district you didn’t know was likely. The kids in Battle Royale are a single class. They have been together all year. They are close, with rivalries, friendships, relationships. It’s a very different sort of combat. This is why Katniss doesn’t want to make friends. She doesn’t want to be friendly with Peeta. She knows that will make it harder to kill them later.

Point 7: Collins works very hard to make all of her characters connectible on some level. Even Cato and the other careers, we come to learn they are simply indoctrinated into the belief that they are fighting for glory and honor for their district. We find sympathetic ways of viewing them all. In Battle Royale, most of the characters just go immediately crazed. It is like they all received a high dose of PCP and were let loose on each other.

Point 8: Books 2 and 3. Battle Royale was a single book. It dealt with the one event, the one group of people, and ended in much the same way as Hunger Games, right after the victors managed to make it out alive (which isn’t a ripoff but rather the logical ending point to such a charged story). But Catching Fire and Mockingjay are where the story really comes to deeper waters. It shows that each part of this world was designed for a purpose. Collins thought it out. There is also the fallout from the events that happen inside the arenas. Collins knew the effect war had on people and wrote it into her book. We never see the fallout in Battle Royale. In Hunger Games we literally have two books that are steeped in the emotional baggage Katniss has built up and carries with her from the first games. The nightmares, the flashbacks, the reaction to being told she has to go back in, even Katniss’ realization that she could never be with Gale, even if she were free to, because the arena changed her, and she just can’t be with someone who doesn’t understand the deep effect it had on her psyche.

 

One thing creative people have to accept is that there are going to be similar stories told. These things are deeply wove into our culture and resonate with many people, thus many people are going to tell these stories. The Hero’s Journey and the Mono-myth exist for a reason. This is nothing new. Clearly the idea that reality tv and the very televised glorification of violence and war in Iraq could lead to people fearing this kind of event and possible horror. Taking the time to read both clearly shows that while both have a similar idea that saying Hunger Games is a ripoff is a very narrow and absurd conclusion to reach.

The Hunger Games – Or what a true female rolemodel should look like.

As always, in preparation for the release of the Hunger Games movie, I took a weekend to read the books. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins follow the experiences of a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, in a post-apocalyptic North America. She starts at 16, and by the end of the last book is 17-18. Although, true to epilogue format, she is much older in the epilogue.

 

Okay, Spoiler Alert.

 

All gone?

 

I cannot begin to express how enraptured I was by Hunger Games. I haven’t been this stoked about a new series book since I read Mistborn. First and foremost, Mrs. Collins is an exceptional writer, grabbing the reader by the nose, dragging them through horror after horror and moment after moment, only to drop them at the end of the book, overwhelmed, excited, exhausted, entertained, and sated with the story. I remember thinking when I closed the book (after reading it in a single sitting) “Man, this woman KNOWS how to pace a story.” Moments of rest, perfectly balanced with moments of excitement, horror, nostalgia, emotion, and even humor, all in what should have been a rigid framework of a story, but she manages to slip it all in, unnoticed.

After doing a bit a research, I find Mrs. Collins has been a writer for children’s cartoons on TV, which explains her exceptional pacing skills that she uses to such great effect.

I had seen the trailers for the movie prior to reading the book, so I was a bit biased in the character looks and the central moment of the Reaping. Oh and what a moment it was. Seeing the event on screen brought tears to my eyes. Reading it sent them running in streams down my face. Katniss is in no way the typical teenage girl. Her thoughts and personality have been shaped by the world she lives in.

She seemed very cold, even in the book. Not mean, or bitchy, but cold. She has emotional walls that made Fort Knox look insecure. As we are introduced to this character we slowly discover all the reasons she has built these walls. Her father is gone, dead in a mine accident, her mother is known for withdrawal, and the world she lives in presents a very real, very immediate possibility for starvation. The reader picks up very quickly that Katniss relies on no one but herself. She protects and cares for Primrose. her sister, which seems to be her purpose in life. (It is.) And merely accepts Gale as a friend because he is useful to her. He is let inside the walls, simply because she knows he has many of the same scars and qualities that make her what she is.

Let me take a moment to point out my very favorite thing that separates Katniss from all other young woman role models. She in no way, shape, or form wants a boyfriend, husband, or marriage. What a relief to have a heroine that strongly WANTS to avoid these institutions. She has her reasons, she doesn’t ever want to have a child who might be Reaped. She lives in terror of Prim being Reaped. One of my biggest complaints for the movie was they made Prim much more fearful than she seemed in the book. In the book, she was, if not unconcerned, but ambivalent and accepting of the fact she might be Reaped. I think, this was Mrs. Collins’ way of showing us that even Prim knew Katniss would never allow her to go to the arena. Katniss lives for one thing, to protect Prim. I also like that even though Gale is the one who talks of running away, Katniss already has a plan to “rebel” against the Capital. She isn’t going to play their game, simply by not having children. If she doesn’t have kids, she doesn’t ever have to play their Hunger Games.

Prim’s name is called at the Reaping and Katniss’ only thought is, she can’t let her go. Here is the first time we see Katniss trust someone else. She trusts Gale to care for her sister once she is gone. She knows her mother will likely fall apart again. She knows that Gale will take care of Prim. (Though how she knows Gale isn’t going to be picked at that point is beyond me.) When Peeta is Reaped, Katniss’ first thought isn’t relief that it wasn’t Gale, but rather dismay. She feels she owes Peeta something for the burned bread he gave her years ago, that prevented her starvation. She worries that this feeling will impede her ability to win.

As with all of the characters in Hunger Games, Katniss is completely indoctrinated into the belief that she can’t fight the Capital. Her only way to come out alive, which she doesn’t believe she can do, is to the play their game. Although, her mentality is very much a “I am gonna try, but I don’t expect to win.” She begins to shed the things that she would have held dear. Her mother’s dress, the Mockingjay pin, even her friendship with Gale. She has no use for them now. This is the tempering of her spirit, to deal with the horrors of the arena.

Peeta makes overtures, but even at this point, she sees him as a weakness. Being friends will only make it harder. So her walls are in full effect. What a wonderful character. She doesn’t fall apart. She doesn’t become melancholy. She becomes blindingly focused on one thing. Surviving the arena. The rewards of food for her and her family.

As the story progresses, she falls into the role she believes will make her most likely to win. She trusts Haymitch only as far as she needs his help to get sponsors and win. She trusts Cinna, in that she knows his efforts have already helped her and Peeta become noticed, increasing the chances that one of them will win. She even has a moment, where she thinks that if Peeta wins, at least Prim will benefit. It’s all about Prim.

During their training she receives the first hit to her wall. Rue. A kindred spirit of Prim. Katniss’ thought is already one of “How am I to deal with her? I can’t. Better hope the careers do it.” She goes along with the act of “liking Peeta” because she completely understands that she must play the game, completely, both in and out of the arena to win.

Once in the arena she immediately sheds all other thoughts and completely relies on herself. Even when she is about to die of dehydration and calls out to Haymitch, she doesn’t expect him to help her. She expects to have to stand on her own. No heroes to rescue this princess. Does she get angry and depressed? Does she give up? Not a bit. On the heels of asking for help, knowing he isn’t going to, she thinks, he wouldn’t withhold help unless he knew I could do it on my own. Her strength wells up once more, and she fights to survive.

During all of this, she believes Peeta has turned against her. He has joined the careers and is helping them find her. Any normal person would have been angry, hurt, and understandably ragey about such a turn of events. What does she do? She plays the game. She plays like nothing is wrong. Here is the first time I really see the overlap between her two realities. In one, she is frightened, worried, anxious, and knows that horrible things are happening. She knows she isn’t going to make it out alive. She has no one to trust and no one to lean on. The second, she is cool, collected, and in on a secret even the Capital can’t fathom. She knows she will win. There is the old adage that if you wear a mask long enough, it stops being a mask and becomes your true self. Katniss is already using the mask, and has been using it with Prim all these years. She puts up a brave front. So adapting it to protect herself in the arena is a logical step.

This is one of the most fascinating things of this character. Her ability to take two completely incompatible viewpoints and ignore one over another because the one allows her to succeed. It allows her to switch from being uncaring about Peeta to playing the star crossed lover. She does what she must to survive, not what she truly feels. Every moment she spends with Peeta only re-enforces the truth that she doesn’t love him, but she will believe herself in love if that’s what it takes to get sponsor assistance and win the games.

When she loses Rue, she doesn’t respond by falling apart, or being consumed by sadness, despite her deep feeling about the event. In her mind, Rue and Primrose are the same, and so she give Rue a true send off. She acts with compassion and love, despite knowing Rue was in direct competition with her. At this moment she shows the truly fractured and conflicted person she is. She is so very human, and so very conflicted and interesting.

I think it is the loss of Rue that makes Katniss realize fully, that even if she comes out alive, she won’t really be a victor. She understands Haymitch in a way she couldn’t before. She knows she has been changed, affected by the violence in the arena. She only has one goal, to get her and Peeta out alive. Primrose, for the first time, takes a backseat to her own survival. But even now, she is in the protector role. A role generally reserved for men. She protects Peeta, at the risk of her own life, for no reason other than she wants to repay the gift he gave her so many years before.

At the end of the Games, Katniss is presented with a choice. Peeta or Primrose. Only one victor can survive. It’s as simple as letting Peeta win, or taking the victory by killing him. Instead, Katniss comes up with a Romeo and Juliet plan. Her reasoning isn’t to defeat the Capital, outsmart the game masters, or even to win the games, but simply that she knows if she kills Peeta, who she has protected and saved just as much as she has Prim, she will never leave the arena. She will forever be trapped there in her mind. Both of them have to go home, or neither will.

Victory is bittersweet. Katniss is deeply scarred by the events she has lived. She has PTSD. She is terrified of losing Peeta. At this point, I think she has fallen into a sort of love with him. She has played the game too well, she has worn the mask too long. BUT regardless of this, she is unmoved in her convictions. She will go home. She will live in the victors village with her mother and Prim, and she will grow old, without ever marrying or having children. Despite her growing care for Peeta, it is not romantic in nature on her end. Or if it is, it’s not enough to bring her off the path she has set on. Katniss doesn’t change because of her time with Peeta, she changes because of her time in the arena and later her experiences with the rebellion.

At no point in the story does she rely on another character for strength. At no point does she allow herself to be protected or hides behind a stronger male. She sets a goal and goes for it with a single minded intensity. She thinks critically and reasons through her actions, even when in stressful situations. She retains her emotions and passions, but without becoming the stereotypical “bundle of illogical emotions” most men portray women as.

These same themes continue through out the second two books. She remains strong. She makes efforts to protect the people she has come to care for, Peeta, Haymitch, even Cinna and her prep team. She doesn’t allow herself to be swayed, by either side, or by the people closest to her. She still has emotional moments, she still clings to her strength, and she sticks to her decisions to never have children that might be a part of the Capitol’s sick game.

Finally, for once, we have a female heroine, worthy of the title. Worthy of the regard. Someone who relies on her own strength, rescues herself and others, and is able to be compassionate and passionate without turning into a sex pot, damsel in distress, or an extension of the men in her life.