Before The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, many of us got exposure to dystopian fiction, which is a subgenre of science fiction, in high school. To those of us who actually read the book, Lord of the Flies provided many of us with a level of violence more extreme than in The Outsiders, which some of us read in middle/junior high school. We know what the story is about: a group of British schoolboys are evacuated to avoid a nuclear war when their airplane crashes onto an uninhabited island. With all the adults dead, these schoolboys—ages 4 to 12—must now work together to survive while they wait for help and rescue. We all remember what happens next, a war starts amongst them, a few of the boys get killed, and the island gets engulfed in flames. William Golding, the author, believed this to be a more realistic scenario as to when unfamiliar children end up deserted on an island with no adult supervision. The “human animal” emerges and life becomes a “fight or flight” situation.
That novel, I am not sure whether or not I would classify it as groundbreaking, was published in 1954. Fast forward to the 1990s in Japan where a man reads Lord of the Flies and found it to be outdated. This man, Koushun Takami, wrote his dystopian novel with a modern society in mind. Battle Royale was published in Japan in April 1999. This novel made Lord of the Flies look like a child’s game; there were more students and they were older (around 15 years-old), they were given actual weapons (ranging from a machine gun to an ice pick), and their government is making them participate. There are similarities: the students are left alone on an island and they eventually begin to attack and to kill each other. There are differences: more of these students get killed off and you get the point of views of several characters, which provides each of their back stories and motives. Yes, there are also girls who are characters in Battle Royale and they are just as violent as the boys.
The interesting fact about Battle Royale was the ironic reception it originally (and still) receives. Publishers in Japan found the content to be too violent and too inappropriate, and even the United States distanced themselves (or tried to) from this particular novel (look up the date of the Columbine High School Shooting). However, the novel became a bestseller and a favorite among young readers (the U.S. eventually translated and published this novel in 2003). This led to the film adaptation directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in 2000, which was also controversial and successful. Even Quentin Tarentino stated: “I wish I had made this movie.” I would also go as far to say that Battle Royale is similar to Mean Girls in which there is more taking place within a large group of students than what is seen by everyone else.
Some people, including children and adolescents, are willing to submit to their ‘naturalistic’ behavior. This sound like something you learned in biology and in psychology. And yet, we still enjoyed them all the same. Battle Royale took the time to look into why most of the 42 students were willing to participate or to opt out of the “game.” This meant that each student’s home life, school life, and life-changing moment molded them into how they “played”: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, I would not recommend this novel to anyone until after he or she has read Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games trilogy. This is because I think a complete understanding must be obtained in order to seek out the hidden subplots found in this novel.
I believe it is safe to say that the success of The Hunger Games in the United States matched the same success Battle Royale had in Japan. And, both went on to become global bestsellers. It can be said that The Hunger Games trilogy is a recent retelling of both Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale. The main subplot is that the resistance had already taken place and these “gladiator games” became part of the treaty. Plus, like the gladiator games of Ancient Rome, the public looks forward to watching them to the point where the games have been hyped up and televised. Sound familiar? The difference in this series is that Katniss is the only point of view readers get, and her post traumatic stress from the games is not understood until the next two books. Katniss gets fame, which she can never get rid of. And, her actions lead to a second revolution that intensifies the already dystopian civilization.
By the time The Hunger Games was published in 2008, and the film adaptation released in 2012, many fans and readers have at least heard of Battle Royale, and some people even went as far as to accusing author Suzanne Collins of “stealing” the plot. However, in Collins’ defense, any well read person could spot how Greek mythology and literature (the Minotaur) and the reality T.V. shows found their way into the story’s plot. Battle Royale stands alone because even if you have not read the book, you could not deny the amount of tragic deaths mixed with the various ways each of the characters die. Plus, the fact that you get into the minds of each of the characters before they die makes each of their deaths more gut-retching than the characters in the other two books (sorry Rue). That is when you realize that except for the subgenre and the main plot, both stories are not alike.
Within more than 50 years, the world has seen the publication and the popularity of 3 dystopian novels written for adolescents. In them we experience just how influential the world is to the younger generation and how they plan on acquiring their roles as adults. This reality is grim and fearful as well as realistic. If the adults in such places are not willing to find a peaceful solution to the world’s problems (please note: I am not a pacifist), then why should the children? The children in Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games are put into their situations because of what the adults have or had been doing. Hence, these kids literally must fend for themselves, and the results are disturbing and tragic.
I am sure that within the next 10 years another dystopian novel will emerge and become as popular as its predecessors. Just like before, we will compare one book with the other and wonder whether or not the latest novel ripped off one of the previous ones. But remember, the popularity and the success of this subgenre all started with Lord of the Flies.