A Battle Royale online over origin of 'The Hunger Games'

Some claim that 'The Hunger Games' is a rip-off of the 1999 Japanese series 'Battle Royale.' But the storyline of a death match being employed by authoritarian rulers dates back to the Roman Empire.

Murray Close/Lionsgate/AP
Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from 'The Hunger Games.'

It's not unusual that "The Hunger Games" movie's arrival in theaters has been accompanied by feverish anticipation on the Internet. The online world is easily and often set ablaze by enthusiastic fandom, and Susanne Collins' wildly popular series of novels about a dystopian future where teenagers fight to the death on television has sold millions of copies.

But it's not just fandom that's fueling "The Hunger Games" online fire. It's also being fed by controversy: specifically, whether Ms. Collins' series is a "rip-off" of Japanese novel "Battle Royale."

Certainly, the debate online is energetic. A quick Google search of "hunger games battle royale" turns up half a million results with headlines like "Why the 'The Hunger Games's Snub of 'Battle Royale' Matters," "5 Reasons The Hunger Games Isn't Battle Royale," and "Who Would Win in a Fight?: Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games." YouTubers debate the similarities and differences among clips and trailers of the originals. 

A description of Koushun Takami’s book, published in 1999, makes those similarities clear. In a near-future dystopia, a despotic government selects teenagers by lottery to participate in the titular competition, in which the youths are thrown into the wilderness with a variety of weapons in order to participate in a televised death match. There are also commercial similarities: Battle Royale, too, made a successful jump to the big screen in a 2000 cult-classic release directed by Kinji Fukasaku. (Quentin Tarantino called it his "favorite movie of the last 20 years.")

But proponents of "The Hunger Games" being its own work have plausible arguments too. They note that "The Hunger Games" is at its heart a science-fiction story set long after a global war, whereas "Battle Royale" is more of a near-future, modern-world thriller. They also argue that "Games" is about broader revolutionary themes, while "Battle" is focused on simple, visceral survival. And of course, the violent, bloody "Battle" is not the young adult novel that "Games" is.

Despite their fans' passion over the heritage of "Games," neither author appears interested in fueling the debate. Collins told The New York Times that she only learned of Battle Royale after she submitted her first book to her publisher. “I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue with what you’re doing.’ ”  And Takami told ABC News that he was amused by the debate, though he appreciated his fans' enthusiasm.

All in all, it seems to be another case of there being nothing new under the sun. After all, both novels and movies were predated by Stephen King's novella-turned-blockbuster "The Running Man," which was about – surprise, surprise – a reality-television death match run by a totalitarian government in a dystopian future. All three stories drew from books like George Orwell's "1984" and William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." And if one follows the trail back long enough, you eventually reach the Roman circuses, which were – you guessed it – real death matches employed by absolute rulers to keep the population in line.

And so long as their readers enjoy their stories, the authors are not concerned. "I think every novel has something to offer," says Takami. "If readers find value in either book, that’s all an author can ask for."

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