The Hunger Games vs Battle Royale

Contains spoilers.

After reading the entire Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins  over a weekend roughly a year ago, I became aware of the Battle Royale franchise, created over a decade ago by Japanese writer Koushun Takami.  Both deal with the same grisly topic: a group of teenagers thrown into an arena forced to battle one another to the death (actually, this is a horrific concept; how did it ever become so popular?!).  Collins has been accused of stealing the idea from Takami though she claims to have never heard of the franchise.  I was able to compare them myself when I found the manga at my local library and dove through them.  My clear favourite is The Hunger Games, though that’s mostly because I struggled with the sickeningly graphic content of Battle Royale, often skimming entire chapters to avoid it.  But this aside, there are various interesting points of comparison.

The stories differed in their treatment of characters.  The Hunger Games spent a large amount of time developing the central characters of the trilogy, forcing the audience to really invest in their struggle.  Battle Royale, in contrast, would develop each character to the same extent and then, in most cases, kill them off shortly afterwards.  This created a ‘shock factor’ but became tiring after a while, making me reluctant to care about any of the characters.  The Hunger Games did this too, most prominently with Rue, but I feel Collins handled it better.  However once the characters had been established it’s up for debate which franchise dealt with them better.  I think they’re generally equal in this respect; The Hunger Games’ Katniss, Peeta, Gale and Prim are all very rounded characters, while a significant number of supporting characters also seem to have depth.  I would argue that Battle Royale does well in establishing Shuya, Noriko, Shogo, Mimura, Sugimura, Kiriyama and Mitsuko, but the rest come across as a little two-dimensional, having just one defining characteristic such as ‘frosty’ or ‘elitist’.

In Battle Royale there’s a clearer divide between the students who are ‘playing’ the game and those who refuse to go along with it.  This idea is briefly present in The Hunger Games where you have ‘Careers’, who volunteer in order to win, then just those who are scared and run, but I do like Battle Royale’s focus on battling the government.  Mimura makes a bomb to target the base of operations and the story ultimately ends with the slaughter of the game planners.  Katniss’ desire to simply keep her family alive fits with her character and I’m not criticising it, but as a reader the rebellion in Battle Royale was more fulfilling.  That said, the subtle approach of The Hunger Games is also commendable.  Katniss causes riots in District 11 through her televised honouring of Rue in death, and the country is brought to the brink of a full-scale uprising after she and Peeta attempt suicide to deprive the government of a winner.  This develops in the subsequent novels, with a large group of tributes in Catching Fire refusing to ‘play’ and planning an escape.  So it’s difficult to say which approach I preferred.

One issue I had with the characters of Battle Royale was the attitude towards female characters.  With a couple of exceptions they were generally treated either as weak characters dependent on the boys or sexual objects.  This particularly bothered me every time Shogo told Shuya to “protect Noriko.”  It was Noriko who ultimately shot Kiriyama, fatally wounding him, but this is the exception.  Katniss, in contrast, must be among the most resilient and able characters in the entire trilogy.  Characters in general felt more realistic in The Hunger Games – girls were neither simply ‘weak’ nor ‘strong’ and the male characters ranged from fierce bullies like Cato to the softer personality of Peeta.  A contrast might be made between Peeta and Shuya, both being idealistic and loving characters.  I can’t pick a preference between them.

Both stories present fascinating dystopian worlds.  The Hunger Games is set far in the future in a society built from the ashes of the USA, while Battle Royale is set in Japan in roughly the present day that developed along an alternative timeline.  Both use their respective games to instill terror in the population and keep them in their place.  Though I couldn’t help noticing the dangers of both systems in provoking the population into an uprising.  This concept is eventually explored in The Hunger Games, where Katniss’ actions do provide ‘the spark’ for civil war.  This indicates that Panem is near the verge of collapse by the beginning of the story, which I believe is partly a consequence of The Hunger Games providing a *major* grievance for the non-Capitol majority.  The Capitol’s strategy to rule solely through fear is what ultimately destroys it – though that’s a discussion for another day.

Interestingly, I believe the original Japanese version of Battle Royale does not include The Program being a TV show.  This solves many inconsistencies I found in the (somewhat sloppy, I have to say) English version.  This could be one reason why the government is more stable; The Program is less prominent and more of a myth.  Like how the Nazis deliberately released prisoners from concentration camps to spread stories and fear throughout the population, The Program serves as a stick to batter fear into the population, preventing them from speaking out in case their children are targeted.  Indeed, there are no signs that the government is under any threat throughout the story.   The Hunger Games explores the political and social situation of Panem more thoroughly than in Battle Royale, but both provide fairly realistic societies.  However it’s worth noting that schemes like The Hunger Games or The Program have never to my knowledge actually been tried in history; the closest example I can think of is forcing slaves to fight to the death in Ancient Rome.

In terms of the world outside of the totalitarian state, Battle Royale is a clear winner.  I was always frustrated by The Hunger Games’ lack of any detail regarding other countries in the world.  Despite being set in a semi-post apocalyptic world, they live in a mostly functioning society which would suggest that the planet is capable of supporting life elsewhere.  I don’t see why they shouldn’t have the capabilities to contact these other nations.  It makes the story simpler and perhaps more coherent when Panem is the only country, but it’s less convincing.  On the other hand I enjoyed the discussion in Battle Royale about escaping to the USA, and the idea that Japan was viewed by the rest of the world as a crazy, rogue state.  It’s also hinted that the world doesn’t know about The Program, suggesting the depth of Japan’s hermit status – rather like North Korea in our world today.  Battle Royale ends with Shuya and Noriko successfully escaping to the USA, though I’d like to have seen more of the international reaction to their testimonies.  So neither is perfect in this field.

Overall, both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale provide great portrayals of the same concept.  I can’t comment on the way they developed the ideas due to one being a trilogy of novels and the other, in the form I read it, being a manga.  As I said my overall preference is for The Hunger Games, but Battle Royale certainly takes a different perspective on many themes.  Both are worth reading, though Battle Royale isn’t for the faint of heart.

Final ratings:

  • The Hunger Games: 9.5/10
  • Battle Royale: 7.5/10

Related article:

  • See this essay for a a similar comparison which comes to a contrary conclusion.
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Oxfam Report: Rich Could End Poverty

The charity Oxfam, which deals with efforts to tackle poverty throughout the world, has released a report which should come as no surprise: that the 100 richest people in the world have enough money to cure world poverty four times over.  Earning an annual amount of $240 billion, these billionaires have the ability to alleviate the suffering of millions, yet don’t use it.  As the world’s poorest starve in these times of economic depression, the richest 1% have in fact seen their income increase by 60% over the last twenty years.  In light of these facts, criticisms against France’s Socialist Government increasing taxes on the rich or our own government’s targeting of the poor through cracking down on ‘benefit scroungers’ when far more is lost through tax evasion, are completely unfounded actions.

Imagine a prosperous, peaceful and equal (how else would they avoid destroying their own race?) alien civilisation were to conduct a survey on our planet.  They would examine Europe, America, Australia, Japan, etc. and see very prosperous nations with very healthy, well-nourished people in them, living on the height of our civilisation’s technological advances.  And yet they would also notice people sleeping rough on streets in the rain.  They would then look at Africa and Asia, seeing mass hunger and illness and death, yet some incredibly well-off people interspersed throughout.  On deeper analysis they would see that our world has enough materials and food to feed everyone, but one half of the world gets most of it.

If they didn’t then destroy our planet to stop us spreading throughout the Universe, they would be very naive.

Report: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/cost-of-inequality-oxfam-mb180113.pdf

Travelling The World

I have a confession to make…  I have never in my life left the UK.  This usually is greeted with shock and pity whenever I admit it, but that’s the tragic truth.  In my and my family’s defence, I’ve seen an awful lot of the UK: I’ve at least passed through most major cities, seen a massive amount of the Scottish highlands and made a few ventures into Wales – though I’ve yet to tackle Northern Ireland.  (I suppose that would be another benefit to Scotland becoming independent – these places would suddenly count as ‘abroad’!)  But with respect to all the individual cultures within our country,and I know personally how far these can differ, what I really want is to explore the cultures, landscapes, wildlife and history of other countries.

So I’ve compiled a list of the countries in the world I would like to visit, presented in map form:

Places I Want to Visit

Okay, I appreciate there are problems here…  North Korea and Iran would be challenging to get into, and since I don’t have a death wish countries like Syria, Mali and Afghanistan may have to wait.   I may voluntarily miss out the Vatican.

Joking aside, I really would like the opportunity to visit as many foreign countries as I can, but I have narrowed them down to places which I shall focus on first:

  1. Canada.  Similar culture, same language, less insane than various elements of the USA – should feel fairly at home here!  I’ve been told Vancouver would be a great place to start, and I would also love to explore some of the more far flung northern provinces.
  2. France.  I speak basic French, though would need to seriously brush up on it.  There are so many parts of France worth visiting, from the typical tourist spots in Paris to the cornfields and castles of Provence, from visiting the fields of the First World War to the Alps.
  3. South Africa.  I still can’t put my finger on why, but I have a slight obsession with this country.  I think I’m in awe of the astounding progress which has been made since Apartheid, despite failings the government may currently have.  Feels like an accessible country to start my explorations of Africa with, due to the use of English and my knowledge of the country.  My only concern is that the country could potentially, in a worst case scenario, slide further and further into corruption and intolerance and may not become the safest place for a European to visit.
  4. Egypt.  There’s so much!  The history angle would dominate, obviously, with the pyramids and tombs and ancient cities.  But also more recent history; how fascinating it would be to walk across Tahrir Square and know the victories which had been won there – a symbol for the ongoing battle for freedom.
  5. Japan.  This would be the most difficult by far.  Completely alien language and script, alien culture, alien social norms, alien technology!  These factors make Japan all the more appealing, but I know I would struggle and definitely could not go alone; the culture shock would be enormous.  Yet Japan seems such a beautifully rich and diverse country, I have to visit it at least once in my lifetime.

One other significant plan I have is to look into the various railway deals offered in Europe which travel through a variety of countries, offering a chance to experience a multitude of cultures and scenery without having to plan each journey individually.  I’m not sure these still exist – I hope so!

If – no, when – I travel to these countries, I hope to update this blog accordingly with my experiences.

International News Round-Up

Syria

  • After a meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, the USA has decided to recognise Syria’s opposition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.  Most of the scores of countries present have at least recognised the opposition as a legitimate representative.  Politically this will be another victory for the opposition, but it may also have an impact ‘on the ground’.  William Hague has discussed the possibility of arming the opposition if President Assad does not strive further for national dialogue.
  • Syria has also been reported to have fired several ‘scud-type’, Soviet-made missiles into opposition-held areas in the north of the country.  This appears to be the next stage of the government’s response.  When repression failed they sent in the army; when they were losing to the opposition’s guerrilla warfare they began shelling cities; when this failed to defeat the rebels they began conducting air raids; and now the opposition are increasingly wielding anti-aircraft weapons it appears the regime has turned to missiles.  They are becoming increasingly backed against the wall.  The next logical stage in this escalation would be chemical weapons, which would essentially be suicide for the regime.

North Korea

  • North Korea has launched a rocket, breaking several United Nations resolutions.  Although North Korea insists that this is for peaceful means, but countries such as the USA, Japan and South Korea believe this is a test for ballistic missiles, which could eventually reach the West coast of the USA.  Despite having the capabilities to bomb any country in the world, the thought of its own territory being under threat terrifies the American government.    Though I don’t think anyone wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea with the capabilities  to launch inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Venezuela

  • Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has returned to Cuba for cancer treatment, despite claiming during his election campaign that his cancer had completely been cured.  Cancer can make sudden reappearances so I wouldn’t like to make any assumptions one way or the other.

South Africa

  • In other health-related news, Nelson Mandela, the first black African to be President (from 1994 – 1999) and leader of the anti-Apartheid movement, has been rushed into hospital with a lung infection.  He is apparently doing well, but at the age of 94 his health is bound to be frail.  I think the world is united in hoping he has a full recovery.

UN General Assembly Resolution 76/19

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https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/UN_Resolution_of_Palestine_as_Observer_State.svg

A few days ago the UN overwhelmingly voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer status. This map shows how isolated the Israel-USA position on the issue is, with reds voting against the resolution, greens voting for, and yellow abstaining (blue countries were not present).

Palestine is the issue which always seems to break the typical ‘West/Rest of World’ divide, with the USA seeming to abandon its support for freedom and self determination in attempts to placate Israel. You can tell it’s a complex issue when North Korea and Japan all vote the same, for instance.

It is difficult to say what effect this resolution will have, but it’s certainly a significant step towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Though it appears to have also inflamed Israeli opinion over the issue.