Viking Night: Battle Royale
By Bruce Hall
July 3, 2012
Battle Royale is three things. It’s a remarkably effective analysis of teen angst through the fisheye lens of state sanctioned deathsport (I guarantee nobody’s ever uttered that exact arrangement of words before). It’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films. And, it’s the answer to the question geeks have been asking people at parties for about a year now: “Can anybody tell me the name of the movie/book the Hunger Games totally ripped off?”.
Not only is that guy annoying, and probably living with his parents, and has probably never had a girlfriend, but he’s also unfair. There are almost seven billion people alive today. It’s thought that at least a hundred billion humans have ever lived on Earth. The written word is about 5,000 years old; the intelligent use of speech far older. So it’s only natural that sooner or later, two people are going to come up with the same story, right?
Even if you find that example simplistic, to suggest otherwise is to imply that ER is a deliberate rip-off of St Elsewhere just because both are hospital shows...I think I dated myself. Besides, rip-off or not, Suzanne Collins still had to create the characters and write the story, and they happen to be pretty entertaining, well written books. So who cares? Get off the lady’s back, unless you want to show us all YOUR trilogy of adventure novels.
What’s more interesting to me is how two somewhat similar concepts take essentially the same idea in two very different directions.
Like all the best science fiction, Battle Royale takes place in a dystopian near future. In this one, Japanese society has collapsed, all thanks to stupid teenagers and their meddling ways. No, seriously. If I understood the opening narrative, the Government passed a series of crippling austerity measures in response to impending economic collapse. The youth of the nation rebelled, and everything went to shit. I know, it’s a ridiculous premise, one that in no way resembles anything going on anywhere in the world today, because it is so completely unrealistic. But if you can get past that, you’ll really love the part where in retaliation, the Government starts randomly rounding up teenagers and making them fight to the death on a deserted island.
Unlike The Hunger Games, the festivities are not televised. Rather, they seem to be merely a way to cull the tot population and make an example out of whatever lucky kid “wins” a lifetime of paralyzing emotional scars. The Battle Royale takes place once a year, and the entire adult population seems pretty “meh” about the whole “killing off our own children” thing. That’s a bit easier to swallow when the story takes place in a fantastic, far flung future where the world we know today has long vanished. Less so in contemporary Japan, home to one of the world’s most philosophical populations. But no matter, the combat is little more than a device to test our characters’ relationships, and that’s the part of the story you should care about.