Why we’re talking about ‘Battle Royale’

Now that “The Hunger Games” has been cast, premiered and reviewed — including the bizarre and racist response from fans who clearly don’t read very closely — you’re going to start hearing about another little book published a decade earlier with the same basic premise.

“Battle Royale” is a Japanese novel by Koushun Takami and is also teen versus teen in death matches.

Each year a class of 15-year-olds is randomly selected to compete in The Program. They are taken by bus under the guise of going on a field trip then gassed unconscious. The students wake in a classroom wearing electronic collars, stuck on an island that has been cleared of its inhabitants.

They are given instructions by a sadistic puppetmaster: They must kill, winner is the last one — and there can only be one — standing. They get a backpack that includes supplies and a weapon (this can be a handgun or a hand grenade, a machine gun, a bullet proof vest or an electronic device that detects other students). They are released in two-minute intervals to run and hide or stick around and engage in combat with former friends. Some will form alliances.

And that is as Hunger Game-y as it gets.

“The Hunger Games” seems like a vehicle for a strong female protagonist who never crawls into the fetal position and waits for a sexy stalker vampire to save her. Katniss Everdeen is smart, methodical and self-sufficient. “Battle Royale” has fewer heroic pretensions. There are 42 competitors and some get more time than others, but it has just a fraction of the character development.

While there were a few bleak scenes in THG, “Battle Royale” is a layered murder sandwich complete with hatchets to the face, eyeball gouging and a machine gunned head that resembles “meat sauce in a broken bowl.”

One is an adventure tale concentrated on adventure; One is a horror story and it gets pretty gooey.

Both are good. Both are exciting. Both have serious death counts. “The Hunger Games” has a more mainstream appeal, though, whereas “Battle Royale” would probably — until recent comparisons to THG — have just a cult following. I liked them both, but would recommend both to different types of people.

“Battle Royale” has also been turned into a movie and it is deliciously corny and gross, if you’re into that type of thing. (I am).

It has been reported that Suzanne Collins, author of “The Hunger Games,” didn’t know about “Battle Royale” before writing her trilogy. This is believable. And, whatever: People have been hunting other people in literature for eons.”The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell stars a big game hunter who plays mouse to a wealthy eccentric’s cat. It was written in 1924. Stephen King penned a piece of dystopian fiction in 1982 in which contestants on a game show are hunted by killers in “The Running Man.”

“Battle Royale” has more of a gross-out factor than all of the above combined and locked in a cellar with “Carrie.”

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