Battle Royale is one of my favorite movies, and comparisons between it and this book are going to be inevitable because they share a number of themes and subject matter. In fact, I'd be surprised if Suzanne Collins has never seen that movie. However, while they share some themes and concepts, the focus of each is very different.
The Hunger Games follows the story of a girl named Katariss entered into a cruel tournament where children are forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of the higher class. Battle Royale is the story of a 9th grade class judged the "worst in the nation", put on an island and forced to fight to the death by their government.
The explanation of the purpose and mechanics of the contest in Battle Royale are somewhat brief and utilitarian, putting the characters into the mix as soon as possible, and the story took place almost entirely within the tournament itself. The plot was essentially about how each character reacts to the situation based on who they are, what they value, and what they would sacrifice for what they valued. I'll get into why this is so different from the Hunger Games in just a second.
Almost everything about this book is right. Every single character is fascinating, and the viewpoint character is no exception. I found myself speculating about their lives outside the scope of the book, and I felt like I was making informed guesses because they were so real. I was actually dead-on accurate in my speculations when it came to Haymitch. The main two characters are by far the most realized, even among the bunch and discovering more about them was the thing that pulled me through the story in less than a day.
Every instance of exposition, every reveal is done well. We learn things precisely when we need to know them. The initial conditions of the contest aren't revealed until the main character is living them, even though she would've known about them before. If the reader had known ahead of time about that, it wouldn't have held one quarter the intensity it did.
Every character was likable, even the ones which in any lesser author would have been written as unlikable because it's such an easy crutch to do so. I should specify more clearly what I mean by "character" here, because the overwhelming majority of the contestants actually in the arena actually never became characters at any point. Even the antagonist for most of the story wasn't really a character, just a Dragon. A dangerous object to be avoided or disarmed. Even Foxface, who had identifiable traits and interacted with the plot at a few points is someone I still can't decide was really a character or not. The characters who were characters though were simply amazing, and their sheer personhood made this story work in every possible way.
The reason why the Hunger Games is different than Battle Royale is that the Hunger Games was about Katariss, what elements shaped her as a character and put her on the path to the Games, what she was willing to do to increase her chances of winning the Games, and how she felt about the Games. Battle Royale was a census of how various people faced death, friendship in the face of inevitable death, and senseless, breathtaking unfairness. BR didn't need to explain in very good detail why they were in the situation, because it would've taken away from the 'senseless' aspect. The Hunger Games, however, explored the question of the purpose of the Games, their place in the world and it's history, and their role in shaping who Katariss is. The Games were characterized to such an extent that I don't feel it'd be inaccurate to say that the Games themselves are the book's real antagonist.
The Hunger Games was amazing. Eleventy squintillion stars out of a possible five.
And I was telling Emma I thought I might wear out her "1 Star" tag...