Judging a Book by its Cover: Hunger Games

China GlazeMarketing for The Hunger Games has always been a little strange to me. I mean, Capitol Couture is a thing that exists. There’s a line of Hunger Games tie-in/inspired nail polish, with names like Smoke & Ashes. I love nail polish, but that’s a little… aren’t the Capitol the bad guys? Don’t you remember that the “smoke and ashes” are from District 12, which the Capitol firebombed in retaliation?

I’m not going to lie. Those glitter polishes – Electrify and Luxe & Lush – are really pretty, but I kinda feel like the whole line is missing the point.

… which is kinda how I feel about some of these covers. I liked the original American hardcover. It doesn’t tell us too much about the book, but I think it fits the mood of the story – and by now, everyone knows about it, anyway, so it doesn’t really need to sell itself.

Hunger Games

My first run-in with unexpected covers was the Japanese edition. (You might have noticed a theme. This is because I live in Japan and I can’t resist browsing through bookstores.) I asked a coworker if she had read it, and she said the cover put her off. It “looked too much like an adventure anime” and she ignored it. I asked what she was talking about and she pulled up an image of the Japanese cover of The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games


While there are recognizable elements from the story – Katniss with her braid and bow, Peeta’s flaming cloak – it looks more like … Well, let’s be honest: It looks like an adventure anime.

I’m not sure if it’s significant, but the title goes for a straight transliteration of Hunger Games into Japanese syllabary as ハンガー•ゲームズ (Hāngā Gēmuzu).

Other Japanese covers I’ve, ahem, covered have gone instead with a translation: Etiquette & Espionage (ソフロニア嬢、空賊の秘宝を探る, Miss Sophronia and the Treasure of the Sky Pirates) and Among Others ( 図書室の魔法, Library-Room Magic). Although I won’t make too much of translation conventions, check out this fan essay about the intricacies of translating Lord of the Rings (指輪物語, Epic of the Ring) into Japanese.

For a story like Hunger Games, which explicitly takes place in what’s left of North America, the “foreign”-sounding connotations of a katakana title are apt. (It’s weird, reading the British editions, in a future where apparently the United States of America adopted metric before collapsing.) The cover, however, really doesn’t get the spirit of the story at all. It looks like the illustrator was given a description of the characters and a handful of keywords.

Hunger Games I mentioned reading a British edition in my library, and you’re looking at it. There’s also a cover with the same design, but with Katniss in the cut out HG, but the decision to give Peeta his own cover was just a cynical ploy to gain more boy readers, because “boys don’t read girl books.” Or something. (There’s nothing gendered about the original cover…)

I don’t have much else to say about this/these edition/s. It looks like a thriller, which I guess it is; it’s certainly a page-turner.

The Stephen King blurb definitely reinforces the thriller feel.

I just can’t get over Peeta here. He’s an important character, but Katniss is the narrator. I guess it could be argued that we’re seeing Peeta as Katniss sees him, through the lens of the Hunger Games, or something, but I’m leaning towards the “cynical ploy” assumption.

It’s not a bad design, but I think it’s going to become dated pretty quickly (illustration trends change fast) and it has none of the iconic staying power of the Mockingjay pin design versions, but at least it’s not as bad as the Japanese cover.

…or this Russian one.

Hunger Games

I have nothing to say. I’m not even 100% convinced that this is a real thing.


Last but not least, there’s this raver edition. This is the cover that inspired this post. It’s just so weird. I guess the “marketing to boys” thing with Peeta on the cover was going a little too well and someone in marketing decided to doll it up a bit to appeal to teenage girls? As if teenage girls weren’t already the fanbase. Maybe marketing was just giving the fans what they wanted.

I like the return to the Mockingjay pin design, and the graffitied look fits in well. I can imagine this stencil spray painted onto train tunnels and the sides of buildings all over Panem, just… not in lime green and hot pink.

I just can’t quite figure out where this design is going. Is it supposed to “match” the new Scholastic Classics pack? I don’t think The Hunger Games needs “hip” repackaging quite yet. It’s still selling well enough on it’s own, what with Mockingjay just out in theaters. (Well, not here.)


2 thoughts on “Judging a Book by its Cover: Hunger Games

  1. Wow. I’m always curious by different covers for books, but some of these are just plain bad. I have no idea what they were thinking with that Russian one. And those colors in the last cover hurt my eyes! You do not put those colors together!

    • I’ve always been fascinated by different covers; I collect Harry Potter in different languages and editions and I have done since I was a kid (the inspiration for this column).

      The Russian cover is definitely the most WTF. I was shocked to find one even more off-key than the Japanese edition, and as for the pink and green neon spray paint “Propaganda Edition,” I do not even know.

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