What’s the future of light novels in the west?

Posted on March 2nd, 2013 by Ryu Sheng | 1 Comment

Sadly light novels are a dying thing here in the west, and as things stand at the moment i don’t really see a revival any time soon.

There were only two publishers that actively published light novels in the west, Tokyopop and Seven Seas Entertainment. Both have now pulled out of the market all together because, apparently, sales failed to live up to expectations. Other publishers do pick up the odd series now and again, but as far as i know there are none who actively publish light novels anymore, or so i thought….

While doing some research for this post i came across a couple of posts, one from a blogger like myself and the other from Seiji Horibuchi, the founder of Viz. Since i found both had relevant points I’ve copied them here, and left a link to the original post. I especially recommend reading the Seiji one as it’s rather interesting and i only copied the part relevant to light novels.

So, the first is from a guy called Daniel Lau and australian blogger who believes that light novels will never succeed in the west due to the fact that the fans need the visual elements, because that’s all we like about them.

Dear publishers,

Do stop trying to sell light novels to us. We’re not buying. Here’s why.

Because we are fans of Japanese visual culture and nothing else. If we can’t see it, we don’t care.

Because if we have to read, we’re going to read fanfic. Find a way to make money off that or something.

Because we have always been in it for the violence or the robots or the pretty little boys and girls, and none of that works well in text.

Because if all of this is in English, what part of this is Japanese anymore? What, we just have to take your word for it?

Because while novels, light or otherwise, do detail and immersion better than other media … we don’t care about detail or immersion. Look at what we watch and read. If the subtitles or word balloons are nigh unreadable, we don’t care. If the dialogue is wooden or incomprehensible or half in Japanese, we don’t care. They’re just words, and we’re getting the story primarily through pictures. We have always been satisfied just getting the gist. We are busy, and our next download has finished.

Because OK I liked the cartoon but when you put it like that, it just sounds childish and stupid.

Sincerely
Kids Today

Original Post

This post really does epitomize everything i was saying in my earlier post on fans killing the market. Here we have a guy who espouses scanlations over everything, and even does scanlations and has them on his site.

I have to admit that when i read this i was originally just going to pass him over, but after thinking on it i decided to post about it because of what it shows.

Because we are fans of Japanese visual culture and nothing else. If we can’t see it, we don’t care.

I really don’t agree with this, though he is right to a degree. Most people seem to get into anime and manga because of the visual style, it’s different from western cartoons and looks ‘cool’. However the simple fact is that without good story and characters do you seriously think people would stay following a series? If this was solely the case why are conventions so popular? While people may start off just liking the art style i think it safe to say most people eventually end up in love with the perceived culture, that’s how it was for me at least .

Because if we have to read, we’re going to read fanfic. Find a way to make money off that or something.

I found this hilarious, in the first sentence he says we don’t care about reading because we’re a ‘visual’ fan, but then says we read fanfic for when we want to read. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?

As for selling fanfic, you can’t, plain and simple. Fanfic has very strict laws regulating just what you can do with it and a publisher breaking those rules would end up in serious legal issues on both sides of the pond. The knock on effect could essentially kill the publisher as well, as japanese publishers refuse to license anything to a publisher that wantonly breaks copyright protection.

Because we have always been in it for the violence or the robots or the pretty little boys and girls, and none of that works well in text.

Because if all of this is in English, what part of this is Japanese anymore? What, we just have to take your word for it?

I just can’t agree with this, and here’s why. Two of my favourite light novels are Junk Force and RahXephon. The first has a manga, and the second a manga and an anime, and i loved all of them. Manga and anime are static visual, as in what you see is set in stone and pre-defined, there’s no room for the reader to interpret what’s going on, how characters look and feel, because it’s all laid out for you. In light novels (and novels in general) the reader imagination can run wild, creating a movie in their mind. This is how it’s always been for me, and if I’m honest why i prefer light novels. Also you have to remember that without the text in manga, or subs in anime, we’d never understand what’s going on really. Pictures can and do only tell you so much, without the text we’d always be guessing and never knowing.

The second comment just made me shake my head in exasperation. When we buy manga or anime, or anything that’s been translated, it’s always been and always will be ‘taking someone’s word for it’. Unless you know japanese well enough to translate it yourself you’re always taking someone else’s word that what they’ve translated is a true translation. As for whether it remain japanese, sheesh come on man. If you watch a dubbed anime does it stop being anime? Of course not.

Because while novels, light or otherwise, do detail and immersion better than other media … we don’t care about detail or immersion. Look at what we watch and read. If the subtitles or word balloons are nigh unreadable, we don’t care. If the dialogue is wooden or incomprehensible or half in Japanese, we don’t care. They’re just words, and we’re getting the story primarily through pictures. We have always been satisfied just getting the gist. We are busy, and our next download has finished.

this guy really does come off as a total idiot to me. Manga and anime are all about the immersion. Why do we read series that go for forty, fifty or even a hundred volumes of manga? According to Daniel here it’s all because of the art, it has nothing to do with the fact the story is amazing, the characters are fun, and we’re drawn into the world it’s created. In other words it’s nothing to do with the fact that we get immersed into the world, frankly that’s total bull shit. There are plenty of titles that have mediocre art, but we read to death over and over because we love the story, we get immersed into them and lose ourselves. Take Glass Mask for example, it’s a manga from the 80’s and looks like it. The art style is seriously dated  but it still does really well because the story and characters are really amazing. You care about the girls, their journey towards the Crimson Goddess and feel genuine emotions from the story. As a result it’s the second best selling shojo manga of all time (Hana Yori Dango being the top seller of all time)

His comment about not caring if the dialogue is wooden or unreadable is partially true. for example RahXephon and Junk Force novels were really badly edited, it’s almost engrish at times times. However what is important is that the reader is able to get immersed and understand what’s going on despite that, which both of those series do a good job of doing. However without being able to get into the story and become immersed, it’s unlikely I’d have gotten past the first chapters of each. As for not caring about it, again that’s not quite true. We do care, we care a lot, to the point we pressure publishers when they screw it up. However when it’s apparent that we can’t get a better version (as in the case of Junk Force and RahXephon) due to the publisher being dead, we accept it for what it is and make do. This isn’t the same as not caring, it’s a case of not being able to do anything about it.

As for that last sentence, that says it all really. Spoiled brat out for his next free read, that’s how this entire post came over to me.

So, moving on to the next post. This was an interview done by ICV2 way back in 2011.

Where do you see the U.S. manga market in 2016?

This is a good question!  I predict that "light novels" will become more popular in the future.  Light novels are literature written for a young adult audience that includes roughly the same demographics as manga, anime and video games.  Light novels have the essence of manga, animation, and video games combined. It has been a tremendously popular genre in Japan for the past six or seven years and continues to grow both there and in the U.S. Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint has published some good examples.  Some popular anime films have been based on light novels and I think publishers here in the U.S. will begin to publish more of these titles as more readers become aware.

Once the digital transition is complete, I think manga could enjoy an even wider following in 2016, both in the U.S. and other countries outside Japan as well.  U.S. publishers are getter ever closer to the simultaneous release of manga titles with their Japanese counterparts and digital channels will allow this to happen even faster.  The digital medium also allows readers to browse, archive and transport manga more conveniently and compactly on a digital device than they ever could with the traditional print versions.  I think this idea will have firmly taken hold in the U.S. consumer consciousness by 2016, not only for manga, but also for nearly every other form of media as well.

Original post, it’s the last question on the page.

This is an interesting post, and as a result made me take another look at Viz’s Haikasoru imprint. I was under the impression that it was going to be focused primarily on japanese mainstream fantasy and sci-fi novels.

In his first paragraph he sums up my thoughts on light novels pretty well:

Some popular anime films have been based on light novels and I think publishers here in the U.S. will begin to publish more of these titles as more readers become aware.

For me i saw the RahXephon anime first, and then became interested in the novels, same with 12 Kingdoms and Trinity Blood. I also think he’s right in that as fans of a series come to learn it’s based on a series of novels they’d naturally want to check them out. The problem is the timing though, if a novel is released to long after the release of the anime than interest dwindles. You need to catch the fans while they’re still watching and interested in the anime.

I like the fact that he says they’re moving to digital, however my concern is that Viz is doing it the wrong way. Their focus on apps for smart devices is great, but the fact they’re ignoring e-readers is frustrating. I personally don’t have a smart device, neither phone or tablet, i don’t see the need to have one. I’ve a laptop that does everything i need and a phone that does the same. I do however have a Kindle and enjoy reading on it, Viz however is focusing on smart devices and ignoring the Kindle and other readers. This is a bad business move, especially since most e-readers have a smart device app as well, so i don’t understand why they would limit their market reach like this.

There’s also the fact that Viz are notorious for ignoring the euro zone, they simply don’t care about the european fans. They make a big fuss about their 1000’s of manga being available digitally, but forget to tell you it only applies to those in the US and Canada. Their old argument of licensing restrictions just doesn’t really hold up anymore, they need to embrace their euro fans as well, after all extra sales are more money in the bank right?

So, after all that what’s the future of light novels, and why have they failed to take off so far?

Tokyopop and Seven Seas both fell into the same trap in a way. Both released the novels in a small format. Seven Seas tried to release them in the same format as the original japanese releases, and usually I’d congratulate them for that. However they seem to have failed to take into consideration a rather important factor. Westerners, especially americans and us brits, usually are larger in stature to asians. We have larger hands, so the small books which work well for asians are uncomfortable for westerners to handle. Tokyopop’s versions were slightly larger, but still had a similar problem.

So what’s the solution? Oddly enough Haikasoru and DMP have this nailed down IMO. Instead of releasing them as light novels you release them as simple old sci-fi and fantasy novels. You give them the same novel format as western novels, put them in the sci-fi and fantasy sections of book stores rather than the manga section, and market them as novels.

For example Scrapped Princess would do very well in the fantasy section, release it as an omnibus of two volumes so as to make it more inline with normal novel page count, and market it as such. 12 Kingdoms did really well for Tokyopop because this is exactly what they did.

That said, I do wonder if it wouldn’t be better to pull them from the book stores completely and focus on releasing them as e-books, less production costs since they wouldn’t have to pay for the printing of thousands of volumes of manga. I do love reading novels in paperback form, but equally i love it on my kindle as well. If the choice ever came down to a digital kindle release or no release, it’s a no-brainer which I’d go for Open-mouthed smile

Personally i hope that Seven Seas returns to releasing light novels since they have the license for several titles i really love, Kanokon and Zero’s Familiar for example.

One Response

  1. Mike Limjoco says:

    I think I agree with your thoughts with regard to how Light Novels can have a future in the West. I’ve been posting the contents of my novel Kuro: Eternal Night Chronicles for free on Wattpad.com and it has gained some traction and an audience on that website.

    There truly is a group of people that will READ an anime vs look at it for the pretty pictures. The proliferation of Anime Fan-Fiction proves that.

    This is a long shot, but would you be interested in reading what can only be described as the North American version of the Light Novel?

    More information can be found here:
    http://www.landindarkness.com

    If you would be willing review of it, I would be more than happy to send you a free copy.

    I apologize for spamming this thread, but I did feel the subject matter was appropriate. Feel free to remove it if you deem it inappropriate. As you can tell, I’m a bit passionate on this topic so it’s always good to meet a kindred spirit! Thanks for writing this article on Light Novels. I truly hope there is a future for these.

    Good luck!

    Mike