[Inspired by this intrepid list of insipid plot-generator-type titles. So, here goes nothing.]
Wave of unbelievably random novels invade Japanese shores
Tenth grader Rinko Kobayakawa is just your average, middle-class Japanese high schooler who likes rock music, fashion and walks to school every day. She, like millions of others like her in junior high school and high school in Japan, spent on average dozens of hours a month reading on their commute or spare time between classes.
“I don’t really remember when it started, but I’ve been reading these light novels ever since fourth grade. All of the sudden these new sorts of books are everywhere and I can’t even find a normal book, like that book about vampires that’s so popular a couple years ago.”
Rinko is more avid of a reader than most, and in a month she can read up to 10 of these light novels–pulp novels in a small form factor, made for teens to read on their commute, often featuring mystery, fantasy and romance as subject matters. Although teens of Japan flock to video games and shows on TV as much as their counterparts in other developed nations, Japan has always been a country that treasured its print media, boasting the largest newspaper in circulation and a publishing industry at about 1.8 trillion yen, or over 21 billion US dollars. However, as with other print markets in developed nations, it is slowly giving way to similar things–games, and mostly, the internet.
“This is an emerging market,” said a mid-level executive at a premiere publisher, name withheld to protect his employer’s image at his request. “Over the past three years we have seen nearly three-fold growth in our light novel imprints, and while the growth is slowing it remains highly profitable. Kids will eat this up, and it gives a wide variety of authors a lot of opportunity to publish something interesting.” Compared to the short period when cell-phone published works like keitai-shousetsu was popular, light novel was still, after all, printed on paper. It gave this particular print publisher some comfort in an increasingly uncertain world in print publishing.
Cellphone novels are not the last attempt for Japanese publishers to make way into the digital realm. However unlike other bigger pushes in recent years, or even Amazon’s recent deal to bring the Kindle to Japan, the cellphone novels attained popularity from its young writers and their convention-breaking styles. Usually using a pseudonym, these writers were able to reach the teens and connected to today’s youth trends and styles. Compared to more traditional print published works, which are stiffer and takes a less familiar tone to the reader, these cellphone novels are written with a casual, if entirely informally or with an experimental voice, as they were given more leeway with what they could write. It narrowed the gap between the reader and the writer, and for many teens that was the connection they were looking for in their entertainment.
Light novels, naturally, quickly took to this style and have also seen its popularity rise as a result. “There are all kinds of light novels out there, but some of them I really don’t understand how or why they could ever be published. I mean, I understand a few of these little sister novels are pretty popular, I read one series and it is pretty funny. But these other ones, I don’t know.” Tabata, another 10th grader, is much more skeptical. “Why are these stories are being published? I mean it feels like anybody can write a light novel these days, and some publisher will print it, and worse, someone will always buy it.” Tabata’s concerns are not unfounded; during the years of explosive growth, new titles are in high demand, and the forgiving readership made it possible for a wide variety of mediocre performers to stay on the market.
As with most pulp fiction, the racy and controversial often sell best. How would parents react to this trend of light novels? Governor Shintaro Ishihara of Tokyo Prefecture, a published author himself, proposed a bill in 2010 that pushed the formation of a government panel that deems certain print work to be adult only. The controversial ordinance, prefaced to protect the youth from exactly the seedy and questionable print content in manga and pulp magazines, solicited mixed responses from the public. “I’m not for censorship, but sometimes I wonder if the comic and novels my son buys in the convenient store are really okay for a minor.” Yoshino Kousaka, the mother of a teenage boy and girl, does what she can to support their hobbies and development. “I know my daughter sometimes like to buy some of these very girly, urban fantasy and romance books, but somehow I’m just more worried about my son getting into it. I mean he is at that age, you know? Maybe it would be best to limit those things. Sometimes I read the titles of these books and I really wonder what is going on.”
Mrs. Kousaka’s concerns are not uncommon. Titles such as I Love My Older Brother But as Long as We Have Our Love It’s OK Right?, A Sister’s Virgin Lips Are Only for Her Brother!, It’s Not Like I Love My Brother at All!!, Am I Not Allowed to Play Footsies with My Sister?, or Why My Tsuntsun Koakuma Sister Became Dere Before Becoming My Waifu are just a small sample of a much larger pool of today’s light novel offering that may draw a discerning parent’s eyes. It’s with caution that Japanese children, teens and parents approach this new trend of media proliferation in the new decade.
[This post is also called “My Big Brother/Boyfriend Is Also an Idol Producer.” I guess that could be the subtitle.]
[And if you can’t tell this is a fictional work, well, you have bigger things to worry about.]