2014 was a great year for English light novels. I’d say LN publishing was revitalised last year, thanks to the release of big name titles (and not just SAO and Index). I suppose this is a side effect of the oversaturation of LN adaptations in the anime industry right now. There’s no better time to get into the LNs, and I fully expect 2015 to be a lucrative year as well.
Why You Should Buy Light Novels
First of all, they’re cheap. The translations are a whole lot better than the fan translations, and most importantly, I think the success of these titles will pave the way for more quality translations of Japanese novels. Ideally, I’d like to see more Japanese literature beyond light novels being published over here. There’s a growing potential market.
“But Froggy!” you say. “Light novels are poorly written and adapting them shows that!”
Well… yes. Light novels are young adult fiction. They’re supposed to be breezy reads. No one is calling them masterpieces of literature. Being ~Japanese~ does not magically render them exempt from the standards of good writing. But the stories can be fun and there’s actually a broader genre selection available in English than you’d assume if all your knowledge about light novels comes from popular anime. With a few exceptions here and there (Danmachi and No Game No Life come to mind), the less otaku-heavy novels tend to get more priority in the English publishing world.
There Are More Light Novels Out There Than You Realise
Before you complain about the lack of good titles translated, have a look around the web! Thanks to the digital age, there are many light novels hitting the e-shelves that will probably escape your attention. I’ll give you an example.
A Japanese eBook publisher that recently published a few light novels in English. You wouldn’t know about that if you only follow the English press releases. The novels are very short, though, so I suppose they’d be considered ‘light novellas’. The anime influence is definitely present, though the translations appear to be written with a general audience in mind.
The story behind the publications of these novellas is kind of interesting. The crowdsourced translation site Conyac held a translation contest, and Impress Quickbooks then published the winning translations. I’ve never considered the potential of crowdsourced translations outside of fan translation, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. I’ll definitely look out for more of this sort of stuff in the future.
The links, for those interested in checking out the novellas:
Plot summary: In a futuristic world, a stock exchange dealer finds that the only person he can trust is not human at all.
The Akiba Labyrinth
Plot summary: A boy and his senpai stumble into a fantastical version of Akihabara, where nothing is as it seems.
Whether it Rains or Shines Tomorrow
Plot summary: A girl who hates sunshine meets a boy who can seemingly summon the rain.
All three stories had a very different flavour. Maybe it was because the stories were short, but they also lacked the rambling, filler-y nature I get from some of the more popular light novels. They did, however, feel a bit too abbreviated, and as a result they ended anticlimactically.
Of the three stories, I personally thought Alice’s Tale was the best. It had an interesting cyberpunk setting and the most professional-reading translation. The Akiba Labyrinth had the best lines, though.
“You coward!” She lays into me. “You don’t need to drop your pants for me to know you have a flea wiener. I’d need a microscope just to see the damn thing!”
Before I know it, her clothes come flying out from behind the door. “Here you go, chicken shit! Have fun jacking off with these!”
Why Supporting Translated Fiction is Important
Putting the relative literary merits of light novels aside, the rise of translated Japanese fiction is a welcome trend. This isn’t just isolated to Japanese fiction. The rise of small publishers and eBooks has made translated pop fiction much more accessible.
Translation is a sorely underappreciated art. Too often, language purists emphasise what is lost in translation. But much is also gained. Translation aims to bridge languages and culture, and to bring forth new connections and understanding of the world. You doubtless already have some experience of this through watching translated anime.
If you don’t enjoy reading light novels in particular, that’s fine. I recommend you dig around the literary scene. You’ll probably find other translated works that are more to your taste. Plenty of great Japanese authors have already been translated into English (besides Haruki Murakami, I mean).
Still, it’s easy to be invested in light novels if you’re an anime fan. Even franchises that weren’t originally based off light novels tend to have light novel tie-ins these days, some of which do get published in English (e.g. Vampire Knight). So if you’re interested in reading this sort of material, it’s a good idea to support the English light novel industry.
How You Can Support the Industry
First of all, buy the official releases. You can find an up-to-date list of published titles on English Light Novels. You’ll also find information on where to buy the novel and whether there’s an eBook available.
Outside of supporting the official release of light novels, you can help the industry by spreading the word. Introduce light novels to your friends and family. Encourage your local librarians to keep light novels in stock. You can also support fan translation online. Reading and sharing translations is fine. At this point in time, fan translation is probably one of the main reasons there’s a fanbase for English light novels at all.
I really don’t want the fan translation community to hurt light novel sales the same way scanlations have hurt manga sales. I suspect that things won’t go down that road, though. Baka-Tsuki has been responsibly taking down their translations after they get licensed, and it’s pretty much the only aggregator site worth mentioning when it comes to light novels.
One thing I disapprove of is the popular practice of making pdfs and epub versions of fan translated light novel volumes. We do it on Nano Desu, and other fan translations sites do it too. Pdfs can be easily shared around, even when the raw text is taken off the web. The last thing I want is for someone to collect pdfs in one place, making it easier to pirate series that already have an official release. For example, the No Game No Life translation was taken down almost as soon as Yen Press announced it was licensed, but the pdf could still be floating around on the web somewhere, even if Nano Desu is not distributing it any more. Sword Art Online translations are also still way too easy to find.
My advice to all light novel fans is simple: don’t pirate or distribute licensed novels. Fan entitlement is a very shitty thing. Please don’t succumb to it.
Also, we need more fan translators getting into series that don’t have an anime adaptation. At the moment, fans still have considerable influence over what novels get exposure among light novel readers. I’m taking my own advice on that matter, as you can see from my decision to translate Qualidea. It’s also another reason why you should read Gekkou and Hakomari! I’d love to see those two series get an official translation. Hopefully, there’ll be enough buzz around light novels in their own right to make hits out of the more traditionally niche titles.
To sum up, there’s a surprising amount of diversity among the light novels already available in English (although plenty of great stuff remains without an official release). Japanese and English publishers are showing more interest in distributing light novels in English-speaking countries. It’s a safe bet that more interesting titles will be released in the future. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses recently had a feature about Predictions and Wishful Thinking for 2015 Light Novels – we’ll see how many of them come true!
I’m pretty optimistic about the future of light novels. How about you?