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?
Are there any light novels that you would like to see get an official English release? I’m really hoping Chaika does, the anime was fairly popular here and it seems like something Yen Press may do! My #1 choice is actually Jintai though, but we all know that’s not happening unless some Tanaka Romeo renaissance takes place.
As for supporting LNs, I am planning to get at least the first volumes of Log Horizon and Hataraku Maou-sama when they come out, and I already own all of Haruhi. Not too interested in much of anything else that’s out now, though I’ll check out the short stories you linked!
These aren’t light novels but I’d love to see The Tatami Galaxy and The Eccentric Family get English releases. Also, Hyouka. Gekkou and Hakomari too, as I mentioned in the post. Jintai would be great as well. And… and… maybe Fate/Zero?
A lot of that is pretty much wishful thinking, though, so I’ll just wait and see what comes :P
“I’d say LN publishing was revitalised last year, thanks to the release of big name titles (SAO and Index notwithstanding).”
Could you explain your use of “notwithstanding” here?
I can’t, because I used the wrong word. I meant “not just SAO and Index”. Oops.
Oh, ok. I like “notwithstanding”, so I was surprised at the usage.
They actually released SAO in Poland in 2014, too, making it the first light novel title to be released in my home country. Never thought, I’d live to see the day.
First Light Novel released in Poland is “All You Need is Kill”. ;)
Yeah, seems like that was out a few months earlier, but that edition does take every effort possible to cover up its light novel roots, so it’s no wonder I never heard about it until now ;).
This is pretty interesting. I think I’d look at this as just another way to support the spread of the animanga/LN into prominence in the west. If Light Novels are selling well outside of Japan, that opens avenues to larger audiences for the industry to cater to. A bigger audience allows for more diversity, and given how prominent Light Novel anime adaptations are now, those having a larger audience can only be beneficial to the anime industry too! That could only be a good thing, even if it’s only the equivalent of a drop in the ocean
Hmm, I’m not sure about that. With few exceptions, the anime industry doesn’t cater their content to an international audience, so I highly doubt our consumer choices will affect what sort of anime gets made.
Paving the way for more translated Japanese literature in the West, though? That’s more doable, and that’s more what I was thinking of when I wrote this post.
BUT THEY MIGHT SOME DAY. Yeah, though probably not. I’d still look at it as a step forward. I’d be pretty happy to see more Japanese lit brought across.
I would devour those Hyouka novels if they were released
As a addendum, people who don’t want to (or can’t) spend money themselves should definitely recommend acquiring LNs to their local librarians (YA librarians being the most relevant here), I’ve gotten into quite a few series due to my library stocking them.
That’s a great suggestion! I’ll add it to the post!
You don’t have to tell me twice. Though for now it will probably just be Accel World and SAO for me, unless I find the time to check out some new titles.
But great article Froggy. Kudos.
Great to see you on board! I haven’t read the Accel World translation yet, but I did think the SAO one has been very solid so far. Looking forward to the SAO: Progressive novel coming out in March as well.
I think you may also like Log Horizon and Danmachi, so why not give them a shot?
I’m looking forward to SAO: Progressive as well. I think having both the novel and manga could make for a very interesting look at the story of Aincrad given that the manga is from a more Asuna focused perspective with the novel from what I know is a more Kirito focused perspective. Now if only YenPress would license Accel World / Dural: Magisa Garden then I would be the happiest person in the world.
I might check Log Horizon and Danmachi out, they might be interesting.
I keep a close eye on Yen Press licenses. They have done a fantastic job with Spice and Wolf so far. So far I haven’t made much time for light novels, but I’ll need to set some time aside for NGNL, Black Bullet and Durarara.
Yep, Yen Press has done some great work with their releases. I might have small issues with their translations here and there, but I’m more than happy with them overall.
I’m looking forward to NGNL too. I’m curious to see how they handle it. The fan translation was excellent and I’d like to see how the official translation measures up.
Not sure where you came up with your subjective “cheap”, not everyone has easily disposable income. There will be those who will buy, and those that will not. Take away material from those that will drop it when not accessible to them doesn’t change anything besides limiting how well known it is. Piracy isn’t limited as well. If you consider those books NEVER made it to the internet, then you easily say it would not be known at all by general readers and only some dedicated fans would know about it. Then it doesn’t change that the fans would support it and those that do not won’t even know about the option. Just my thoughts.
You need to consider your audience.
I know you’re trying to make a difference but your argument isn’t sound when you don’t answer or solve fundamental issues, then it doesn’t matter when you bring more debate points to the table.
I agree why supporting translation (not sure if you mean fan translation too but I assume from reading background tone you are not) is important. It’s not just limited to those points to but also in a more economic sense. Let’s not bring international affairs though.
“Fundamental issues”? That’s ridiculous. I don’t understand why I need to argue how piracy is wrong from a moral and legal standpoint. Considering that many industry people regularly speak up against piracy and that it has affected manga sales in particular very negatively, I think drawing a clear line is very important.
In my case, I draw the line at official releases.
Also, considering the other comments I’ve gotten on this post, I think my audience actually is perfectly willing to support the official releases. Just because my argument doesn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean you can speak for my audience.
I also think that light novels are affordable, and that’s not just my “subjective” interpretation. The Kindle edition of Another costs $5, for instance, and the paperback version of SAO costs $10 (depending on the retailer). From a financial standpoint, light novels are actually a lot more reasonably priced than manga and anime. There are less titles to keep up with in a series and there’s more content in a light novel volume compared to a manga volume.
If you still don’t think you can afford light novels, ask your local librarian to get them in stock. Then you can read them free of charge.
But you know, I can totally understand your concerns if you’re talking about out of print releases, which are ridiculously expensive to import nowadays. Fans do get the short end of the stick there, I admit. I also understand that the price and accessibility of light novels will vary between countries. If you do have trouble purchasing books where you live, I recommend talking to your local retailer or looking into eBook options. Fan translators should only be a last resort when there’s an official outlet available.
This attitude just encourages laziness and fan entitlement. Look, publishers don’t need every single fan to buy the series. They only need to make a profit. Titles like SAO and Accel World don’t need fan translations on the internet to advertise their existence. They have a popular anime to do that for them.
I’m a fan translator. Of course I acknowledge how people like us bring attention to niche titles. Fan translators don’t just bring free advertising to specific titles; they encourage interest in light novels in general. If a few specific titles are licensed, there will still be countless other series with no English translation at all.
That’s why I encourage the fan translation community, but I don’t encourage piracy of series with an official release. Our simple goal is to encourage more series to get an official release. Once that’s been achieved, there’s no use translating it anymore.
Since you agree that supporting translation is important from an economic standpoint, then surely you must agree that the interests of paid translators takes higher priority than fan translators. If you don’t believe this, then I don’t know what to say to you.
Bit of a late reply here, but I wanted to point out that not everyone has moral qualms about consuming and sharing copyrighted media for free. Personally, while I know that it’s illegal, it doesn’t change my ethical conviction which is firmly against the very idea of copyright and patent law.
Like the person you responded to, I wish to support the producers of content I like. It’s an act of gratitude, charity as well as an investment. This is also why I prefer the crowdfunding and donation models, because I generally know the money is going where it should be and it’s a lot more transparent.
I don’t wish to support a system that forces consumers to pay, or even go to unnecessary lengths to get access to media that is easily, cheaply shared P2P. Judging people as lazy or entitled for not “doing their duty” to the publishing industry seems misguided to me, because the act of shaming or forcing people to pay takes all goodwill out of it, turns it into a soulless obligation. Not to mention, I don’t want to buy stuff unless I know I like it.
So there’s an alternate perspective for you, if you’re open to it. It might seem opposed to your POV, but I really think we value the same things in essence. Yes I’m a bit of an idealist, but I don’t expect the traditional publishing model or legal system to go away or bend to my wishes. Just following my internal compass.
Great article, Frog-kun. You hit the nail on the head here nicely. I feel at this point–and even more so by the end of the year–there will be a light novel series or two in English for most any anime/manga fan. Some genres are still less represented of course, but that can easily change in time.
Great find on those ebook novellas, by the way. I will look into those and likely add them to my site. I still think the digital distribution remains to be fully taken advantage of when it comes to light novels in English, by the way. More and more niche fiction genres are gaining lots of ground thanks to how relatively easy it is to release ebooks, not to mention how cheap they can generally be sold for a profit. I even wonder if it could one day be possible for fan translators to get something worked out with Japanese publishers in that regard?
Yeah, I agree there’s still more potential for digital distribution to spice up the LN market. As for the possibility of direct dealings between fan translators and publishers… I don’t think that’ll be the case with large publishing labels. The way those businesses run is still very conservative. There’s more potential for small-time publishers and self-published authors. But still… there are plenty of obstacles.
You might find this blog post interesting: http://japaneselit.net/2015/01/01/translation-diary-part-one/
Thanks for the link, Frog-kun! Interesting read. It seems the world of translation work is a daring one to get into in general.
Good article! I generally try to use official/legal means of access to anime and the few (light) novel series I’m interested in when possible, though I do admittedly slip up from time to time. I have “Haruhi”, and I’m acquiring “Spice and Wolf” as it comes out, but I’ve only read the first two volumes of “Spice and Wolf” so far.
I would love to have “The Eccentric Family” translated! I’ve heard there are two more novels in that series that had been planned, but it doesn’t seem that ever happened. I would also really love to have the “Kara no Kyoukai” and “Monogatari” novels translated officially, especially in the case of Monogatari, since the novels and parts of novels that are translated are all over the place. I think there are only three or four that have been fully translated, and even then I don’t know if the translation is good or not (I’d be more likely to trust a professional translation).
I think Monogatari is one of those novels that I’d definitely want to see in the hands of a professional translator. It’s a tricky series language-wise.
And yep, I’d love to see The Eccentric Family translated as well!
Cool stuff, Froggy! Having just started to read a few official light novel releases for my work with Otaku Review, I’ve found an odd charm in reading this particular style of writing. I spend a lot of time reading heavy academic stuff that’s kind of hard to get through, so to breeze through an easy-to-digest and entertaining book gets me actually casually reading more than I have in literal years.
With that in mind and having been inspired by this post, I’m going to try and stretch myself on those reviews and not just stick to the popular light novel titles I already know.
Yep, I think that’s the appeal of reading light novels for me too. Most of my typical reading choices aren’t exactly what you would call light reading. They’re also great for improving your Japanese! (Er, providing you read them in Japanese :P)
And yeah, good call on your reviewing choices. I enjoyed your Danmachi and Vampire Knight reviews, and I look forward to seeing what else you have in store!
I think It’s a great idea to promote Japanese literature, personally I like a lot japanese literature, the first book I read was a LN.
After that, I took a fascination for J-Literature. I haven’t read any of Murakami Haruki’s books though (hope you’re talking about him) I tried once, but the English translation of his books are really difficult to understand (at least for me, hope I’m not the only one) I find them so hard to read that I think the spanish translations is easier to understand, something not so common in japanese translated novels.
but I do have read books of Ryu Murakami (Almost Transparent Blue), His style is a little lighter than Haruki’s. Great writer indeed. Also I’ve read a little of Yasutaka Tsutsui (The Girl who leapt trough time) and Koushun Takami (Battle Royale).
And my contribution with J-Literature; SAO volumes 1 & 2, Fujoshi Kanojo volumes 1 & 2, Battle Royale, Aria The Scarlet Ammo (first two volumes, ebooks at emanga.com) a couple of H-emangas ;) and soon, Volume 3 of SAO and 1st volume of Akame ga Kill. :D
Interesting what you say about Murakami in English. I assume you’re referring to Jay Rubin’s translations? Murakami has been translated by other people, though, so maybe you might want to check out some of the alternate translations if you can find them. Personally, I really enjoy Rubin’s translations. (I haven’t read Murakami in Japanese).
Interesting what you say about the Spanish translation being easy to read. I wonder how a different a story must feel when you read translations in multiple languages.
I’ve always been skeptical of light novels, partly because the anime adaptations seem more miss than hit, but your article convinced me to try one out. I tried Alice and found it to be a very interesting experience. What struck me was the very honest and personal tone of the narrator’s voice, something you see a lot in young adult and teen targeted literature. I wonder what the light novel author demographic is like? Are they younger than their literary counterparts? I’ve only read some modern Japanese literature in translation (I like Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki’s stuff) but they tend to be more serious and heavy in tone. Is there such a thing as “serious” light novel, or do complex plotlines not mesh with the light novel genre?
I’m not considering SAO to be very complex or philosophical.
Glad you enjoyed Alice! And yeah, LNs are typical YA fiction for the most part, so the writing style tends to be simple and personalised.
From what I know, published light novel authors tend to be pretty young, mostly in their twenties and thirties. Part of that’s because LNs have grown particularly popular lately, so younger readers and writers have been drawn in.
They’re a bit more niche, but yeah, there are light novels that are more “serious” and deal with complex plotlines. Hakomari’s plot is notoriously convoluted. Then there are novels like Kino’s Journey which, while simple, deal with somber themes. Of course, the more “otaku-ish” novels are the ones that tend to get anime adaptations, because that’s the way the anime market has evolved.
Good article. The only thing I personally have against licencing light novels is when you’ve been keeping up with a series. When it gets licensed, in most cases it gets taken offline and any further translation of the series is stopped. For example, iv’e read up to half way through volume 6 of NGNL. Now that it’s been licensed, I have to wait probably a year or two to continue it.
Other slightly different examples are SAO and Index (different as in you can still continue reading if you are already up to date). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’ve been licensed and am happy to buy them, just the amount of volumes makes it an extremely long wait for Yenpress to even come close to catching up. Even catching up to stuff that isn’t already covered by the anime will take a long time. (8 volumes for SAO or 12 volumes for Index.) So for these titles I am glad PDFs are still available so fans can still read ahead instead of waiting years.
With SAO the guy translating the recent volumes at least adds on his blog links to where you can buy the official releases and encourages everyone to support them if they can. And with Index because the original series is finished at 22 volumes. Luckily for the Index series in particular, Baka-Tsuki is still able to continue hosting and translating the New Testament sequel. Waiting for 30+ volumes of Index novels to be officially translated would be hell for any fans, so I’m glad there is still options available while waiting for the official translations to catch up.
Also bad official translations, I’ve heard of a few, but I can’t really comment much because for all the titles I heard of I either wasn’t interested in that title or never ended up looking into it. It’s a shame when a series has a ban translation through licensing and gets dropped. But because they still have rights to it, the fan translation project remains halted.
Anyway, I’m glad fan translators exist and played a part in getting fans interested in light novel titles in the first place. There is large variation of translation quality among fan translations as well as many views on the ‘correct’ way to translate. As someone who is a fan of anime/visual novels/light novels/manga and who also plans to learn Japanese and become a translator in the future, I obviously have my own views on this, and I find it very interesting to wide a variety of ideas which can change my own philosophy.
I do think the common practice of halting a project when it gets officially licensed is a good practice in general, and I hope fans do continue to buy official releases as they become available. Personally I’m looking out for the recent Durarara light novels, because only the later volumes were fan translated. And although volume 1 was translated, (I read it and enjoyed it), I’m not really a fan of japanese->chinese->english trasnlations, which I believe the volume 1 translation was.
One thing that really sucks about LN licensing (besides the stuff you’ve already mentioned) is dropped series. For example, Tokyopop licensed a bunch of LN titles, including the really popular Full Metal Panic! series, and never finished them because the company went under. That sucks because unless the series gets re-released in some way, how are fans supposed to find out what happens next? In those cases, I’m okay with fan translations being around.
Translations of later volumes in a series where most of the volumes aren’t officially translated is a grey area, as far as I’m concerned. I personally don’t read the SAO and Index translations, but I can symapthise with fans who don’t want to wait literally years for the official release to catch up.
Anyway, I’m glad you find translation interesting! I think it’s a very fascinating field to be involved in.
In my country is almost impossible to get light novels, the ones I have, I have bought overseas and in English (not my native language).
I trully believe in supporting the originals AND the official release in the areas.
Exactly my problem!
That’s a problem. There are many countries where LNs are still inaccessible.
That leaves people like you in an awkward spot, because I think it’s unfair to demand fans to buy imports (even though that’s technically the right thing to do).
Fan translations still exist for languages other than English for LNs licensed in English. I don’t know how many translations exist in your native language, though.
This bring up one of my thinking about LN: You do the translation work (and blogging, which is essentially a kind of thesis), so you must know that to do it good, you must have a wide range of social-knowledge, correct? It seems that a lot of our fan translators lack that.
But maybe the stories of this genre itself does not have such a high requirement about this. One of the thing that I’m looking for in reading foreign literature is to find out how they live, thinking and act. But according to what I’ve been reading, what is the different between a Japanese and a Korean LN?
P/S: Could you do a review of Patema Inverted?
Yep, a wide range of knowledge is important for translators. I remember one of my lecturers saying, “What separates a good translator from a great one is general knowledge.” That was a line that made a very strong impression on me.
No matter what you translate, I think having that depth of knowledge and experience is important, LNs included. Actually, translating Oregairu required me to do a lot of research on 2ch and Chiba geography and culture because the author was so thoroughly immersed in these topics. Lots of culturally specific in jokes and references.
I can’t really tell you much about Korean LNs since I haven’t ready read any of those.
And I suppose I could write something about Patema Inverted, although I will need to see the film first!
“Translation is a sorely underappreciated art.”
As someone who’s studying religious scripture, an art that’s been around as the religion has, I find this rather insensitive.
Do you know how hard it is to translate? Of course you do! You’re good at it! Well I don’t, because I can’t translate, but I know at least a dozen people who do so. I’ve got a professor who’s trying to translate my holy text to Spanish, Greek, and Macadonian alone. And that’s not counting the one translator I know who’s doing it like HALF the languages found in Africa.
And that’s the Quran. That’s not counting the hadeeths, the scholarly books, and that one bloke who’s trying to translate The Flower of Battle, and nearly every single HEMA treatise to Mandarin.
Translating is not a new thing. I know you’re speaking from the perspective of someone who’s from the LN industry, Froggy, but please remember the religious, the scholarly, and the scientific communities.
I understand your concerns. I’m perfectly aware of how old translation is, as well as how useful it’s been historically. I certainly don’t mean to make light of the achievements of great translators – on the contrary, in fact! I think translators in religious, scholarly and scientific communities could be appreciated more than they are. For instance, despite the antiquity of translation as an art, translation studies as an academic discipline only came to prominence very recently (like, the 1980s kind of recent).
Historically, translation has always been regarded with suspicion, especially within religious communities. The Italian word for translator “Traduttore” sounds very close to the word for traitor, “Traditore”, and there are a whole slew of references to translators as “traitors” of the original work. I understand that many readers of the Qu’ran, for instance, don’t accept the text as canon in anything other than its original Arabic. Even though there are many excellent translations of the Qu’ran (kudos to your professor for his/her contribution!) translations don’t have the same authority as the original, perhaps rightly so.
As a result, historically, translations have been regarded as lesser vehicles, mere compromises for those who lack the temerity to grapple with the original language. This attitude is slowly changing, but it’s still very observable today.
It is also much harder for translators to make names of themselves. You’ll likely know the author of a text but not the translator. Because of your exposure to professional and academic translators, you likely have more knowledge and appreciation of individual translators than the average layperson. That’s really great and I appreciate how you appreciate us! But most people can’t name many translators off the top of their head, unfortunately.
So when I say translation is underappreciated, I honestly think that it is.
Sometimes I have to take a step back and remember that not everyone has the same appreciation for academics as I do, unfortunately.
And I can also understand why people think that translations aren’t as good as the original. Something like the Quran, well yeah, if you want the full knowledge of it you HAVE to speak Arabic. It’s just a requirement to do so. I can tell you this about Quran translators: compared to Bible translators, they have it a LOT easier since the Arabic’s been around more in effect compared to the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible/Torah.
I also wanted to say how very academic your work has been, Froggy! Really eye opening stuff. I read all your posts about this translation business, even if I don’t comment. And seeing you’re doing well with LNs, what about sub/dub?
I know I know, it’s a well discussed topic, but I wouldn’t mind a post discussing the merits of translating anime to English or other languages. An academic view point basically.
Yeah, translation is a difficult topic. I think it’s very tempting to mistrust translations, especially because there are so many bad translations and there is no accepted “correct” way to translate.
Thanks for enjoying my work! I still have a lot to learn myself, so I enjoy writing on this blog and working things out as I go along. I do have some plans for write about localisation: when should you change parts of the original? When should you use footnotes/translation notes? How much is the translator obligated to explain cultural references?
The dubs vs subs debate is kind of old hat at this stage, although I actually do enjoy dubs quite a lot, especially when they take liberties with the original script. It’s like I’m watching a whole new show. I would generally prefer that the viewer has both options, though, and would recommend subs for accuracy.
I’m more than willing to support the industry, but in my current status I can hardly consider clicking the “buy” button on online shops. And the physical copies of LNs being sold here are still pretty expensive compared to, say, the more popular English novels. (Once I get out of my student status and find a good job, I might be able to do these things I’ve always wanted to, though!)
Also, I once lent my Zaregoto Book 2 to my friend last year, and she still hasn’t read it. D:
I sympathise. I’m on a student budget too, and I end up wasting so much of my spare cash on books. I don’t have enough money for anything else ;____;
I think eBooks are a viable option in your situation, though. Or do you not have a Kindle/eReader?
Don’t feel bad about purchasing books! :)
I actually prefer physical copies of books, because it’s much faster to read them than ebooks (but I’ve downloaded PDFs anyway). Besides, I don’t have a tablet nor iPad to make my ebook reading experience easier than it is with just a laptop. But thanks for the suggestion, anyway!
I checked the Google Play links of your LN recommendations above. The prices were fine, and I think I can afford them. I’ll have to save some more, though.
[…] really goes out to emphasize Frog-kun’s point in his recent post about the future of light novel fan translations—we translators should really try seeking out […]
[…] I’m a bit late for this, but thanks to Frog-kun (Fantastic Memes) for posting about this news recently. […]
Great article!! The only problem I have is the availability but hey there is amazon right? ^_^
PS: I’m waiting for Durarara! vol.1 Hnnnnnggggg
I hear Yen Press’s going to publish Omori Fujino’s :Is it Wrong to Meet Girls in a Dungeon?” in English. Not sure to read the book or watch the upcoming anime version first.
PS. Suzuhito Yasuda’s doing the illustrations!
“I’m pretty optimistic about the future of light novels. How about you?”
Nope. Not at all. I’m more of a western literature guy these days.
Someone competent should translate Jinrui though.
[…] Why You Should Support the English Light Novel Industry — (and how you can do it!) […]
As far as I can tell from Yen Press’ releases list, they’re still pretty much all LNs from popular adapted anime, with few if any titles outside that categorization. This doesn’t really show any change from their conservative market strategy of only going for LNs that are assured to make them a profit because their popularity is already well-established. The novellas is interesting, although most definitely an experiment by… (not sure who did them).
Frankly, I think many of the enthusiasts are putting up hopes too quickly. I’d give them at least a few more years at least before taking this aspect of the market seriously.
Also, as someone who blogged about Hakomari back in the day — that novel very much targets a rather niche audience =P (and Gekkou was boring lol. The protagonist felt so detached from reality / human response to events that he felt like a complete fake to me).
In the “how you can support the industry” I misread “First of all, buy the official releases…” for “First, buy all the official releases…” I was like, “there goes my wallet, but worth it!” lol. Shall be w8ing for the official releases to catch up to the japanese ones.
Yo Froggy-kun, I agree that we should buy the official releases…
But do you know if there are great LNs that are translated with our “Western Otaku” culture? Like them using “onii-chan” and “-kun” and -“san” and stuff like that…. ones that tell us about the furigana and other chunni stuff in it…. and explain how Japanese culture does things…
That’s a good point. Some official LNs include honorifics, but most are pretty sparse about footnotes (if they bother to include them at all). Personally, I’ve always thought excessive footnotes get in the way of the story and if you wanted to learn about Japanese culture, you could look that stuff up later. But I can see how some people would miss the explanations.
It’s not just the explanation, but I feel they….. guess the closest term I can think of is, “localize” it a bit too much for my taste….
I mean, I feel that anime/manga fans have created their own anime/manga culture (which fan translations commonly cater to) but I feel official translations try catering it to more of the general population rather than the anime/manga community itself (not saying they don’t care about the community)…
I kind feel bad about getting the stuff free, so I buy it,… but then I just end up reading the fan translations…
But since I don’t buy too many LNs (since most of the ones I read aren’t translated) I don’t know about all the companies….
Do you know one that seems to follow these “western-otaku” kinda things?
My problem is the amount of time it takes for novels that have 6+ volumes to get traslated and publishers like yen press tend to license novels that have 8+ vooumes already translated by fans and if we want to see how the story continues we have to wait 5+ years to get to the same point we were so rudely interrupted. This is one of the reasons I am learning Japanese. If they want to get my money they better release their translations in bulk.
Reblogged this on Riz Yun – MK.I and commented:
Those companies wont sell in my country anyway. If they would, the hi prize, heavy tax, hi censored percentage and limited place which with intent to help us to sell those stuff to us fell so . . .
More ever to told us to wait for years just for releasing 1 volume of 1 title, while the original just need months ?
I hope those people make a good job with their work on accuracy. If not, beware of fans rage.
Too bad fan translations were there first. Then along comes yen press taking a dump on all their work they’ve invested over the years and pressuring them to take it down. Not to mention forcing fans to wait potentially more than a year to catch back up to where fan translations were. ye, idk abt supporting that, much rather support original author directly or fan translators
My main problem wiht light novels in English is that far too many of the ones released in English are based on a pre-existing series (making them hard to get into unless you’re a fan of that series). Or they’re in a genre that doesn’t interest me much (like fantasy). Or not original enough, like all the darn Yen Press books about teens In a fantasy game world. I’ve had it up to here with those things…
Are they[Yen Press] too obtuse not to capitalize on the digital space? Almost all people nowadays read on their phone or tablet. They should secure license to publish digitally. Such a waste.
Industries don’t need customers to support them. They need to support themselves by doing a proper job and stop crying about people not being happy with their work for entirely valid reasons. No disrespect meant, frog, but your entire article is null and void because its original premise is fallacious and invalid. If an industry can’t support itself because people aren’t happy with it, society shows it the door, as it has done since the dawn of times. I see no reason why a particular industry should be given special treatment, much less through the creating of faux obligations and vocal but hollow moves such as using words like “entitlement”, as if meant to scare. I have a host of arguments I could use to further develop my view, but it would result in walls of text, so I’ll spare it all for the event of there being an actual debate on the matter.
TL;DR: You’re wrong. Sorry, but that’s how it is. The industry needs to stop being shit and convince people to buy its stuff through the quality of its output, not beg people to give them money for no tangible reason.
Well. I will never buy a LN with translated or omitted honorifics, heavily localized things (words like tsundere, foods, dollars instead yens, replaced original jokes and references, when character is speaking in 3rd person and it gets localized to “I”) – basically the YenPress and Viz style. I don’t expect literal translations, at least not in “memecartel” way of thinking about literal translations. I love TL notes (no, not keikaku means plan-tier). One of the reasons why I want to read a JAPANESE LN is … Japanese culture, their way of thinking etc. It’s a myth that it’s impossible to use proper grammar when to decide to do a direct translation.
It’s bothering me SO MUCH, that I started learning Japanese 2 years ago. Now I can read most of manga, but LN are too much for me (at least for now).
“Mr. Kirito” really killed my desire to support Yen Press at all. I decided to support financially only those that keep honorifics in the LN. That seems to be a good way to separate those who will localize for non-anime readers (thus botching everything like “Mr. Kirito”) and those who know who their core audience is.
Exactly. Stripped out honorifics, heavy localization, western name order, culture washout, lack of footnotes and other shit is strongly keeping me from buying anything official translated. But I don’t know why YenPress LN division is doing such shameful things while their mangs releases are really good. I have Prison School, Saekano, Haruhi and few other. All of these are translated perfectly fine. With honorifics, original name order and many tl notes + words like “moe” or “tsundere” left in.
Back on LN topic. The best way to support original author is to buy original Japanese release and if you don’t know Japanese just read fan translation which is way better than official ones almost in every case. Of course if someone decide to do accurate official translation – support then immediately, because something like this is extremely rare.