2016 was the year I finished writing my honours thesis and graduated from university. The thesis, which drew heavily from my personal observations as a light novel fan translator, was called “Exploring Foreignisation/Domestication Post-Editing Strategies in Machine-Assisted Fan Translations of Japanese Web Novels” (what a mouthful!). Later this year, I published two articles based on my research on Anime News Network, explaining the basics of the subculture.
And now, for some inexplicable reason that I can’t quite fathom, I’m known to the fandom at large as… “the light novel blogger”.
12 Days of Anime
#4 – How I Became “The Light Novel Blogger”
How did this end up happening? Truth be told, I’m not actually that well-read in the medium, being a newcomer to Japanese literature in general. Perhaps because there is such little writing about LNs in English, I ended up becoming “the LN blogger” by default. If you ask me, I’m just trying to spread general awareness about the medium in order to pave the way for more substantial discussions. In that sense, I’m nothing but a dabbler.
But that doesn’t answer the question of how I got into light novels in the first place, does it? Well, to be honest, I don’t really know what drew me to the medium either. I think I wanted to understand it better after seeing so many of my fellow writers make broad assumptions about light novels based purely on the popular anime adaptations. To say that all light novels are like Sword Art Online or My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute! would be like saying that all shonen manga are like Naruto and One Piece. I like making jokes about bad light novels as much as anyone, but the truth is, there really are some interesting novels out there if you’re willing to do some digging. I at least want people to be aware of that.
On a personal level, I found light novels really useful for improving my Japanese. Contrary to popular opinion, light novels aren’t any easier to read than “regular” novels, and I wouldn’t recommend a second-language learner jump into them until they know at least 1000 kanji. That said, the only way to master a language is to immerse yourself in it, and all the hours I spent poring over light novels helped me significantly in the long run. I don’t think I would have stuck with light novels if I didn’t get such a tangible benefit out of it.
I also find the culture and influences behind the light novel subculture really fascinating to explore. The isekai (“other world”) subgenre is the current big thing in the light novel world these days, and while it’s much maligned among many anime viewers, the people who do like the genre have interesting things to say about it in its defence. I’d even go one step further to suggest that light novels are essential to understanding modern otaku culture.
Another reason why I can’t help but be drawn to the popular light novels is because I have ambivalent feelings about all those male power fantasies. I’ve spent a long time thinking about the use of ecchi/harem/white knight tropes, even when the stories they appear in are forgettable. With web novels in particular, the lack of editorial intervention means that the individual anxieties and desires of the authors come through loud and clear. I find the stories behind these stories fascinating, even while I’m repelled by the amateur writing and exploitative themes.
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just read Draggle’s summary of The Rising of the Shield Hero.)
Oh, but don’t make the assumption that I’m not interested in light novels aimed at girls, because they’re cool as well. Actually, one of the light novels I’m currently reading, Seirei Gensouki, reads like a typical “stuck in another world” male power fantasy, but I think it’s written by a woman (the author’s name is Yuri Kitayama). So, yeah, it’s interesting.
In sum, there are good light novels out there, but even the bad light novels give me something to ponder.
And that’s why I’m really glad that light novels are finally starting to catch on in the English-speaking market, because I don’t want to be among the very few people talking seriously about light novels. I may just be a dabbler, but I’ll keep reading light novels and sharing whatever new things I discover.
If even just one person sees the world of Japanese pop culture in a new way because of what I write, I don’t mind becoming “the light novel blogger”.