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Haikasoru vs. Light Novels

by Kelly Nabours

I’m sensing quite a bit of anticipation for our upcoming books. People are curious about Japanese science fiction and can’t wait until All You Need is Kill and The Lord of the Sands of Time are finally available. That’s cool. But I’m also noticing a certain amount of confusion surrounding our imprint. A lot of people seem to think we’re publishing Japanese light novels.

What are light novels? And why are people using that term (sometimes incorrectly) to describe our books? I thought it was time to clear the air. And, as such, I solicited the input of three tummlers who know a thing or two about Japanese fiction.

“Light novels are young adult novels,” says translator Andrew Cunningham. “They often have illustrations, and tend to be heavily influenced by manga.”

Cunningham continues: “The definition has been misreported and is poorly understood. People tend to assume novels released by manga companies are light novels.”

He’s right about that. For example, a reporter for Publishers Weekly once referred to Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe as a light novel. First of all, the book is 800-plus pages, hardly “light” at all. And secondly, it’s a legitimate piece of fiction from a well-respected author. The reporter was obviously not paying attention.

“Most light novels are serialized fiction,” adds Ed Chavez, the marketing director at Vertical, Inc. “And a growing number are also developed with media tie-ins in mind. They are fun, quick reads, and at one point I believe people called them ‘fast novels.’”

It’s true: light novels can be read quickly. But this isn’t a bad thing, says Cunningham. “The writing has a vibrant immediacy that is far more accessible than the stilted formal language used in most Japanese mainstream fiction,” he says.

More often than not, the stories are driven by dialog, says Matthew Reeves, a contributor to www.lightnovel.org, a site devoted to light novel news. “This allows the story to flow quickly, interestingly, and enables the reader to turn the pages at a faster rate.”

Along with a reliance on dialog, light novels have also developed their own rapid-fire literary style. Short bursts of text, manga-like sound effects, and a shameless use of ellipses give these books a unique reading experience. Reeves admits that this style of writing is “enjoyed by many, and disliked equally by others.”

So why the confusion? Why are people using the term light novel to describe Haikasoru novels? After all, our catalog consists of books written by best-selling (and mainstream) authors. A lot of these guys have Seiun trophies sitting on their shelves at home. (The Seiun Award, btw, is the Japanese equivalent to the Hugo Award.) Just to let you know, an upcoming book of ours, Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri, was tabbed as the best science fiction novel of 2002. It’s a major novel, not some Boogiepop-inspired trifle.

“As a fellow publisher of Japanese genre fiction, I understand the confusion,” says Chavez. “While I would not consider Usurper of the Sun a light novel, I can see the layperson possibly mislabeling it as such. Readers might recognize the author for his Rocket Girl light novel series.”

Let’s face it, most people aren’t up to speed with contemporary Japanese fiction. There’s Battle Royale and Ring, and a handful of unrelated things. Like Reeves says, many people in American think that all the books coming out of Japan are light novels.

And, to be fair, Haikasoru isn’t exactly making things easier for casual readers and lazy journalists. All You Need is Kill (available on the 21st of this month) was originally published in Japan under Shueisha’s light novel imprint, Super Dash Bunko. And Otsuichi, the author of ZOO (available September 15th), has dipped into the light novel pool a couple of times. Japanese literature is extremely diverse and our books will continue to reflect that.

“People in America do not understand that the light novel industry is just one part of the publishing landscape in Japan,” agrees Reeves. “The diversity found in Japanese literature, genres, and formats is quite large.“Overall, I believe that even with all the confusion, the launch of Haikasoru is a bold step in the right direction. It kmspico download will expose the world to more than just light novels, and it will allow all of us to come to a better and more concise understanding of Japanese literature.”

We of the Haikasoru crew couldn’t agree more.

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14 Responses to “Haikasoru vs. Light Novels”

  1. Matthew Reeves says:

    I want to give a big thank you to everyone of the Haikasoru crew, I look eagerly forward to your releases and thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in this article.

    I wish you all the best of luck! And also, if you ever need me for another article, you know how to reach me. ^_^

  2. digitalboy says:

    A nice and informative little read, but I don’t like the rather aggressive tone you (as in the author) take toward light novels, going beyond pointing out the difference as if to say light novels aren’t worthy of comparison to your stories – especially insulting Boogiepop. Boogiepop is easily my personal favorite piece of fiction ever, and I think it’s nothing sort of foolish to denounce it’s quality or influence. I also think it’s rather disrespectful to invite contributors Matthew Reeves, who writes and reports on light novels, as well as Andrew Cunningham who not only translates light novels, but the very one you insult, Boogiepop, and then act superior to the very writing style they support. Without that air of superiority, this would have been a perfect sort of informational piece to people making this confusion.

  3. Paolo Chikiamco says:

    Well first off I’d like to say thank you for the very informative article–but before I get to more praise and a few other comments, I need to get something off my chest:

    “It’s a major novel, not some Boogiepop-inspired trifle.” (7th paragraph from the end)

    For an article that (rightly) portrays the difference between a light novel and a normal novel as a difference of style and not of quality, “Boogiepop-inspired trifle” seems like a less than fair choice of words, with trifle giving the connotation of something with “little importance or value.” I’d like to think it wasn’t meant in a derogatory fashion, but just giving you a heads-up that it comes off as negative.

    Anyway, moving on. Like I said I really enjoyed the articles, and I really love what Haikasoru is doing. Ever since I watched first watched the Crest of the Stars anime waaay back and learned it was a novel, I’ve been thirsting for good translations of Japanese Spec Fic novels, whether light novels or regular ones. I’ve been looking for your debut novels since they were announced, even before the scheduled release date. Hey, I might get lucky and find a store here in Manila where they “break” the street date (yeah I know that’s unlikely but let me have my illusions–actually one of the main problems you might face here would be if the stores shelve the books in the wrong place: I’ve seen the Zaregoto translations in the generic Fiction section, and tokyopop novels alongside manga.)

    As far as light novels themselves are concerned, I find the style very appealing, and I find the label makes it less subject to dismissive prejudice that (unfairly) surrounds the concept of the “young adult” novel in the English speaking world–at least the label doesn’t give prospective readers the mistaken notion that the tales will only appeal to young people, instead it simply denotes a more brisk style.

    Oops, this has gone on too long–anyway, just want to say thanks again for the article: it really did help to solidify the distinctions in my mind. Looking forward to reading your releases!

  4. Madmax says:

    Like the other 2 guys…

    The article starts off good explaining the differences. But then it seems like the author wants to say that “normal” novels are far superior or “deeper” than LNs. And sometimes its just not that easy to distinguish between a LN and a “normal” novel.
    Lets just take Juuni Kokki. It has Illustrations in it and in Japan it wasnt really considered a light novel (because the term light novel didnt exist at this point).

    Still. It seems to me that the article wants to point out that light-novels dont really have a right to exist or are in terms of quality not as good as a “normal “novel…
    Thats what bugs me about the article…

  5. Ymoinda says:

    Matt Reeves — You rock! Your insight validated parts of this article so well. Loved the whole article, btw!

  6. Julia S. says:

    You seem to have touched a nerve with the BOOGIEPOP devotees! Thanks for explicating the “light novel” concept, especially with the insights from Matthew Reeves. The whole genre is new to me, and I’ll look into BOOGIEPOP now.

  7. steve davidson says:

    As one who has received review copies of AYNIK and TLOTSOT – (almost finished with Kill) I don’t really care how the book is characterized or classified – other than to say it is EXCELLENT science fiction and, is destined to become a classic and will immediately put your imprint on the map.

    Thanks for this!

  8. CarlosX says:

    I completely and totally agree with the opinions of Matthew Reeves. As he said with the release of Haikasoru, many more people will be exposed to this genre and hopefully people will come to love it as much as many people I know.

  9. Doomsnipes says:

    An exellent, well written article. And I enjoyed the little education, Matthew R.

  10. barbsicle says:

    well it was good. especially the commentary. lol.

  11. […] shop regardless. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case, though, after Haikasoru’s slightly controversial post in which they invited (genius) light novel translator Andrew Cunningham and light novel […]

  12. emuty says:

    The work of separate genres.
    I feel sense of incongruity in comparing it.

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