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 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.